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Trump’s appeal for bipartisanship fizzles as Democrats balk

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer are seen before the State of the Union address Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Both Democrats criticized President Donald Trump's speech as divisive. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Win McNamee

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s Tuesday night appeal for bipartisanship in tackling immigration, infrastructure and other pressing issues quickly fizzled Wednesday as Democrats criticized his speech and challenged his agenda.

A day after Trump’s first State of the Union speech, Democrats began laying out their political messages and attacks for the midterm elections in November, and Republicans headed to a retreat in West Virginia to plan their own strategy and campaigns for this year.

On Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized Trump’s State of the Union address as “self-congratulatory,” and “divisive” with an agenda that holds Dreamers “hostage” to harsh immigration measures and offers a “lame and puny infrastructure proposal.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement after the speech that instead of presenting “a unifying vision for the country,” Trump “stoked the fires of division instead of bringing us closer together.”

Republicans praised Trump. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Fox News called the address “the best speech he gave, in terms of creating a concise vision for the year to come.”

But Rubio also pointed out a political reality facing the Republican majority in the House and the Senate: “For the next 12 months, everything we have to tackle is going to require 60 votes in the Senate, so it’s going to require some level of bipartisan cooperation.”

Senate Republicans control 51 votes, so they need nine Democratic votes to break any filibusters that prevent them from taking up legislation for debate and approval.

The key issue dividing the two parties remains immigration, notably a bill to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the country illegally as children. Trump ordered the program to end March 5 and urged Congress to fix it.

But Congress also has not passed a budget for the fiscal year that runs from last Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of this year, as Republicans seek to increase military spending and Democrats demand parity in boosting funding for domestic programs.

Congress also faces another fiscal cliff next week — the latest short-term funding bill ends on Feb. 8, the day after House Democrats plan to hold their retreat in Cambridge, Maryland. Some lawmakers have hinted at another short-term spending bill.

After the bruising battle over the last stopgap measure that resulted in a weekend government shutdown before Democrats gave in, Pelosi and Schumer appeared to be in no mood for entreaties from Trump. Pelosi sat stone-faced throughout Tuesday’s speech and rarely applauded.

“I think Nancy Pelosi looks like that all the time. She seems to kind of embody the bitterness that belongs in the Democrat Party right now,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on CNN.

“They need to decide,” Huckabee Sanders added, “do they love America more than they hate this president, and are they willing to put some of those differences aside, come together and do what’s right for this country?”

Moderate senators in both parties insisted that bipartisanship remains an option.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who convenes a bipartisan group of senators, called Trump’s speech “eclectic” and said at an event sponsored by the Axios news site that it “covered a lot of territory.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is up for re-election this year in a state that overwhelmingly voted for Trump, called Democrats who refused to stand or applaud during the president’s speech “disrespectful.”

Speaking of Collins’ Common Sense Coalition, Manchin said on CNN: “We have almost 25 senators who are coming to every meeting. We’ve met more in the last week than I have met collectively with any other bipartisan group over seven years.”

He added, “We’re going to make something happen. We truly are.”

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