WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump called for a new “era of cooperation” in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, making his appeal as a divided Congress looks to avert another government shutdown over his demand for a $5.7 billion southern border wall.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress, the Republican president took aim at the special counsel’s Russia probe and a series of other investigations House Democrats have promised, labeling them “ridiculous partisan investigations.”
The president also used the speech to defend his immigration agenda and economic policies, telling lawmakers and guests that after two years as president the state of the nation “is strong.”
“The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda. It is the agenda of the American People,” Trump said in a prime-time speech that was delivered a week later than anticipated after he bowed to pressure from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to postpone the speech until the government reopened after a monthlong shutdown.
With the threat of another shutdown looming on Feb. 15, Trump, who has insisted he will not accept any spending deal that does not fully meet his demand for a $5.7 billion border wall, told lawmakers Americans are “hoping that we will govern not as two parties, but as one nation.”
“We must reject the politics of revenge,” said Trump, who frequently derides his political rivals and critics on Twitter.
Trump said lawmakers could find common ground by passing an infrastructure bill and lowering health care costs.
He told Congress he was “eager” to work with them “on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting edge industries of the future. This is not an option. This is a necessity.”
The president received a standing ovation from Republicans and Democrats when he told them: "The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs — and to protect patients with pre-existing conditions."
The president’s calls for bipartisanship came hours after he took aim at Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Twitter in response to the New York Democrat’s remarks that Trump was likely to make “empty” promises in his address.
“He’s just upset that he didn’t win the Senate, after spending a fortune, like he thought he would,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning.
The speech, delivered at the midpoint of his first term in office, came as the president gears up for a 2020 presidential race.
Several of his potential Democratic challengers were seated in the historic House chambers including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) who brought as her guest a transgender Navy lieutenant in response to Trump’s recent transgender military ban.
The audience in the House chamber included a block of House Democratic women seated together, dressed in all-white to honor the women’s suffrage movement.
Other lawmakers from both parties, including Schumer, invited government workers impacted by the 35-day shutdown as their guests to draw attention to the 800,000 employees who went more than a month without pay.
Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, delivering the Democratic response to Trump’s speech, criticized the president over the shutdown, saying it "was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people - but our values.”
Trump, who has often pointed to the MS-13 gang and its presence on Long Island in making his case for tougher immigration enforcement laws and a border wall, noted the recent fatal shooting of an alleged gang member on a Queens ‘7’ train, that allegedly came at the hands of an MS-13 gang member.
“Just yesterday, an MS-13 gang member was taken into custody for a fatal shooting on a subway platform in New York City,” Trump said. “We are removing these gang members by the thousands, but until we secure our border they're going to keep streaming back in.”
The president, who last month announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria over the objections of his national security advisers, continued to defend his plans to pull back troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said.
Hours before the speech, Trump’s top commander in the Middle East, Joseph Votel, told the House Armed Services Committee he had not been consulted before Trump announced the full withdrawal of troops from Syria on Dec. 19.
Trump at the time declared victory over the Islamic State.
But Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, told lawmakers Tuesday the terrorist group’s threat is “not over.”
“It is important to understand that even though this territory has been reclaimed, the fight against ISIS and violent extremists is not over and our mission has not changed,” Votel said.
The president, who last year withdrew from the multinational Iran Nuclear Deal, despite U.S. allies including France and Germany urging him not to, continued to cast Iran as a major threat to American security.
“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants ‘Death to America,’” Trump said.
Also in his speech:
- Trump took a jab at New York State’s new abortion law, signed into law last month, which allows for abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy if a healthcare practitioner determines “there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”
Trump asserted, “lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth,” and called on Congress “to pass legislation to prohibit” late-term abortions.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called the state law “just a mirror of the federal law” and has warned that the federal protections of Roe v. Wade are at risk of being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
When the bill passed the state Senate on Jan. 22, the gallery erupted with cheers.
- Trump declared, “we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” His remark comes on the heels of the victory of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from Trump’s home borough of Queens, who identifies herself as a democratic socialist.
- Trump expressed support for efforts to remove Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro from office as the oil-rich South American nation grapples with an economic crisis.
“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom,” Trump said of the move by opposition leaders to force Maduro from his post following an election international observers have said was rife with fraud.