- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2018

President Trump took a victory lap on the economy Tuesday night in his first State of the Union address, declaring that his tax cuts have sparked an American revival, and reaching out to Democrats to work on problems from immigration to infrastructure.

“This is our new American moment,” Mr. Trump told Congress in a prime-time address. “There has never been a better time to start living the American dream.”

After a turbulent first year in which he often clashed with congressional Democrats, Mr. Trump appealed to liberal lawmakers to compromise on issues such as his major proposal on immigration and border security — providing a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” spending $25 billion to build a border wall and enacting other immigration restrictions.

Failure to reach a deal could prompt a partial government shutdown next week.

“Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families,” Mr. Trump said. “So tonight I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens, of every background, color, and creed.”

The president also announced he has signed an executive order that will keep open the high-security military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — reversing a decision by President Barack Obama in 2009 to close the prison. Gitmo is still open, with 41 alleged terrorist detainees, because Congress refused to go along with Mr. Obama’s order.

As part of that order, Mr. Trump said he is directing Defense Secretary James Mattis to reexamine U.S. military detention policy.

In a long-awaited move, Mr. Trump outlined a $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling bridges and roads, using $200 billion in federal spending over a decade to spur more funding from state and local governments and private enterprise.

“I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve,” the president said.

Aides said Mr. Trump wanted to “speak from the heart” about his vision for a thriving economy lifting up all citizens. Earlier in the day, the president told journalists at the White House that he would consider it “a great achievement … if I could unite the country,” after decades of increasing partisan polarization in Washington.

At least 14 House Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, boycotted the president’s address. Democrats invited about 20 illegal immigrants known as “Dreamers” to attend the speech, prompting an objection from a Republican lawmaker who said Capitol police should check IDs and arrest anyone in the U.S. illegally.

As Mr. Trump strode to the Speaker’s rostrum, he was in a position that any president would relish: riding a strong economy that he credited to his slashing of regulations and taxes. And the full impact of his tax cuts is about to show up in workers’ paychecks over the next few weeks.

Mr. Trump’s address underscored the importance of the economy for his party, and for him, in this critical mid-term election year. The president’s job-approval ratings are still relatively weak (38 percent in Gallup, 43 percent in Rasmussen), although voters give him higher marks for his handling of the economy.

Seated in the gallery with first lady Melania Trump were 14 guests of the White House to help illustrate the president’s themes, including a couple who adopted a child suffering from opioid addiction, and parents of two girls who were murdered by MS-13, the notorious Central American gang that is increasing its U.S. presence because of immigration from its native lands.

The president, with a less combative tone than he often takes on social media, told Congress that he wanted to discuss “what kind of future we are going to have, and what kind of nation we are going to be — all of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family.”

“Americans love their country,” Mr. Trump said. “And they deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return.”

But the president’s agenda this year — reforming the immigration system, rebuilding infrastructure and beefing up the military — will be complicated by hardening of partisan lines ahead of the mid-terms.

On North Korea, Mr. Trump offered no new prescriptions for the regime of Kim Jong Un and its nuclear weapons. He said North Korea’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” and vowed to continue a campaign of “maximum pressure to prevent that from happening.”The White House invited three guests connected with North Korea — Fred and Cindy Warmbier of Ohio, whose son Otto died after being severely injured in custody while studying in that country.

Also in attendance was Ji Seong-ho, who escaped North Korea as a starving boy decades ago.

“We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies,” Mr. Trump said.

On Iran, Mr. Trump reiterated that he is asking the Congress to address “fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.” The president said the threats from rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals such as China and Russia demonstrate the need for a stronger military. He called for an end to the “dangerous defense sequester” of funds and more money to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense,” he said. “As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression.”

He added, “Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.”

Building on a move he made at the Department of Veterans Affairs last year, the president called on Congress to “empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

Mr. Trump also spoke of more funding for vocational training and to reform prisons, although he offered no specifics.

In summing up his first year in office, Mr. Trump told Congress, “The State of our Union is strong because our people are strong.”

The president said of terrorists, “When possible, we annihilate them. When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them. But we must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants. And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.”

Previously, Mr. Trump said, “we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield — including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi.”

He said Congress must provide “all necessary power to detain terrorists — wherever we chase them down.”

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