- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2019

President Trump renewed his call for a border wall and urged Democrats in his State of the Union address Tuesday night to abandon “ridiculous partisan investigations” of his administration, saying compromise in divided government is the only way to achieve “American greatness.”

“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate,” Mr. Trump said. “There is a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage together to seize it. Victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country.”

In reaching out to Democrats, however, Mr. Trump repeated his request for funding a border wall within the next 10 days, the same issue that led to last month’s partial government shutdown. He said a “smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier” will help to stop illegal crossings.

“So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe,” Mr. Trump said. “In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall — but the proper wall never got built. I’ll get it built.”

In a speech that lasted almost 90 minutes, the president made no mention of his threatened national emergency declaration if Congress doesn’t provide funding for a wall. He called the border “an urgent national crisis” and said he has deployed another 3,750 troops there “to prepare for the tremendous onslaught” of more caravans of illegal immigrants headed to the U.S. from Central America.

“This is a moral issue,” Mr. Trump said. “We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.”

In his first address since Democrats captured the House majority and fought Mr. Trump into a government shutdown, the president outlined his plans to combat illegal immigration, rebuild infrastructure, lower health care costs, protect workers from bad trade deals and bring more U.S. troops home from “endless” wars.

“The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda,” Mr. Trump said. “It is the agenda of the American people.”

Facing an emboldened Democratic majority with subpoena power in the House, Mr. Trump said both parties must “reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution” and embrace “compromise and the common good.”

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations,” he said. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way. We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad.”

Whether it’s ripping up trade deals or pulling out of nuclear and weapons pacts with Iran and Russia, Mr. Trump said, he has spent two years working “with urgency and historic speed to confront problems neglected by leaders of both parties over many decades.”

He said Washington’s perennial failure to fix U.S. immigration laws is hurting average citizens through drug smuggling, crimes committed by illegal immigrants and human trafficking.

“We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens,” the president said. “No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

In some of his strongest language of the night, the president slammed late-term abortion policies in Virginia and New York state as “chilling” and called on Congress to approve legislation “to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”

“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,” Mr. Trump said. “These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then we had the case of the governor of Virginia where he basically stated he would execute a baby after birth.”

He said the legislation in Congress is needed “to defend the dignity of every person.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Mr. Trump “was right to call out the atrocious actions of lawmakers in New York and Virginia in pushing America toward infanticide.”

“President Trump has not only been the most passionate president in talking about the humanity of the unborn, he has been the most persistent in protecting them,” Mr. Perkins said. “Sadly, it is very unlikely that members of the Democratic Party will take up the president’s call to work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.”

In the main Democratic response, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams criticized Mr. Trump for steering the nation into a partial government shutdown that left 800,000 federal workers in limbo.

“Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace,” Ms. Abrams said. “The shutdown 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.”

She portrayed Republicans as out of touch with working-class Americans, saying that “families’ hopes are being crushed by Republican leadership that ignores real life or just doesn’t understand it.”

In a long-standing tradition, Energy Secretary Rick Perry was the “designated survivor” from the Cabinet who didn’t attend the speech in case catastrophe struck the Capitol.

Mr. Trump was greeted with perhaps the loudest cheers of the night when, discussing the crisis in Venezuela, he said Americans are “alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country.”

“America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control,” he declared. “We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

A moving tribute took place during the speech when the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to 81-year-old Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor who also survived a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue last fall.

Mr. Samet was a guest of the president and first lady Melania Trump seated in the balcony. As the president recounted his story, he also mentioned that Tuesday was Mr. Samet’s birthday.

The lawmakers of both parties and guests launched into a spontaneous rendition of “Happy Birthday” as the president playfully played conductor with his hands.

Mr. Samet rose again and smiled to acknowledge the gesture, cupping his hands to his mouth and calling out “Thank you!”

Mr. Trump looked up to the balcony and deadpanned, “They wouldn’t do that for me, Judah.”

Eleven of Mr. Samet’s fellow worshippers were killed in the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in the U.S.

For Mr. Trump, the event provided his biggest stage since the rancorous 35-day government shutdown that ended Jan. 25. It also highlighted the fate of his agenda over the next two years.

The president faces a Democratic House majority eager to investigate his administration. Many Democrats are talking openly about impeachment as they await a final report from special counsel Robert Mueller.

Mr. Trump also is confronting as many as a dozen Democratic lawmakers, including seven senators, who are preparing to run for their party’s presidential nomination in 2020 and see little advantage in working with him.

The president offered Democrats several openings for compromise, proposing an infrastructure measure, calling for paid family leave and noting to enthusiastic applause that Congress now has more women than ever before.

There were noticeable changes in the president’s live audience from a year ago. Chief among them was the woman behind him on the rostrum: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who replaced Republican Paul D. Ryan. The House has 41 more Democrats than last year; the Senate has two more Republicans.

Many female Democratic lawmakers, including Mrs. Pelosi sitting behind the president, wore white to express solidarity, they said, with working women around the country and mimicking the uniforms of the suffragette movement of a century ago.

The Cabinet, too, has changed as a result of firings and resignations. Gone since Mr. Trump’s last State of the Union address are U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Interior Secretary Ryan K. Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly — one-third of the Cabinet.

The Supreme Court’s newest justice, Brett M. Kavanaugh, also attended the speech with three of his colleagues — Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Elena Kagan and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Top Democrats said Mr. Trump’s appeals for bipartisanship rang hollow. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said the president regularly attacks the media, the judiciary and others with “near-daily Twitter provocations.”

“Every year, the president wakes up and discovers the desire for unity on the morning of the State of the Union,” Mr. Schumer said before the address. “Then, the president spends the other 364 days of the year dividing us and sowing a state of disunion. The blatant hypocrisy of this president calling for unity is that he is one of the chief reasons that Americans feel so divided.”

He said the administration “is embroiled in chaos and incompetence.”

The speech was delayed for a week by Mrs. Pelosi, who refused to allow Mr. Trump to deliver it in the traditional setting of the House chamber until after the partial government shutdown ended. The president retaliated by canceling a military flight for Mrs. Pelosi and other lawmakers to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He said they should stay in Washington to negotiate a way to reopen the government.

The shutdown ended when Mr. Trump agreed to give congressional negotiators until Feb. 15 to fund the Homeland Security Department, including possible money for a border barrier. As that deadline approaches, Mrs. Pelosi is still vowing that no more money will be allocated for a border wall.

Hours before the president spoke, Homeland Security officials injected fresh urgency into the border debate by announcing that a caravan of about 2,000 migrants had arrived on the U.S.-Mexico border south of Texas.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen blamed Congress for the increasing frequency of migrant caravans and challenged lawmakers to change the incentives of lenient treatment for those who cross the U.S. border illegally.

The president came into the speech bolstered by a strong economy and a stock market surging again after an end-of-year dive. Employers added more than 300,000 jobs in each of the past two months, building on two years of robust growth and historically low unemployment rates.

Mr. Trump said the U.S., building on his administration’s economic successes, “must create a new standard of living for the 21st century.”

He said a key to that future is forging better trade deals and urged lawmakers to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement to replace NAFTA.

“To build on our incredible economic success, one priority is paramount: reversing decades of calamitous trade policies,” Mr. Trump said.

On foreign policy, the president’s announcement of Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam for his second summit with North Korea’s leader builds expectations for more concrete results than his first, historic meeting with dictator Kim Jong-un last summer in Singapore.

Bruce Klingner, a national security specialist at The Heritage Foundation and a former CIA Korea deputy division chief, said it’s critical that Mr. Trump’s next meeting with Mr. Kim “go beyond the pomp and circumstance of the first to achieve real steps toward denuclearization.”

U.S. officials have grown increasingly frustrated with Mr. Kim’s unwillingness to commit to clear steps to dismantle his nuclear and missile arsenal. But Mr. Trump has pointed to signs of progress, including the absence of any North Korean missile tests since November 2017, and Pyongyang’s return of the remains of 55 U.S. soldiers from the Korean War.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Trump said, it’s time to seek peace and bring home U.S. troops.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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