WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump used his first State of the Union Address to lay out details of an immigration reform deal he had offered several days earlier, which offered citizenship for “dreamers” – undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children – in return for increased spending on border security and large cuts in legal immigration levels.
But he sought to repurpose the term “dreamer,” saying that it shouldn’t be an excuse to shortchange Americans’ economic prospects or safety.
Trump also used his speech to frame the fight over immigration as largely a fight over safety – saying that previous administrations’ policies have “caused the loss of many innocent lives.”
“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too,” Trump said.
He pointed to guests in his box as examples of the threat posed by MS-13, a criminal gang active in both the United States and Central America. Trump’s guests will include a federal immigration agent who has investigated the gang, and two sets of parents whose children were killed by MS-13 members.
More than 50 Democratic lawmakers have invited “dreamers” to attend as guests to dramatize their demand for legal status. In response, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, Ariz., tweeted that he had asked the Capitol Police to check all guests’ IDs, and arrest “any illegal aliens in attendance.”
Trump used his speech to make the case that his first year in office has been an enormous success, noting continuing declines in the unemployment rate, a large tax cut, and cutbacks in federal regulations. He touted his nationalist agenda on trade – which has produced little tangible results so far – as setting a tone that the world had noticed.
“Our nation has lost it’s wealth,” Trump said. “But we’re getting it back so fast.”
Trump touted the GOP’s huge new tax-cut bill, saying that many Americans would start seeing more tax-home pay soon.
“Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses,” Trump said, speaking about a bill passed with only Republican votes. He celebrated the end of a provision from President Obama’s health-care law, which required many Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a tax. “The individual mandate is now gone. Thank heavens.”
Trump pointed out small business owners from Ohio, who he said had just had the best year in the 20-year history of their business. Because of tax reform, he said, their business is expanding its space and hiring new workers.
“This, in fact, is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream,” he said. Speaking to viewers at home: “This is your time . . . . Together, we can achieve absolutely anything.”
Republicans in the House chambers cheered Trump’s remarks, while many Democrats sat silent and motionless.
Trump’s celebration of the GOP’s tax bill came just after a section of his speech in which he implored Democrats to work together with him, saying that America’s needs required bipartisan cooperation.
Trump began his speech with an appeal to unity, lauding heroes from the biggest calamities of 2017 – hurricanes, forest fires and mass shootings – as an example that a divided nation might come together.
“It is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy,” said Trump. “Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.”
Trump has made aggressive attacks a hallmark of his political style and the first year of his presidency, using his Twitter account to attack celebrities, Democrats and members of his own party and cabinet. In politics, his first year was marked by sharp partisanship, with Republicans using special rules to force through a massive tax-cut bill over Democratic objections.
There will be two official Democratic responses, one in English and one in Spanish. The English response, given by Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., will say that Trump is “targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection,” and call attention to growing income inequality, according to excerpts released Tuesday evening. A Democratic America, Kennedy will say, would be “brave enough to admit that top CEOs making 300 times the average worker is not right.”
The Spanish response, given by Virginia state Del. Elizabeth Guzman, will attack Trump for ending the deferred-action program and putting hundreds of thousands in danger of deportation. “These people have acted in accordance with the law, they have paid taxes,” Guzman will say, according to excerpts. “The President has also failed in his duty to protect our families in Puerto Rico who were affected by hurricane Maria. This is unjust. This is unacceptable.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vt., an independent who ran as a Democrat in 2016, will also give his own rebuttal.
The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.
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