Live Blog: The State of the Union is a mix of pageantry, policy and politics
"Madam Speaker, the President of the United States." It's been a long time since those words were said. Nancy Pelosi was speaker from 2007 through 2011. In November she returned to the post after Democrats won enough seats to govern the House of Representatives.
The State of the Union -- a stage that comes with the office of President of the United States -- started two weeks late because of a government shutdown.
So President Donald J. Trump used that moment to talk about national unity. Sort of.
The prepared text said: “Together we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make.”
He said victory is not winning for our party. "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," he said.
This is President Trump's second State of the Union.
The president talked about American exceptionalism. "In the 20th century, America saved freedom, transformed science, and redefined the middle class standard of living for the entire world to see," he said. "Now, we must step boldly and bravely into the next chapter of this Great American Adventure, and we must create a new standard of living for the 21st century."
But it's that next chapter that highlights the divisions in the United States. As Pew Research reported: "Americans are deeply pessimistic about chances that partisan cooperation will improve in the coming year: About seven-in-ten Americans (71%) said they think Republicans and Democrats in Washington will bicker and oppose one another more than usual this year. Just 21% said members of both parties will work together to solve problems more than usual. And just 35% of Americans were somewhat or very confident in Trump’s ability to work effectively with Congress."
The president called for cooperation and said that would break age-old stalemates.
"The decision is ours to make," he said. Progress or gridlock? "Tonight I ask you to choose greatness."
Democratic women made a statement by wearing white on the floor of the House of Representatives. It's a visible message about the shift in control of that part of Congress after the November election.
President Trump tweeted about his popularity reaching 48 percent support. But that number is higher than every other poll. Quinnipiac Poll shows that voters trust congressional Democrats more than President Trump on border security issues by a margin of 50-41 percent (Independents trust Democrats by a 50-37 breakdown). In a mid-January Quinnipiac poll, the overall margin on this question was a more narrow 49-44 percent.
The State of the Union is set to begin at 9 pm Eastern tonight. We will be live blogging both the president's speech and the Democratic response.
The president said the American economy is the hottest anywhere and unemployment has reached new lows.
But the cheers mostly came from Republicans. The House, and especially the members in white, sat silent while the president recited his campaign promises ranging from the "death taxes" to the mandate to buy health insurance.
Shortly after taking office, President Trump promised he would remove the barriers to energy development, including the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. He continued that theme with the U.S. as a "net exporter" of energy.
"We have unleashed a revolution in American Energy — the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world. And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy. After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on earth, and America is winning each and every day," he said.
Trump told Congress to cooperate. "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. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation," Trump said. "It just doesn’t work that way!"
In the last Congress the two parties worked together for legislation to address the opioid crisis, the farm bill, and a VA bill. Then again the two parties found common ground for criminal justice reform. "They said it could not be done," he said.
The immigration debate
One debate that remains: the border (and by extension the funding of the government). The president did not declare an emergency to fund the border wall as he has threatened. But he did return to his call for a wall to secure the border.
"Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our Southern Border," the president said. "As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States. We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection."
Most Americans do not buy the president's story. A poll by Pew Research shows that Immigration: A majority of Americans, or 58 percent, said they were not too or not at all confident in Trump’s ability to make wise decisions about immigration policy.
This is a partisan issue. Most Republicans and Republican leaners some 68 percent, said reducing illegal immigration into the U.S.should be a top foreign policy priority, while just two-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners said this.
The president called this a moral issue.
"Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways," he said. "I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally."
But the president's policies do not match that statement. The legal immigration system is broken.
"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," he said. "Meanwhile, working class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration — reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net."
This was the sort of part of the speech. There was no common ground explored on immigration, such as trying to reach a deal on larger issues such as a solution to the young people who came to this country as children.
The president said when walls go up, illegal crime goes down. The border must be secured or they will "stream back in."
"I pledge to you tonight that we will never abolish our heroes from ICE," he said.
"Simply put, walls work and walls save lives. So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe." he said.
Women at work
"No one has benefitted more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year," he said to cheers from both sides of the aisle. "All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before — and exactly one century after Congress passed the Constitutional Amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than ever before."
But while there are more women serving in Congress, most of the representatives are Democrats. The Republican party is less diverse -- and more male -- in the age of Trump. There were 23 Republican women serving in the House in the last session of Congress. Now there are only 13 House GOP women lawmakers.
Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, Ho Chunk, and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, Laguna Pueblo, sat next to each other.
The president said that his administration has made it clear that China must stop stealing intellectual property.
"Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion dollars of Chinese goods — and now our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars," he said. "But I don’t blame China for taking advantage of us — I blame our leaders and representatives for allowing this travesty to happen. I have great respect for President Xi, and we are now working on a new trade deal with China. But it must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs."
The president asked Congress to "pass the United States Reciprocal Trade Act, so that if another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the same product that they sell to us."
Infrastructure might be the one area where there is agreement by both Democrats and Republicans. "Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure," he said. "I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill — and I am eager to work with you 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 called for health care reform, including prescription drug prices that are the same in the U.S. as in other nations.
"It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it," he said. He asked Congress to "pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American Patients. We should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down."
The president also called for a commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.
He said had he not been elected, in his opinion, the U.S. would be at war with North Korea. The president said he would meet with North Korea's Kim Jong Un on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam. He said there are challenges but the "relationship is a good one."
The president took a swipe at the members of Congress who call themselves Democratic socialists. "America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free," he said. "Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country."
But what does that mean? Is the president saying he would dismiss those who are elected on that very platform?
"This is the time to re-ignite the American Imagination," the president said. "I am asking you to choose greatness. No matter the trials we face, no matter the challenges to come, we must go forward together. We must keep America first in our hearts. We must keep freedom alive in our souls. And we must always keep faith in America’s Destiny — that One Nation, Under God, must be the hope and the promise and the light and the glory among all the nations of the world."
Exactly. Most of the president's words in this State of the Union were written as a tribute to his base.
The president's call to end late-term abortions has no chance of passing the House.
And he asked Congress to end investigations into his administration -- one of the most self-serving statements ever made in a State of the Union.
And what was left unsaid?
There was no mention of an emergency declaration to build the wall.
One reason for that might be that the next president could use that same authority to use federal power (without Congress) to act on climate change.
Already most Americans say the government is not doing enough. Pew Research reports that Democrats are 43 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say protecting the environment should be a top priority this year (74 percent vs. 31 percent) and 46 points more likely to cite global climate change as a top priority (67 percent vs. 21 percent). In a survey conducted last March and April, majorities of Americans said the federal government is doing too little to protect key aspects of the environment including water (69 percent), air quality (64 percent) and animals and their habitats (63 percent). And two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) said the government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.
The president began his speech by calling for national unity. The agenda he said is not a Republican agenda, or a Democratic agenda, but an American one. Nice line. But by the end of the speech is was clear that those words were not so. It was hard to tell where the call for unity began and where Trump's so-often-repeated stump speech picked up.
The response was given by Stacey Abrahams, the party's nominee for governor in Georgia.
Abrahams made a case for consensus. She said in Georgia people found a way to come together instead of shutting government down. "It should be no different in our nation’s capital. We may come from different sides of the political aisle; but, our joint commitment to the ideals of this nation cannot be negotiable," she said.
"So even as I am very disappointed by the President’s approach to our problems – I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the respect the extraordinary diversity that defines America," she said. "Our progress has always found refuge in the basic instinct of the American experiment – to do right by our people. And with a renewed commitment to social and economic justice, we will create a stronger America, together. Because America wins by fighting for our shared values against all enemies: foreign and domestic. That is who we are – and when we do so, never wavering - the state of our union will always be strong.
(Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, turned her Twitter feed over to a constituent, Laura Robeson from Prairie Village, Kansas. Robeson’s 7-year-old son has medical conditions that are covered by the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Tom Cole: State of the Union is a unique platform