Trump’s ad­dress calls for ‘po­lit­i­cal stale­mate’ to end

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY NOAH BIERMAN AND ELI STOKOLS

WASH­ING­TON

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump called on the na­tion to “break decades of po­lit­i­cal stale­mate” in what he touted as a uni­fy­ing State of the Union ad­dress Tues­day night, one de­layed by a 35-day par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down he had pro­voked that ex­ac­er­bated par­ti­san di­vi­sions and put Wash­ing­ton’s dys­func­tion on vivid dis­play.

“There is a new op­por­tu­nity in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics if only we have the courage to­gether to seize it,” Trump said. “Vic­tory is not win­ning for our party. Vic­tory is win­ning for our coun­try.”

“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.

“Tonight,” he said, “I ask you to choose great­ness.”

De­spite the calls to com­pro­mise, the tra­di­tional na­tion­ally tele­vised speech came at a per­ilous junc­ture for the pres­i­dent,

who for the first time shares power with con­gres­sional Democrats after last fall’s big elec­tion losses, even as he faces judg­ments in a range of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his ad­min­is­tra­tion, fam­ily busi­ness, cam­paign and even his 2016 inau­gu­ral com­mit­tee.

Trump de­fi­antly al­luded to the in­ves­ti­ga­tions at one point, say­ing, “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.”

Sit­ting just be­hind him, the pres­i­dent’s newly em­pow­ered Demo­cratic op­po­nent, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rolled her eyes.

The pres­i­dent out­lined five pol­icy ar­eas as grounds for bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise — im­mi­gra­tion, trade, in­fras­truc­ture, health care and na­tional se­cu­rity — yet his record on each over his first two years as pres­i­dent has left Democrats as well as some Re­pub­li­cans skep­ti­cal of his will­ing­ness both to fol­low through on his ini­tia­tives and to ac­cept com­pro­mises.

Even in the days be­fore his speech, the pres­i­dent re­peat­edly bad-mouthed the ef­forts of a bi­par­ti­san group of law­mak­ers try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a com­pro­mise bor­der-se­cu­rity mea­sures to avert an­other im­passe with Trump over his de­mand for $5.7 bil­lion to start build­ing a south­ern bor­der wall — the is­sue that caused the shut­down.

He had also teased in ad­vance of the State of the Union ad­dress his threat to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency on the bor­der, to cir­cum­vent Congress al­to­gether and di­vert ex­ist­ing funds from other pur­poses to wall con­struc­tion. The pres­i­dent de­clined to an­nounce such a dec­la­ra­tion, which Re­pub­li­can lead­ers have warned against. Yet he ar­gued at length for his pro­posed wall, de­spite his failed ef­forts of the past two years.

Trump tried to make the case that over­haul­ing im­mi­gra­tion is “a moral duty,” while ar­gu­ing that “no is­sue bet­ter il­lus­trates the di­vide be­tween Amer­ica’s work­ing class and Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal class.”

“Wealthy politi­cians and donors push for open bor­ders while liv­ing their lives be­hind walls and gates and guards,” he said.

Over Trump’s shoul­der in the House cham­ber, Pelosi looked on be­side Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, dra­ma­tiz­ing the pres­i­dent’s new re­al­ity that he no longer en­joys the mal­leable Re­pub­li­can ma­jori­ties in both the House and Se­nate that al­lowed him to con­trol the agenda. For two years, that ad­van­tage al­lowed Trump some suc­cesses, in­clud­ing big tax cuts, but proved in­suf­fi­cient to ful­fill his prom­ises to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act and build a wall.

Al­ready Pelosi has got­ten the bet­ter of him, forc­ing his re­treat on the shut­down in the first month of Democrats’ House con­trol, prov­ing able to keep her party aligned and mo­bi­lize pub­lic opin­ion. She has made clear, along with Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, the New York Demo­crat, that their party will con­tinue to chal­lenge him on im­mi­gra­tion and other is­sues.

She did not in­tro­duce him, and he did not rec­og­nize her by name. Both Pelosi and dozens of con­gress­women were dressed in white, the sym­bolic color of women’s suf­frage, mak­ing for a dra­matic show on the House floor of the greatly ex­panded num­ber of women after Novem­ber’s Demo­cratic elec­tion gains.

While many of them did not ap­plaud the pres­i­dent, when he boasted at one point that a ma­jor­ity of new jobs have gone to women, the fresh­men Demo­cratic con­gress­women — many elected by anti-Trump vot­ers — rose to ap­plaud them­selves. The pres­i­dent then con­grat­u­lated them, and the au­di­ence chanted “U.S.A.!”

Stacey Abrams, who nar­rowly lost her bid to be Ge­or­gia’s gov­er­nor yet emerged as a na­tional fig­ure, was to de­liver the of­fi­cial Demo­cratic Party re­sponse to Trump and was set to lam­baste him for a shut­down that left 800,000 fed­eral work­ers and many con­trac­tors un­paid for a month.

“Mak­ing their liveli­hoods a pawn for po­lit­i­cal games is a dis­grace,” Abrams planned to say, ac­cord­ing to pre­pared re­marks. “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.”

Trump had sug­gested that the State of the Union ad­dress was an op­por­tu­nity for a re­set, though few ex­pected him to change the di­vi­sive style that has given him con­sis­tently nar­row sup­port from 4 out of 10 Amer­i­cans in polls.

Once again he pro­posed a na­tional pro­gram to re­build roads, bridges and other in­fras­truc­ture, yet he did so only briefly and to lit­tle re­sponse from law­mak­ers. Many Repub- li­cans op­pose the sort of big spend­ing pro­gram that would be pop­u­lar with Democrats. The House will be­gin hear­ings on in­fras­truc­ture leg­is­la­tion Thurs­day.

Trump noted ef­forts to lower pre­scrip­tion drug prices as an­other area of po­ten­tial bi­par­ti­san­ship, but de­tails re­main di­vi­sive. He also pro­moted the re­vised North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment with Canada and Mex­ico, which re­quires Congress’ ap­proval but faces some op­po­si­tion in both par­ties.

The pres­i­dent noted his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to­ward a trade ac­cord with China, even as both coun­tries’ ne­go­tia­tors have strug­gled to reach a deal against the back­drop of a trade war of tit-for-tat tar­iffs that he ini­ti­ated.

Trump’s top pri­or­ity — build­ing the wall and curb­ing le­gal and il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion — will per­haps be the hard­est to achieve, given the gulf with Democrats and even some Re­pub­li­cans. Though Democrats have agreed in the past to sup­port bor­der fences as part of broad im­mi­gra­tion deals, Pelosi now calls a wall “im­moral.” Fur­ther hin­der­ing the pres­i­dent, many of his hard-line im­mi­gra­tion al­lies do not see a wall as a pri­or­ity.

Polls show Trump’s ap­proval at about 41 per­cent on av­er­age, with more than 55 per­cent of vot­ers dis­ap­prov­ing of his per­for­mance. Pres­i­dents typ­i­cally see their pop­u­lar­ity rise after State of the Union ad­dresses. Trump won a mod­est bump last year, but his low job ap­proval has re­mained rel­a­tively sta­ble through­out a pres­i­dency in which he has di­rected most of his ef­forts to­ward pleas­ing his core sup­port­ers.

A Gallup poll re­leased Mon­day showed that on Trump’s sig­na­ture is­sue, the wall, 60 per­cent of Amer­i­cans op­pose sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion along the bor­der.

While White House of­fi­cials promised a less par­ti­san tone, aides pri­vately en­cour­aged sur­ro­gates and al­lies to ham­mer Democrats in the me­dia on two is­sues, taxes and abor­tion.

“If he’s go­ing to go a lit­tle high, we’ve got to go a lit­tle low,” said one per­son who at­tended a meet­ing Mon­day night at the White House and asked not to be iden­ti­fied dis­cussing a pri­vate ses­sion. It was or­ga­nized for the pres­i­dent’s most prom­i­nent out­side sup­port­ers.

Trump coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way, the per­son said, out­lined a twopronged com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy, telling at­ten­dees to “be more an­tag­o­nis­tic and more par­ti­san than the pres­i­dent is go­ing to be.”

AN­DREW HARNIK AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi be­hind him, de­liv­ers his State of the Union ad­dress to a joint ses­sion of Congress on Tues­day.

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