Trump’s First State of the Union Address: A Call for Unity That Wasn’t Always Heard That Way

Trump’s First State of the Union Address: A Call for Unity That Wasn’t Always Heard That Way

Originally published by The New York Times

President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address, followed by Representative Joseph Kennedy III’s response for the Democrats. Our reporters offered instant analysisfact checked the speech and annotated the transcript.

• The centerpiece of the State of the Union address was what Mr. Trump called a “down the middle” compromise on immigration, but Democrats booed some of his proposals.

• The president called for bipartisan unity, citing infrastructure, but he gave no details and offered no road map for how to enact such an ambitious plan.

• Also notable was what he left out. He made no mention of the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, nor did he acknowledge the #MeToo moment, even as female lawmakers wore black to mark the cultural moment.

• Mr. Kennedy’s use of Spanish in the middle of his speech signaled a different attitude toward immigrants than Mr. Trump’s.

President Trump aimed his words at his true followers..

The president promised an optimistic, bipartisan speech, and he largely avoided some of the negative imagery of past speeches. Gone was the “American carnage.”

But aside from a few offerings to the Democrats, mainly he appealed to enthusiastic Republicans. He did propose paid family leave and backed vocational schools and job training, winning grudging applause from Democrats.

But his policy proposals were conservative: Keep open the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, burn coal, and above all, take on an immigration system that favors family reunification over skills-based migration.

At one hour and 20 minutes, it was also the third longest State of the Union speech in the last 50 years.

An annotated copy of Mr. Trump’s speech can be read here ».

He had an economy to sell, but could he sell himself?

When he took office, President Trump painted a bleak picture of a country ravaged by economic turmoil, a landscape of “American carnage,” as he so memorably put it. A year later, he presented the nation on Tuesday night with a different narrative, one of a booming economy and a “new American moment.”

The stock market has “smashed one record after another.” Retirement accounts have “gone through the roof.” Companies are “roaring back” to the United States. “We haven’t seen this in a long time,” he exulted from the rostrum of the House chamber as he delivered his first formal State of the Union address. “It’s all coming back.”

Never mind that in some fundamental ways the economy is growing no faster than it did at points during President Barack Obama’s second term. Mr. Trump is at heart a salesman, and he rarely lets details get in the way of a good story. And by some measures, he has managed to convince many Americans, especially corporate leaders, that the economy really is surging in a way it has not for years.

The challenge for Mr. Trump is that even as he sells the economy with the fervor of a real estate developer, he has not been able to sell himself. His approval ratings remain at historic depths, and effectively unchanged after a year in office. His success at passing tax cuts and the continued progress of the economy he inherited have not changed the dismal views that a sizable majority of Americans hold of their president.

Read more of Peter Baker’s analysis here »

A Kennedy gave the Democratic response — from Fall River, Mass.

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, emerged on the national stage to give the Democratic response — from “a proud American city, built by immigrants.”

Here are some excerpts:

“It would be easy to dismiss the past year as chaos. Partisanship. Politics. But it’s far bigger than that. This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.”

“We choose A Better Deal for all who call this country home. We choose the living wage, paid leave and affordable child care your family needs to survive. We choose pensions that are solvent, trade pacts that are fair, roads and bridges that won’t rust away, and good education you can afford. We choose a health care system that offers mercy, whether you suffer from cancer or depression or addiction. We choose an economy strong enough to boast record stock prices and brave enough to admit that top CEOs making 300 times the average worker is not right.”

And here’s a full transcript »

Bernie Sanders speaks to the faithful.

He wasn’t chosen as the official Democratic responder. But Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, spoke to his faithful with his own response to the State of the Union address.

“The simple truth is that, according to virtually every poll, Donald Trump is the least popular president after one year in office of any president in modern American history. And the reason for that is pretty clear. The American people do not want a president who is compulsively dishonest, who is a bully, who actively represents the interests of the billionaire class, who is anti-science, and who is trying to divide us up based on the color of our skin, our nation of origin, our religion, our gender, or our sexual orientation.”

A dispute over infrastructure.

President Trump called for an infrastructure that would leverage federal dollars, state and local government contributions and private sector funds to total $1.5 trillion.

But Democrats, who have pressed for infrastructure spending since Barack Obama was president, were not satisfied.

“President Trump is saying he has a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. He actually has an infrastructure plan with only $200 billion in federal funding over 10 years. He expects states, localities, and the private sector to come up with $1.3 trillion on their own,” said the office of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

A Twitter record for the Twitter president.

Tonight’s speech became the most Tweeted #SOTU or #Joint session address ever, passing last year’s record of 3 million Tweets, according to Twitter.

“Beautiful, clean coal.”

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Trump returned to a phrase he has used many times before: “beautiful, clean coal.”

But it has never been entirely clear what he means by it.

Our colleague Brad Plumer wrote in August that the term “clean coal” typically refers to “coal plants that capture the carbon dioxide emitted from smokestacks and bury it underground as a way of limiting global warming.” Only one coal plant in the country uses that technology, which is very expensive. And even with it, coal plants still produce far more carbon dioxide and other pollutants than renewable energy sources.

— Maggie Astor

The first boos of the speech.

Democrats were generally stone-faced for the president’s address. But when Mr. Trump denounced “chain migration,” some of them spoke out — with boos.

For decades, immigrants who become American citizens have been able to sponsor their family members to join them from abroad. The “family-based migration system” has been relabeled “chain migration” by opponents, a new nomenclature not appreciated by many Democrats.

Guantánamo Bay stays open.

Mr. Trump has announced, as expected, that he has signed an executive order to keep the Guantánamo Bay prison open. Essentially a symbolic act, it brings official executive branch policy into line with what it has effectively been all along: the prison remains open for business, at least for those detainees who are already there.

“I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay,” he said.

Specifically, Mr. Trump’s order revokes an ill-fated January 2009 order signed by former President Barack Obama directing the government to close the prison within a year — a goal Mr. Obama failed to achieve. He did, however, winnow down the number of detainees, from the 242 he inherited from President Bush, to the 41 remaining there when Mr. Trump took office.

Mr. Obama also refused to bring any new detainees to the prison. Mr. Trump vowed during the campaign that he intended to fill it back up “with some bad dudes,” but to date his administration has not added any newly captured terrorism suspects to the inmate population, instead following the Obama approach of using law enforcement procedures and civilian courts to handle them.

The order Mr. Trump signed had a long bureaucratic history. Its first draft, circulated days after he took office, would have gone much farther, including laying the groundwork for reopening the Central Intelligence Agency’s defunct “black site” prisons, where it formerly tortured high-value detainees during the Bush administration.

After an uproar in Congress, including pushback from Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Mr. Trump shelved that idea. The executive order went through various further drafts, eventually being pared to little more than repealing Mr. Obama’s defunct directive.

In August, Mr. Trump was on the cusp of signing it when he appointed the John Kelly, a retired marines general who formerly oversaw the prison operation as the leader of Southern Command, as his chief.

One of Mr. Kelly’s first acts was to send the draft order back to national security agencies and departments for further reworking. Among the apparent changes in the final document was a direction that Mr. Mattis to establish criteria about what should be done with newly captured terrorism suspects.

At least a dozen members of Congress wore purple ribbons at President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night to help raise awareness about the country’s opioid epidemic.

In October, Mr. Trump declared that the crisis had become a “public health emergency.” Overdoses killed about 64,000 Americans in 2016, making it the leading cause of death for people under 50.

Mr. Trump mentioned the opioid crises again in his speech on Tuesday.

“We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge,” Mr. Trump said, noting the number of overdose deaths in 2016. “My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. The struggle will be long and difficult — but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.”

Trump backs new declaration of force against ISIS

Mr. Trump appeared to throw his support behind having Congress enact legislation to update the 16-year-old statute that provides the legal basis for most counterterrorism operations around the world, making it explicitly cover the Islamic State — also known as ISIS.

“I am also asking the Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists — wherever we chase them down.”

Congress enacted the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or A.U.M.F., in September 2001. It authorized war against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks and those who harbored or aided them — that is, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But in 2014, the Obama administration stretched it to justify combat operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, without new Congressional sanction.

That step was legally contentious because even though Islamic State grew out of an Al Qaeda affiliate, the two organizations had split and gone to war with each other. One of the reasons the Trump administration has not brought any Islamic State detainees to the wartime prison at Guantánamo is warnings by legal specialists that doing so would risk giving a judge an opportunity to rule that the A.U.M.F. does not cover the group, jeopardizing the broader war.

The Obama administration had fruitlessly asked Congress to enact a specific military force authorization for the Islamic State as well, while also saying it was legally unnecessary. But disputes over what it should say — including whether it should contain limits on duration, geographical scope, or the use of ground forces — prevented any consensus.

Last fall, Mr. Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration did not support Congress overhauling the war authorization law.

Manufacturing, yes, but not a tech guy.

President Trump praised Apple for a promise made earlier this month to invest $350 billion in the United States and create 20,000 domestic jobs over five years.

But his speech was devoid of any mention of the role of technology in his vision for the economy. He called for legislation for $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments for “reclaim our building heritage.” He mentioned roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways. But he did not mention any of those funds going to the expansion and improvement of broadband internet networks.

Trump talked about investing in work force development and job training. But instead of training for science, technology, engineering or math — or STEM — training, he talked about opening vocational schools.

His words stood in contrast to State of the Union speeches by President Obama, who called for universal broadband for all Americans and the importance of spreading faster networks to close the digital divide.

Sonny Perdue, agriculture secretary, designated survivor.

Yeah, there’s the first lady’s clothes or which big wig will fall asleep this year. But the State of the Union proceedings also have this bit of intrigue: Which cabinet official will earn the distinction of designated survivor?

The mystery this time was solved two hours before Mr. Trump was due to give his address on Tuesday, when the White House said that the honor would go to Mr. Perdue, the former governor of Georgia and the president’s agriculture secretary.

Glamorous in title but, thankfully, not so far in practice, the designated survivor does not attend the president’s address, and is poised to take over the commander-in-chief’s responsibilities in the event that catastrophe strikes the Capitol and wipes out most of the government. If tradition holds, Mr. Perdue will be watching from a distant and secure location while Mr. Trump speaks.

The short tenure of the designated survivor has an oversize presence in the public imagination: There is a TV series by the same title, about a low-profile cabinet member who suddenly assumes the presidency after a terror attack.

How might he measure up in the Oval Office? Mr. Perdue, a conservative Republican, shares something in common with Mr. Trump: As governor of Georgia, he faced ethical criticisms for not appearing to fully separate himself from his business interests. He once ran a grain and fertilizer business.

— Katie Rogers

“You’ve gotta have heart.”

Hours before his first State of the Union address, President Trump told a group of news anchors at a lunch in the White House that his first year in office has taught him that the biggest difference between excelling in business and performing his current job is that governing takes compassion.

“I’ve really learned a lot,” Mr. Trump told the reporters, according to a partial transcript of an off-the-record lunch released publicly by the White House. “In doing what I’m doing now, a lot of it is heart, a lot of it is compassion, a lot of it is far beyond money — such as immigration.”

Mr. Trump, who is expected to use Tuesday night’s speech to call for a bipartisan compromise that pairs legal status for a group of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children with funding for a border wall, tougher enforcement and new restrictions on legal immigration, recently said he was hoping to sign a “bill of love.”


Young, undocumented immigrants joined members of Congress during a news conference on Tuesday ahead of President Trump’s first State of the Union address. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

That tone is sharply at odds with the president’s approach on immigration thus far, which has included a travel ban against visitors from six countries, slashing refugee resettlement and revoking temporary protected status for people from El Salvador and Haiti. He has been more publicly conflicted about his decision last fall to rescind DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that has given legal status to certain people brought illegally to the United States as children.

“I’m telling you, the immigration is so easy to solve if it was purely a business matter, but it’s not,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think that’s something that I’ve learned maybe more than anything else: You have to — you govern with all of the instincts of a businessperson, but you have to add much more heart and soul into your decisions than you would ever have even thought of before.”

Here’s a peek at the transcript:

— Julie Hirschfeld Davis

Dreamers head to the Capitol — despite the risk.

Democratic lawmakers have decided to put a face on the difficult negotiations happening in Congress over the fate of young, undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. They are bringing scores of such “Dreamers” to the Capitol for Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

Representative Nancy Pelosi’s guest, Melody Klingenfuss, is just one of them. Born in Guatemala, she was brought to Los Angeles when she was 9, earned a degree in communications and political science from California State University, Los Angeles, a master’s degree from the University of Southern California, then won protection under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2015.

“Tonight, when President Trump looks into the gallery during his State of the Union, he will see the dignity, courage and patriotism of dozens of Dreamers,” said Ms. Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

But there is a flip side. Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, has called the cops.

So much for the warm welcome.

Mr. Gosar’s fellow Arizona Republican, Senator Jeff Flake, didn’t take kindly to his colleague’s citizen’s arrest.

Are we facing a “Constitutional crisis”?

The Trump administration’s announcement on Monday that it would not impose sanctions on countries that buy Russian military equipment sparked an angry response in Congress, where the Senate and House overwhelmingly approved the sanctions to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 election.

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri who faces a difficult re-election campaign this year, set the tone with a blast on Twitter.

That concern is bipartisan, at least in some quarters of the Republican Party. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, was flummoxed by the administration’s decision:

“That bill passed with only two dissenting votes in the Senate. It was not partisan in the least,” she said on CNN. “The one thing we know for sure already is the Russians did attempt to meddle in our elections, and not only should there be a price to pay in terms of sanctions, but also we need to put safeguards in place right now for the elections for this year, because we know that the Russians have not given up on their disinformation campaign and their attempt to sow discord in this country and also to undermine faith in democratic institutions.”

 Testifying before a Senate panel on Tuesday morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his department had followed instructions under the sanctions law and drawn up a list of Russian targets for sanctions. An imposition of sanctions could still follow.

Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and one of the authors of the sanctions legislation, declined to criticize the administration’s actions. He did say, “I look forward” to the implementation of the sanctions.

Speaker Ryan weighs in on Russia memo.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin spent part of the morning before Mr. Trump’s speech tamping down expectations about a secretive Republican memo that some House members have claimed contains evidence that could undercut the Russia investigation.

In a closed-door meeting of House Republicans this morning, Mr. Ryan “implored” his fellow lawmakers not to overstate the facts of the memo, which the House Intelligence Committee voted to release Monday night. And he urged them not to tie the contentious document — which Democrats call dangerously misleading — to the work of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to a person in the room.

Mr. Ryan reiterated some of those points during a public news conferencean hour later, saying that he had faith in the F.B.I. and Justice Department’s broadly and that he thought Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, the man overseeing the Russia investigation, was “doing a fine job.” Still, Mr. Ryan defended the Republicans’ overall approach, saying that they were following proper processes and that only transparency would lead to accountability at the agencies.

That was not enough to quiet the most ardent proponents of the notion that federal law enforcement agents have conspired to bring down the Trump White House. Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, called on the president to release the memo during the State of the Union.

About those stock market brags, Mr. President.

President Trump loves to brag about the stock market setting record highs, but on the day of his first State of the Union speech, the market isn’t loving him back — for reasons that probably have nothing to do with him or his policies.

Stocks fell sharply at their opening this morning and have stayed down all day. As of 2:30 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average was down nearly 400 points, or about 1.7 percent, from Monday’s close. The S&P 500 was down about 1.4 percent.

It appeared that the sell-off was driven by rising bond yields and a tumble in health insurer stocks, on the news that Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway are launching a health care effort.

As of midafternoon, Mr. Trump had not tweeted about the market news.

— James Tankersley

The president and the black felt marker.

One constant refrain from White House officials when it comes to State of the Union speeches is this: the president was personally involved in drafting the speech.

It was no different on Tuesday as officials in President Trump’s White House described a “robust,” monthslong process in which Mr. Trump actively reviewed drafts of the speech and repeatedly made suggestions of phrases or anecdotes or words that he wanted to be used when he delivers the address.

The speech was assembled over weeks, with agency heads and cabinet secretaries offering suggestions on accomplishments that the president should highlight or priorities he could push for. Speech-writing meetings at the White House with Stephen Miller, the president’s top speechwriter, John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, and others were coordinated by Rob Porter, the president’s staff secretary.

Aides said that in the last two weeks, Mr. Trump received printed drafts of the speech — with ample margins — and used a black felt marker to make additions, deletions and changes. They said he often edited the drafts in the Oval Office, but sometimes would come down from the residence in the morning with a new draft that he had marked up overnight.

— Michael D. Shear

Trump donors get their names in lights.

As the president prepares to speak, his campaign is preparing to cash in.

In a text message to supporters, the Trump campaign offered a few seconds of quasi-fame to donors who give money before his speech. Their names will appear as the speech streams on the Trump campaign website.

“This is a movement,” reads the State of the Union donation form on the campaign site, “which is why your name deserves to be displayed during tonight’s speech.” The Trump campaign offered similar recognition to small donors in the run-up to the Republican National Convention in 2016.

While campaigns regularly raise money based on major events, the Trump campaign’s solicitation is unusual. The names of donors giving more than $200 in a single election cycle must be reported to the Federal Election Commission and are public record, but the voluntary disclosure of the names of small donors is uncommon. Additionally, previous presidents’ campaigns did not raise money for re-election so early in their first term. Former President Barack Obama’s campaign did not file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and begin raising money until the third year of his presidency.

— Rachel Shorey

Four Supreme Court justices will be in the crowd.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has called the State of the Union address “a political pep rally.” But he is expected to attend tonight, along with three colleagues: Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan and Neil M. Gorsuch, whom President Trump appointed to the court last year.

Among the missing will be Justice Clarence Thomas, who has said that he cannot tolerate “the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who has called the addresses “very political events” and “very awkward,” is also not expected to attend.

Justice Alito famously mouthed “not true” at the address in 2010 after President Obama’s loose characterization of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United campaign finance case.

Three members of the court will be out of town tonight: Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

The justices who do attend usually make coordinated choices about what statements from the president are uncontroversial enough to warrant applause.

That is hard, Justice Alito said in 2010, because presidents “will fake you out.” They may start with something bland, he said, like, “ ‘Isn’t this the greatest country in the world?’ “

“So you get up and you start to clap,” he said, “and the president will say, ‘Because we are conducting a surge in Iraq’ or ‘Because we are going to enact health care reform,’ and then you immediately have to stop.”

— Adam Liptak

The State of the Union guest list

The White House released on Monday the list of people President Trump and his wife, Melania, invited to attend the State of the Union address.

An eclectic cohort will join the first lady: emergency medical workers, service members and faces of Mr. Trump’s tax and immigration overhaul narratives. Here are a few of the people you’ll see:

David Dahlberg, a fire prevention technician, who saved 62 children and staff members from a blaze-encircled summer camp in July during the wildfires in Southern California.

Officer Ryan Holets, of the Albuquerque Police Department, who, according to the White House, was twice shot at during his time as an officer. He and his wife adopted a child from parents who were addicted to opioids.

Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger, who are the leaders of a Dayton, Ohio, contract manufacturing company focused on metal fabrication. They founded Staub Manufacturing Solutions two decades ago. Over the past year, the company acquired a new building and saw a 60 percent increase in employees — from 23 to 37. Crediting the passage of the tax law, the company gave large Christmas bonuses to all employees.

Four parents whose daughters, the authorities say, were most likely killed by members of the MS-13 gangElizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens, who lost Nisa Mickens, 15; and Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, who lost Kayla Cuevas, 16. The teenagers were killed in 2016 on Long Island.

For the full list, read on »

— Emily Baumgaertner

Lawmakers to wear black for Time’s Up.

After the women of Hollywood, the women of Congress.

Taking a cue from the call that went out before the Golden Globes for all attendees to wear black in support of Time’s Up and its spotlight on systemic sexual harassment, members of the Democratic Women’s Working Group — Representatives Lois Frankel of Florida, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey and Jackie Speier of California — invited all members of Congress (men included) to wear black to the State of the Union.

So far, a number of House members have complied, including Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader.

It is not, as it happens, the first time women have used clothing to send a message: at Mr. Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress last year, many of them wore suffragist white. In both cases, they let their clothes do the talking for them.

— Vanessa Friedman

Voices from speechwriters past.

Jonathan Horn, speechwriter for former President George W. Bush, has these thoughts:

“That’s part of the problem for Donald Trump going into the State of the Union. He could come out with a very traditional State of the Union and for a normal president, that would help set the agenda for at least, you know, maybe a few weeks. In Washington, you’d plan other policy speeches to follow up on certain aspects of the State of the Union and there would be an entire rollout around the State of the Union.

I think with this president, you would expect it would be much shorter. Even if there is a surprise — Oh, look, Donald Trump sounded presidential — but then the next day there could be a tweet, and then, you know, work on a very, very long speech is overshadowed by a 280 characters.

That’s my one prediction. In some sense, whatever he ultimately says is overshadowed by a 280-character tweet.”

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at N.Y.U. School of Law and a speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton, also weighed in:

“The power of that podium is not just the audience watching. It’s the sense that the president is somebody who speaks for the whole country. And the way he has governed over the past year has been so filled with denunciations and racial division and flat-out falsehoods that he doesn’t have a lot in the tank when it comes to credibility for anybody who isn’t already an avid supporter.

Often, these State of the Union addresses can be a time when the panoply of the presidency can give whoever the president is, sort of, a second chance with a lot of people. I’d be surprised if that’s the case here.”

Cody Keenan, chief speechwriter for former President Barack Obama, also had concerns:

“President Obama always wanted to close his State of the Union addresses with an argument about the state of our politics. You know, what can we do to make them better? What can we do to be better citizens? I always remember reading criticisms the next day, certainly from the left, saying why is he wasting real estate in the speech on that? It’s never going to happen.

“Well, that’s part of leadership. You know, there’s a vision of what we should be, even if the odds of us getting there in one year or eight years is pretty slim.”

— Interviews by Michael D. Shear

Unfamiliar with the guests in the first lady’s box? Here’s some history.

Read more:


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.