State of the Union: Trump calls for end of ‘decades of political stalemate’

US president announces second North Korea summit and reiterates demands for border wall

US President Trump called for unity at the annual State of the Union address. He also announced that he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on February 27-28 in Vietnam for second summit. Video: Reuters

 

US president Donald Trump appealed to Congress to end “decades of political stalemate” as he made a call for unity in his annual State of the Union address. But he also returned to many of his most divisive themes, reiterating his call for a border wall and lashing out at “partisan investigations.”

The speech, which was interrupted by enthusiastic cheers by Republicans and mostly stony silence from Democrats, was delivered against a background of bitter acrimony between Mr Trump and the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives over his demands for a border wall with Mexico.

Beginning his speech with a call for bipartisanship he said that “millions of our fellow citizens … are hoping that we will govern not as two parties but as one Nation…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.”

But his speech soon returned to familiar ground. As expected, Mr Trump doubled-down on his call for a border wall and cast immigration as an “urgent national crisis.”

“As we speak, large, organised caravans are on the march to the United States, ” he warned the packed chamber.

Among Mr Trump’s invited guests to the speech was Debra Bissell, whose parents were killed by an undocumented immigrant last month.

“Not one more American life should be lost because our Nation failed to control its very dangerous border, “ he said.

He also reiterated his demands for a wall with Mexico. “Where walls go up, illegal crossings go way way down,” he said claiming that “most of the people” in the chamber had voted for a wall in the past, but a proper wall was never built. “I’ll get it built,” he said to applause from Republicans.

He said that the structure would not just be a simple concrete wall, but a “smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier” which will be deployed in areas identified by border agents.

Mr Trump did not indicate if he would declare a national emergency to build the wall, if Congress does not come forward with legislation containing border funding by February 15th when current spending bills expire. Instead he called on Congress to act.

“The Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our Government, protect our homeland, and secure our southern border. Now is the time for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.”

Tuesday’s address, which was delayed by a week due to the government shutdown, was Mr Trump’s first speech delivered to a chamber led by Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi, with whom he has clashed repeatedly in recent weeks.

In a striking visual image, dozens of women members of Congress wore white, including Ms Pelosi who sat behind Mr Trump’s left shoulder throughout the speech.

A total of 102 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress are women – a record level of female representation.

Female politicians dressed in white watch as US president Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Female politicians dressed in white watch as US president Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Mr Trump’s wife and eldest daughter Ivanka who were among the family members in attendance wore black, though his youngest daughter Tiffany wore white.

In an unexpected moment, his claim that “we have more women in the workforce than ever before,” elicited cheers and high-fives from the female members of Congress on the Democratic side.

As with previous State of the Union speeches, foreign policy featured in the president’s address. One of the main takeaways of the speech was confirmation that a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is scheduled for February 27th and 28th in Vietnam.

“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea, ” he said. “Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one.”

He also referenced America’s continued presence in Afghanistan, mentioning the ongoing talks between US officials and Afghan groups, including the Taliban. “We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace,” he said.

On Venezuela, he championed America’s recent move to recognise Juan Guaido as interim president. “We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime.” But he also hit out at what he said were calls by some for the introduction of socialism in the United States.

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

Some of the biggest cheers from the Republican benches greeted Mr Trump’s comments on abortion where he urged Congress to pass legislation restricting late-term abortions, referencing in graphic terms recent changes in legislation in New York state and Virginia. “All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God,” he said.

As had been expected, Mr Trump spent much of the early part of his speech highlighting his achievements as president, particularly in the economic sphere, claiming that the American economy is “the envy of the world.” “In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom, a boom that has rarely been seen before. We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

But he also referenced the Special Counsel investigation which has overshadowed his presidency. “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.”

Shortly after Mr Trump concluded his speech with a call to “reignite the American imagination” and “rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbours, as patriots,” Stacey Abrams delivered the official Democratic response to the State of the Union.

The former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia hit out at president Trump for the recent government shutdown, which she described as a “stunt,” engineered by the president. She also accused Mr Trump of using federal works as pawns for political games. Finally, she addressed the theme of immigration, stating that America benefitted from the presence of immigrants.

“America is made stronger by the presence of immigrants, not walls,” she said in her speech which was delivered in a union hall in Atlanta.