After a bruising government shutdown that brought him no money for a border wall, President Trump used his State of the Union address to call for unity, but also to restate his dug-in positions on many controversial issues.
Did the calls for compromise work, based on how his audience responded? Somewhat. House Democrats can now afford to be more publicly gracious — since they have real power to block his moves.
Mixed approaches on immigration
In his remarks, Trump offered his familiar dire depictions of the southern border as a lawless place, where he has dispatched troops to “prepare for the tremendous onslaught” of immigrants seeking entry and where sex traffickers sell girls and women “into prostitution and modern-day slavery.” Such dark language led Republican lawmakers to burst into cheers when he finished with “Walls work, and walls save lives.”
But the president also talked up how migrants “enrich our nation and strengthen our society,” a point he rarely makes. He said he wanted to see people come into the United States legally “in the largest numbers ever,” a phrase he added after the White House distributed copies of his remarks. That brought the entire chamber to its feet.
And Trump singled out an Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent, Elvin Hernandez, who legally immigrated from the Dominican Republic and who leads investigations into sex trafficking. In promising to Hernandez that “we will never abolish our heroes from ICE,” he took a swipe at Democrats who have called for an end to the agency. Which Democrats? The ones who stayed seated, while their colleagues rose and applauded with Republicans.
Infrastructure, and women in the workplace, are widely loved
Few issues are as broadly popular as infrastructure, but the Trump administration hasn’t made a serious push to pass legislation on the issue. The speech referenced a proposal to fix “America’s crumbling infrastructure,” which drew large applause from both sides of the aisle. No details were given, and Trump quickly moved on.
One of the biggest reactions of the night came when Trump noted that women filled “58 percent of new jobs created last year.” He was talking up the economy, but white-clad Democratic congresswomen seized an opening to celebrate their own new jobs – and the record number of women who won office in 2018 Senate and House races.
Trump seemed amused that the celebration ruined his setup, pointing and saying, “You weren’t supposed to do that.” He specifically called out the record just a few lines later.
Not every line got a big response
Congressional Republicans were happy to loudly support Trump, even with another potential government shutdown looming just weeks after the widely unpopular first one ended. But there were times when Trump’s speech stumbled or seemed to go too far even for them. A boast that his election prevented a “major war with North Korea” drew muted claps from lawmakers.
Is it bipartisan if only some Democrats clap?
In some parts of his speech, Trump hit talking points that drew applause from a smaller selection of Democrats.
He got many rounds of applause out of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), including props from Manchin and several representatives when stating that the United States is now a “net exporter of energy.” (In fact, it has been a net exporter since 2015.)
As he did with the “Abolish ICE” movement, Trump took aim at the left wing of the Democratic Party with his condemnation of socialism. This drew applause from 2020 candidates, including Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), and a slower response from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio). All four are running for president in 2020 or considering it.
Yet there was still a lot aimed at the base
Trump reached across the aisle more than he had in his previous addresses to Congress. But much of the speech contained the familiar appeals and hard-line proposals popular with the president’s sturdy Republican base. He asked Congress to outlaw late-term abortions “of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”
He also blasted “ridiculous partisan investigations” and made reference to his tax bill and the elimination of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate.