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What Trump’s address sounded like in eight American living rooms

From left, Jen Burch in Denver; Nancy Berry in Dearborn Heights, Mich.; and Marina Rivera in Phoenix. (ftwp)

In Milwaukee, a retired factory worker sipping coffee in his burgundy recliner cheered as President Trump promised in his State of the Union address to build new roads, bridges, waterways and other infrastructure improvements.

In New Jersey, a Democrat-turned-Trump-voter whose 26-year-old son died of a heroin overdose in 2010 wondered why the president didn't provide a detailed plan to address the opioid crisis that's killing thousands each year.

President Trump gave his first State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 30. Here are the highlights from his remarks. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

In Phoenix, a mother of six from Mexico listened to Trump and grew increasingly worried about the future of her two oldest daughters, who were granted temporary legal status through a program started by the Obama administration.

And in Denver, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan wondered why the president continues to send more and more troops into the Middle East to fight terrorism without a clear plan of action.

Here's what happened in eight American living rooms as Trump spoke:


Trump: "We have gone forward with a clear vision and a righteous mission — to make America great again for all Americans."

As Trump declared his first year in office a triumph, Kandice Webber and her wife were eating dinner and watching the speech on the gray couch in their home in Houston's East Downtown neighborhood.

Webber dropped her fork in disgust when Trump noted that African American unemployment is at "the lowest rate ever recorded," seeming to take credit for a downward trend that started in 2011.

When he labeled the recent Republican tax cuts "tremendous relief," she relabeled it "the biggest tax heist in American history." When he recognized the "Cajun Navy" of volunteers who used their fishing boats to rescue people during Hurricane Harvey, Webber asked why the president didn't also acknowledge Black Lives Matter activists who were volunteering at shelters, providing medical care, coordinating clothing drives and mucking houses. And when Trump proclaimed that he wants "every citizen to be proud of this land that we love," she told him: "So resign."

Webber's America is not Trump's America. Her America is a place where marriages like hers — a 42-year-old African American woman married to a 29-year-old redheaded woman — are respected and celebrated. Webber, a registered nurse, said she wants an America where people can get affordable medical care, where police officers stop shooting innocent people and where human beings aren't labeled as "illegal" because of their immigration status. She doesn't like what's happening to her country.

"People are a whole lot more okay with being racist than they were before," she said. "This has always been America. America just came out of the closet is what happened."

— Brittney Martin

Warrensville Heights, Ohio

Trump: "Corey is an all-American worker."

Tory and TaNisha Coats sat closely together on the plush beige love seat in their home in this predominantly African American suburb east of Cleveland. Assorted relatives filled the room, which TaNisha Coats had decorated for the occasion, hanging a row of tiny American flags over the wall-mounted television and lighting red votive candles.

Tory Coats, a 40-year-old case manager who works with at-risk children, describes himself as a conservative entrepreneur — and he seriously considered voting for Trump because of his business background. But Coats couldn't get past Trump's divisive rhetoric.

"The Democrats take [black] voters for granted, [saying] 'I know you're not going to vote for Trump,' " Coats said. "And they're right; I'm not. But I'm not so committed to the Democratic Party. I can be persuaded, but [Trump] could care less about my vote."

The couple said they are raising their three children — ages 18, 16 and 12 — to be entrepreneurial leaders, not simply employees. And so they were surprised that Trump's featured guests included the white owners of an Ohio manufacturing company and one of their black employees.

"Corey is an all-American worker," Trump said, recognizing the welder. "He supported himself through high school, lost his job during the 2008 recession and was later . . . trained to become a welder."

As those in the chamber stood to applaud, the Coatses were uncomfortable, wondering why the White House had not found an African American business owner to honor.

"They're giving a standing ovation to an African American who works for Caucasian bosses," said TaNisha Coats, 39, who works for a nonprofit health-care organization as a patient navigator.

— Afi Scruggs


Trump: "We salute our flag... we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance and ... we proudly stand for the national anthem."

Jen Burch, 30, voted for Trump because she considered him the lesser of two evils — but she commends his approach to the military and service members.

"You have to say, that's something Trump does better than any of the other candidates," said Burch, a registered Republican who served six and a half years in the Air Force, achieving the rank of staff sergeant. "He supports not just the military, but firefighters and other public service groups, first responders."

Burch deployed in 2010 to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where she spent seven months as a volunteer medic. In her studio apartment in downtown Denver, she keeps a short-billed camouflage hat that she wore every day in Afghanistan and had signed by comedian Robin Williams, whom she met as part of a USO tour. When she returned from duty, Burch struggled with PTSD and depression. She has advocated for fellow veterans through the Colorado Veterans Project.

When Trump on Tuesday night promised to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group, Burch was disappointed he didn't say more about how that would happen.

This war, she said, is "going to keep going until we get a better plan."

— Bart Schaneman


Trump: "America is a nation of builders."

Throughout the speech, Trump would often start a sentence and Jim Mead, from the comfort of his living room chair, would rush to finish it for him. While the president refrained from mocking his rivals, Mead went ahead and did it for him. And when the president called for massive increases in infrastructure spending, Mead was ecstatic.

"I was waiting for him to say that," said Mead, 67, who is retired from a local factory where he worked on the floor and in the human resources department. "That has got to be addressed! The roads and bridges and airports here need so much work, and we're giving billions upon billions to foreign aid. It doesn't make any sense."

The cameras then panned across the House chamber to the Democrats, who sat grimly as Republicans stood and cheered.

"These guys look like they're going to fall over dead!" said Mead. "It just kills me. They're the ones who support jobs and they don't support a thing he says. I don't get it."

Minutes later, Trump touted a proposal to steer more federal education funding to technical and vocational schools.

"That's right," Mead responded, clapping. "They gotta have a trade. College ain't for everybody."

Mead — wearing a black leather motorcycle vest over a black shirt and jeans, his arms sleeved in decades-old tattoos — grew up in a union Democratic household. He quit high school to work on the Harley Davidson assembly line in 1968, making $4 an hour, he said. He then worked for 34 years at another manufacturing company where he made $21 an hour until 2006, when the plant closed and he retired. It was a career that allowed him and his wife, Kitty Mead, to buy their house and pay their daughter's way through the University of Wisconsin, sparing her from having to take out student loans.

Mead has been a Republican ever since he voted for Ronald Reagan, and he fell for Trump after seeing him at two rallies. One year in, Mead said Trump "is doing extremely well."

"That's right, man!" Mead shouted at the president halfway through the speech. "He talks like a boss. I like that. He's so confident and pro-American. I haven't heard a guy as pro-American since Ronald Reagan."

— Dan Simmons


Trump: "Americans are dreamers, too."

As President Trump recounted the brutal murder of two young girls on Long Island at the hands of gang members who "took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors," Marina Rivera shook her head and held one of her daughters.

She continued to shake her head as the president declared that "the United States is a compassionate nation" and then ran through his plan to change the immigration system. The president said that it is his "sacred duty . . . to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities and their right to the American Dream, because Americans are dreamers, too."

Trump was borrowing a term — "dreamer" — that has particular meaning for Rivera and her family.

Rivera and her husband, Juan Bueno, came to the United States from Mexico City in 2003, paying a smuggler to sneak them and their two young daughters over the border.Over the years, the couple has worked at a carwash, cleaned office buildings and done landscaping. They had four more children, who are all U.S. citizens.

Their daughters who are now 21 and 16 were both given temporary legal immigration status under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young undocumented immigrants known as "dreamers."

"If they take my DACA away, I'll be nothing," said Jessica, 21, who is trained as a dental assistant.

Berenice, 16, was in class at her high school when the Trump administration announced in September that he was rescinding DACA. She immediately texted her mother. When she got home that day, her older sister was crying.

"They have my dad's information. They know where he works. They have my mom's information," she said. "I'm afraid I'll come home from school one day and I'll never see my dad again."

Trump proposed putting 1.8 million "dreamers" on a path to citizenship, though the process would take up to 12 years.

"Twelve years sounds like such a long time," said Marina Rivera. "The dreamers are the ones building this country, making this country grow. They are Americans."

— Evan Wyloge

Dearborn Heights, Mich.

Trump: "Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives."

When Trump pledged to end "chain migration," a system under which he said an immigrant can "bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives," Fouad Berry and his relatives spoke up to defend the practice.

"We would never have been here" without the United States' family migration policies, said Berry, 55, who came to the United States from Lebanon when he was 9 and now owns several Little Caesars pizza restaurants. He said his father "couldn't write or read."

"It's sad that people are here now, and they want to end chain migration, and the only reason they're here is because of it," said Berry, who has four daughters and one son.

His wife, Nancy, who moved to the United States from Jerusalem, chimed in: "I came here through my uncle," she said.

"And we came through my aunt," Fouad Berry said, adding later: "I don't know where we would be if it wasn't for chain migration."

It's not just their family, they added, saying that for generations, families have traveled to the United States together. But everything has changed now that Trump is president.

Berry, who used to be a Republican but has voted for Democrats in the last several presidential elections, said his 22-year-old daughter works in neonatal care. She's had parents see her headscarf and ask that she not care for their baby. He worries about how a rising tide of Islamophobia could affect the safety of their children.

"Even in Dearborn, we just worry much more than we worried before," he said, referring to the Detroit suburb that's home to a large Arab and Muslim population. "That's for sure."

— Trevor Bach

Coronado, Calif.

Trump: "It is time to reform these outdated immigration rules and finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century."

Each time Trump announced another pillar of his immigration plan, Esther Valdés, her three older sisters and their husbands cheered as if they were watching the final minutes of a football game.

As Trump publicly thanked former Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent CJ Martinez for his bravery, Valdés echoed the sentiment and then somberly added: "Somebody is going to say he's a traitor to his race."

It's an attack that she knows well as a Hispanic Trump supporter who works as an immigration attorney.

"But never to my face," said Valdés, 44, a longtime Republican who lives outside of downtown San Diego and has a daughter in college. "It's always backhanded commentary with the suggestion that I'm somehow disloyal to my race or to my profession. It's never hurtful because it's completely untruthful. My first allegiance is to my country."

Valdés was born in the United States, but within days of her birth, she went to live in Mexico with her parents and three older sisters, who did not have U.S. residency. The family stayed in Mexico for four years until her family completed the process to become lawful permanent residents.

"That's what my family did. We availed ourselves of the procedures that reigned at the time for admission and inspection — and waited," she said.

As Trump promised Tuesday night to send more reinforcements to confront MS-13 gang members, Valdés chimed in: "Send them home! Send them to jail!" Her sister chanted: "Build that wall! Build that wall!"

Later, as Trump was wrapping up, Valdés led her relatives in one more chant: "USA! USA! USA!"

— Rob Kuznia

Blackwood, N.J

Trump: "We must get tougher on drug dealers and pushers."

Patty DiRenzo watched the State of the Union address in her living room along with her ex-husband, Sal Marchese, and Sal's current wife, Monica Marchese. The walls were adorned with photos of her late son, Salvatore J. Marchese, who died of a heroin overdose in 2010 when he was 26. Sleeping upstairs was her 8-year-old grandson, who was just 18 months old when his father died.

The two women both voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, but Sal Marchese voted for Trump — even though he's a registered Democrat who twice voted for Barack Obama.

"I wanted stimulation in the economy that would put people to work," said Marchese, 58, who runs a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning company. "But the biggest thing was that I wanted a change from everyday politics."

A year into the Trump administration, he looks at his retirement account and stands by his decision.

Everyone in the room agreed that the federal government could be doing more to help fight opioid addiction. More than 42,000 people fatally overdosed on opioids in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 2,000 of those deaths occurred in New Jersey. The family was heartened when Trump last year called the opioid crisis "a serious problem the likes of which we have never had."

DiRenzo, 58, was thrilled to see several lawmakers wearing purple ribbons aimed at bringing awareness to opioid addiction — but she was disappointed by Trump's brief comments on the crisis.

"I came in with a little bit of hope, but now I just want to cry," DiRenzo said. "He didn't acknowledge drug addiction as a disease, and he doesn't have any kind of plan. . . . He's always putting people who are struggling down."

She said Trump should have invited a recovering addict or someone with firsthand experience with addiction to sit in the gallery.

"Sal, how did you feel about that?" DiRenzo asked her ex-husband as she turned away from the television.

"I thought he would say more," Sal Marchese responded stoically. "He didn't address the crisis."

— Alan Maimon

Read the Fact Checker’s breakdown of Tuesday’s speech

Trump’s call for unity slams into the reality of Washington’s divisions