WASHINGTON | Facing a divided Congress for the first time, President Donald Trump on Tuesday called on Washington to reject “the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution.” He warned emboldened Democrats that “ridiculous partisan investigations” into his administration and businesses could hamper a surging American economy.
Trump’s appeals for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address clashed with the rancorous atmosphere he has helped cultivate in the nation’s capital — as well as the desire of most Democrats to block his agenda during his next two years in office. Their opposition was on vivid display as Democratic congresswomen in the audience formed a sea of white in a nod to early 20th-century suffragettes.
Trump spoke at a critical moment in his presidency, staring down a two-year stretch that will determine whether he is re-elected or leaves office in defeat. His speech sought to shore up Republican support that had eroded slightly during the recent government shutdown and previewed a fresh defense against Democrats as they ready a round of investigations into every aspect of his administration.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he declared. Lawmakers in the cavernous House chamber sat largely silent.
Colorado lawmakers were predictably split by party in their reaction to Trump’s address.
Aurora Democratic Congressman Jason Crow, elected as part of the so-called blue wave last fall, had several criticisms about the address.
“Instead of opting for the facts and what’s necessary at the border, he chooses to divide the community and engage in the fear mongering,” Crow told the Sentinel after Trump’s speech. “That’s no surprise to me…he’ll wake up in the morning and start tweeting and start dividing… which is what we’re expecting him to do.”
Crow said he was troubled by what he perceived as threats surrounding investigations into Trump’s connection with Russia and a growing list of allegations. He said the investigation should be protected from the politics that Trump used in his speech.
“His opening early on, referencing the Mueller investigation and undermining the rule of law was very troubling to me,” Crow said. “He was trying to paint this as a partisan investigation and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Democratic Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet had similar thoughts about Trump’s sincerity about collegiality.
“It will take more than a speech to paper over President Trump’s consistent view that the only obligation he has is to his political base,” Bennet said in a statement. “We heard nothing in tonight’s speech that addressed how the President will help raise incomes for middle-class Americans, make quality higher education more affordable, or address the urgent problem of climate change.
Colorado Republicans gave Trump glowing reviews.
“I applaud the President’s call for compromise and cooperation tonight. It is time to leave partisan corners and work together on behalf of the American people to move our country forward,” Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said in a statement. “I stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fix our broken immigration system, fund border security, invest in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure to reduce traffic in Colorado, and bolster our national security.”
Colorado state GOP Chairman Jeff Hays said the address shored up support for the president among state Republicans.
“Colorado Republicans love our president, and tonight reminded us why,” Hays said in a statement. “The unprecedented successes of the past year and President Trump’s clear vision for America’s continued greatness were on full display tonight, as was his moving patriotism.
Southern Colorado GOP Congressman Scott Tipton said that despite the many accolades and victories Trump claimed, there’s much work to be done.
“…like border security, common-sense immigration reform, infrastructure, and health care,” Tipton said in a statement. “This work must be done in the halls of Congress, with members from both sides of the aisle coming together to achieve workable solutions.”
Abortion rights proponents were incensed by Trump’s outright attack on abortion and promise to undermine rights.
“Colorado laws rightly leave medical decisions between the patient and their doctor, as they should,” Aurora Ob-Gyn and NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Board Member Dr. Rebecca Cohen said in a statement. “And abortion bans such as this one serve no medical purpose – they are purely political.”
In the shadow of the shutdown
Looming over the president’s address was a fast-approaching Feb. 15 deadline to fund the government and avoid another shutdown. Democrats have refused to acquiesce to his demands for a border wall, and Republicans are increasingly unwilling to shut down the government to help him fulfill his signature campaign pledge. Nor does the GOP support the president’s plan to declare a national emergency if Congress won’t fund the wall.
Wary of publicly highlighting those intraparty divisions, Trump made no mention of an emergency declaration in his remarks. He did offer a lengthy defense of his call for a border wall, declaring: “I will build it.” But he delivered no ultimatums about what it would take for him to sign legislation to keep the government open.
“I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country,” he said, painting a dark and foreboding picture of the risks posed to Americans by illegal immigration.
The 72-year-old Trump harkened back to moments of American greatness, celebrating the moon landing as astronaut Buzz Aldrin looked on from the audience and heralding the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. He led the House chamber in singing happy birthday to a Holocaust survivor sitting with first lady Melania Trump.
“Together, we represent the most extraordinary nation in all of history. What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?” Trump said.
The president ticked through a litany of issues with crossover appeal, including boosting infrastructure, lowering prescription drug costs and combating childhood cancer. But he also appealed to his political base, both with his harsh rhetoric on immigration and a call for Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the “late-term abortion of children.”
Trump devoted much of his speech to foreign policy, another area where Republicans have increasingly distanced themselves from the White House. He announced details of a second meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, outlining a Feb. 27-28 summit in Vietnam.
Trump and Kim’s first summit garnered only a vaguely worded commitment by the North to denuclearize. But the president said his outreach to Pyongyang had made the U.S. safer.
“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.
As he condemned political turmoil in Venezuela, Trump declared that “America will never be a socialist country” — a remark that may also have been targeted at high-profile Democrats who identify as socialists.
The president was surrounded by symbols of his emboldened political opposition. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was praised by Democrats for her hard-line negotiating during the shutdown, sat behind Trump as he spoke. And several senators running for president were also in the audience, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams, delivered the party’s response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become America’s first black female governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for U.S. Senate from Georgia.
Speaking from Atlanta, Abrams calls the shutdown a political stunt that “defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values.”
Trump’s address amounted to an opening argument for his re-election campaign. Polls show he has work to do, with his approval rating falling to just 34 percent after the shutdown, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
One bright spot for the president has been the economy, which has added jobs for 100 straight months.
“The only thing that can stop it,” he said, “are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations” — an apparent swipe at the special counsel investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign, as well as the upcoming congressional investigations.
The diverse Democratic caucus, which includes a bevy of women, sat silently for much of Trump’s speech. But they leapt to their feet when he noted there are “more women in the workforce than ever before.”
The increase is due to population growth — and not something Trump can credit to any of his policies.
The president also defended his decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan over the opposition from national security officials and many Republican lawmakers.
“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said, adding that the U.S. is working with allies to “destroy the remnants” of the Islamic State group and that he has “accelerated” efforts to reach a settlement in Afghanistan.
IS militants have lost territory since Trump’s surprise announcement in December that he was pulling U.S. forces out, but military officials warn the fighters could regroup within six months to a year of the Americans leaving. Several leading GOP lawmakers have sharply criticized his plans to withdraw from Syria, as well as from Afghanistan.
Trump’s guests for the speech included Anna Marie Johnson, a woman whose life sentence for drug offenses was commuted by the president, and Joshua Trump, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Delaware, who has been bullied over his last name. They sat with Mrs. Trump during the address.