A week later than originally planned, President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress and the American public.
After rattling off a litany of accomplishments and outlining a series of challenges facing the new Congress, Trump called on legislators to work in unity on a number of core issues.
“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. 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,” said Trump in reference to the Democrat-controlled U.S. House that is opening up a series of oversight and investigatory hearings on his business dealings, campaign and administration as well as the long-running Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation.
Trump launched his more than one-hour speech by bragging on low unemployment, strong job growth, a manufacturing resurgence, declining unemployment for minorities, energy independence, tax cuts and regulatory relief.
After discussing a bipartisan criminal justice reform package he signed last year and complaining about the slow pace of judicial confirmations, Trump discussed a number of old and new initiatives that he offered as an agenda for the 116th United States Congress.
With Democrats heading the U.S. House and Republicans holding a majority in the U.S. Senate, Trump said he wanted to work on infrastructure spending for the nation’s roads and transportation system, more money for military spending, expanding school choice, and controlling health care costs that have spiraled higher for decades.
Trump offered two new bold visions in the health care arena. He called on eliminating HIV and AIDS within 10 years through a commitment to research and disease eradication. He also said he wanted $500 million over the next 10 years for research to address childhood cancer.
In the mid-section of his joint address, Trump called on funding for new security along the nation’s southern border. The divisive topic was at the center of a partial federal government shutdown for nearly 35 days at the end of 2018 and in the early days of 2019.
Currently, Congressional leaders are trying to hammer out a bipartisan plan for border security funding, but Trump’s top campaign promise – a border wall – may not be a part of the money allocated. Trump emphasized that he wants funding for a border wall, despite objections.
“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall, but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built,” he said. “This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall. It will be deployed in the areas identified by the border agents as having the greatest need, and these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way, way down.”
In a plea to put partisan rancor aside on many issues, the president called for a bipartisan approach to the issues he had just laid out.
“I am asking you to choose greatness. No matter the trials we face, no matter the challenges to come, we must go forward together,” Trump said near the speech’s conclusion.
Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost her bid for Georgia governor in 2018, gave the Democratic response to the President’s State of the Union speech. The daughter of a librarian and a shipyard worker, Abrams is the first African-American female to deliver a response to the annual address.
Abrams spent the majority of her speech criticizing Trump’s policies of the last two years, blaming the president for the federal government shutdown that started in December.
“Making livelihoods of our federal workers a pawn for political games is a disgrace. The shutdown was a stunt, engineered by the president of the United States, one that betrayed every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people but our values,” Abrams said.
“For seven years, I led the Democratic party in the Georgia House of Representatives. I didn’t always agree with the Republican speaker or governor, but I understood that our constituents didn’t care about our political parties, they cared about their lives. So when we had to negotiate criminal justice reform or transportation or foster care improvements, the leaders of our state didn’t shut down. We came together, and we kept our word,” she added.
She called on improving public schools, adopting gun control laws to reduce school shootings, and changing tax policy to help middle-income wage earners.
Abrams also ripped Trump’s border policy, particularly the administration’s family separation policy that has resulted in an unknown number of immigrant children being separated from their parents.
“We know bipartisanship could craft a 21st century immigration plan, but this administration chooses to cage children and tear families apart. Compassionate treatment at the border is not the same as open borders. President Reagan understood this. President Obama understood this. Americans understand this. And Democrats stand ready to effectively secure our ports and borders,” Abrams said.
She was also critical of Republicans for attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the federal law at the center of controversy and litigation regarding health insurance and access. Abrams additionally declared that in the Trump era civil rights, gay rights, and women’s reproductive rights were under attack.
She ended her speech discussing voter suppression, which was the center of a prolonged battle in her close, yet unsuccessful, race for Georgia governor last year.
“Let’s be clear: voter suppression is real, from making it harder to register and stay on the rolls, to losing and closing polling places, to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy,” she said.
ARKANSAS ELECTED OFFICIALS SUPPORTIVE
Arkansas’ all-Republican elected delegation was supportive of President Trump’s remarks. Several offered statements upon the conclusion of the State of the Union speech.
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock
“Arkansans have always been able to achieve greatness when we choose to focus on what unites us instead of what divides us. Tonight, I was encouraged by the president’s comments calling on all Americans to choose unity over division. Over the past two years, we’ve seen record-breaking economic growth that has created more jobs and higher wages for hard-working Arkansas families. The president’s vision for the future includes important priorities that build on the past successes we achieved in the last Congress. We will continue to lower prescription drug costs, revitalize economically distressed communities by expanding ‘Opportunity Zones,’ and empower our agriculture industry with new trade deals that protect Arkansas farmers. These are bipartisan goals that are widely agreed upon by an overwhelming majority of Americans. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues, and the president, on delivering results that will continue to build a stronger, safer, and more prosperous Arkansas.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers
“President Trump delivered a powerful and unifying message tonight. He outlined an inspiring vision of American greatness, where the key to forging new solutions and unlocking the extraordinary promise of our nation’s future is rooted in a united people working together to face our challenges. By concentrating on what unites us, we can rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, fix our broken immigration system, secure our border, stand up for U.S. workers, deliver cost-savings for patients, bolster our national security, and build a stronger country. American exceptionalism has always stemmed from a pursuit of bold ideas, and these proposals reflect just that. We are also reminded of the strides that have been made. A booming economy, historically low unemployment, stronger military, renewed leadership abroad, and resurgence of opportunity has shown the progress President Trump wants to build on. Through leveraging the ingenuity that has made both Arkansas and America great, I’m confident that we can deliver on this bold agenda. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves, push through the gridlock, and get to work.”
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs
“President Trump’s address reminded us of the challenges America has overcome in the past, and the new solutions and extraordinary promise that await us in the future. Under the Trump administration, our nation has seen a thriving economy, thousands of jobs created, strong efforts for immigration reform and effective mechanisms to lower drug costs. Tonight, the president set a clear agenda for the upcoming year. I look forward to choosing greatness in 2019, and am hopeful that Congress can pursue bipartisan efforts to achieve these goals.”
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
“I thought the president did a great job tonight. He challenged Congress and the country to rise to the occasion to solve our problems – together. We can and must do just that.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
“Tonight the president presented a constructive plan to address the most critical challenges our nation faces. Congress ought to act on his plan, especially his urgent call to solve the border crisis, which still allows a rapid flow of drugs and illegal aliens into our country. A physical barrier — which Democrats have supported in the past — remains an obvious, common-sense part of border security. And Congress should respond to his call to ban late-term abortions, a reform strongly supported by the American people. I also was pleased to hear the president’s commitment to confront soaring prescription drug prices, which have hit Arkansas seniors and those with chronic medical conditions especially hard. Finally, the president should be commended for his leadership in calling for the ouster of Nicolás Maduro, whose socialist policies have immiserated his country and its citizens. After tonight, there can be no doubt that the Free World stands with Juan Guaidó and the people of Venezuela.”