WASHINGTON — In his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Donald Trump urged bitterly divided Republicans and Democrats to work toward compromises on immigration and infrastructure after a bruising year of partisan battles that raised questions about his ability to lead.
“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve,” Trump said in his speech, made before a joint session of Congress.
Trump used the widely televised address to try to overcome doubts about his presidency at a time a criminal probe is examining his campaign’s ties with Russia and Americans give him low job approval ratings.
He took credit for U.S. economic gains, including a soaring stock market and a low jobless rate. He boasted about the economic growth he believes will result from the tax cuts Republicans pushed through Congress last year without Democratic support.
“This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream,” he said.
In calling for cooperation on immigration laws, he provided some details of a reform deal he offered several days earlier, which provided citizenship for “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children — in return for increased spending on border security and cuts in legal immigration.
But he sought to repurpose the term “dreamer,” saying it shouldn’t be an excuse to shortchange Americans’ economic prospects or safety. Previous administrations, he said, held immigration policies that “caused the loss of many innocent lives.”
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“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream. Because Americans are dreamers, too,” he said.
More than 50 Democratic lawmakers invited “Dreamers” to attend as guests to dramatize their demand for legal status.
In response, Republican Rep. Paul A. Gosar of Arizona tweeted that he had asked the Capitol Police to check all guests’ IDs, and arrest “any illegal aliens in attendance.”
As Trump delivered the speech, the White House released an executive order he signed to keep the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in operation indefinitely — suggesting he may use the facility to house new terrorism suspects for the first time in a decade.
The order rescinds a measure issued nine years ago by then-President Barack Obama, who promised to close Guantanamo but was unable to overcome opposition.
Sixteen years after the prison opened, 41 detainees remain. Of the more than 700 who have been held there since 2002, few have ever been charged.
In his pitch for a bipartisan deal to rebuild aging roads, bridges and other infrastructure, Trump said he wanted legislation to generate at least $1.5 trillion through a combination of federal, state, local and private-sector spending.
“I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve,” he said.
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Trump repeatedly called for the type of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats that has eluded him during a rocky first year.
While the rhetoric was often highflying, he provided reminders of the partisan battles.
For instance, Trump singled out a guest, 12-year-old Preston Sharp, for leading an effort to put American flags on the graves of 40,000 veterans, saying the initiative was “why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
Last fall, his belittling of NFL players who refused to stand for the anthem in protest of police treatment of minorities dominated headlines.
Reuters and the Washington Post contributed to this report.