WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump called on the nation to “break decades of political stalemate” in what he touted as a unifying State of the Union address Tuesday night — one delayed by a 35-day partial government shutdown that only exacerbated partisan divisions.
“There is a new opportunity in American politics if only we have the courage together to seize it,” Trump said. “Victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country.”
Despite Trump’s calls to compromise, the traditional nationally televised speech came at a perilous juncture for the president, who for the first time shares power with congressional Democrats after last fall’s big election losses — even as he faces judgments in a range of investigations into his administration, family business, campaign and his 2016 inaugural committee.
Trump defiantly alluded to the investigations at one point, saying, “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.”
Sitting behind him, the president’s newly empowered Democratic foil, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rolled her eyes.
The president outlined five policy areas as grounds for bipartisan compromise: immigration, trade, infrastructure, health care and national security.
His record on each over his first two years as president, however, has left Democrats as well as some Republicans skeptical of his willingness to follow through on his initiatives and to accept compromises.
Even in the days before his speech, the president repeatedly bad-mouthed the efforts of a bipartisan group of lawmakers trying to negotiate compromise border-security measures to avert another impasse with Trump over his demand for $5.7 billion to start building a southern border wall — the same issue that caused the government shutdown.
He had also teased in advance of the address his threat to declare a national emergency on the border, to circumvent Congress altogether and divert existing funds from other purposes to wall construction.
The president declined to announce such a declaration, which Republican leaders have warned against. Yet he argued at length for the wall.
Trump sought to make the case that overhauling immigration was “a moral duty,” while arguing that “no issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class.”
“Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards,” he asserted.
Over Trump’s shoulder in the House chamber, Pelosi looked on beside Vice President Mike Trump, dramatizing the president’s new reality that he no longer enjoys Republican majorities in both chambers.
For two years, that advantage allowed Trump some successes, including big tax cuts, but proved insufficient to fulfill his promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act and build a border wall.
Pelosi has made clear that Democrats will continue to challenge him on immigration and other issues. Tuesday night, She did not introduce him, and he did not recognize her by name.
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Both Pelosi and dozens of congresswomen were dressed in white, the symbolic color of women’s suffrage, making for a dramatic show on the House floor.
While many of them did not applaud the president, when he boasted at one point that a majority of new jobs have gone to women, the freshmen Democratic congresswomen — many elected by anti-Trump voters — rose to applaud themselves. The president then congratulated them, and the audience chanted “U.S.A.!”