SOTU: Trump still wants his wall, namechecks Michigan on NAFTA

By: - February 6, 2019 5:20 am

President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence looking on, delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 5, 2019 | Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Trump implored Congress Tuesday to move past political gridlock in favor of bipartisan cooperation before he dug in on the border security fight that threatens to shut down the government yet again.

“We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before,” Trump said during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

“But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.”

But while Trump opened his remarks to the now-divided Congress with a call for a new era of unity, he showed little willingness to compromise on some of his positions — including his stance on a border wall — that were central to the last shutdown and threaten to shutter federal agencies if lawmakers can’t reach a compromise by their Feb. 15 deadline.

Trump mentioned Michigan, as well as a host of other swing states, while talking about trade.

“I have met the men and women of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, and many other states whose dreams were shattered by NAFTA.  For years, politicians promised them they would negotiate for a better deal. But no one ever tried — until now,” he said.

However, Trump’s trade and tariff policies have taken a bite out of manufacturing and agriculture in Michigan and other states and are one reason why automakers like General Motors and Ford are starting to chop jobs, as the Advance has reported.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), who’s up for re-election in 2020, called for bipartisanship on infrastructure, economic policies and immigration.

“Moving forward, I hope that Democrats and Republicans will work together on several critical issues: growing our economy in a way that helps Michigan workers and families, repairing and modernizing our crumbling infrastructure, and securing our nation’s Northern and Southern borders in the most efficient and cost-effective way,” Peters said. “I’m also committed to helping close the skills gap, a challenge I hear about constantly from businesses across Michigan.”

Other Democrats in Michigan weren’t impressed with the speech. They accused Trump of repeating rhetoric he’s used in the past and exacerbating the partisan divide that led to the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

“The President must rise to the occasion and lead on these important issues, with not just words but with real action. Unfortunately, the President’s administration has so far been consumed most days by tweets, chaos and manufactured crises, including a recent government shutdown that cost our economy billions of dollars. This is no way to run a corner grocery store, let alone the world’s largest economy,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint).

Dan Kildee | Susan J. Demas

In Trump’s first address to Congress since Democrats clinched control of the House in the November elections, he called on lawmakers to choose “greatness” over “gridlock.” The speech, originally slated for late last month, was delayed as Trump sparred with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over the 35-day shutdown that ended in late January.

“Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis,” Trump said. “The Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our Government, protect our homeland, and secure our southern border.”

Despite congressional Democrats’ insistence that they won’t provide the $5 billion in funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border, Trump doesn’t appear to be budging.

“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.”

Construction continues on a new section of barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border on Jan. 8, 2019 as seen from Tijuana, Mexico. | Mario Tama, Getty Images

In an apparent effort to rally support for his position, much of Trump’s speech was dedicated to warning about the “tremendous onslaught” of immigrants entering the country.

The deep ideological divisions in the Congress were evident during Trump’s speech. Republicans frequently stood and applauded loudly, while Democrats — including many women dressed in white to honor women’s suffrage — sat quietly through many of Trump’s more contentious remarks.

Trump told Congress that “America is winning each and every day,” and that “the state of the union is strong,” prompting chants of “U-S-A” from Republicans. “That sounds so, so good,” the president said.

Trump touted a host of his administration’s policies that have drawn ire from the left. He pointed to the rollback of federal rules and declared that his team has “unleashed a revolution in American energy,” becoming the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas.

U.S. President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence looking on, delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 5, 2019 | Doug Mills, Pool/Getty Images

He also boasted the massive tax overhaul bill he signed into law and his move to eliminate what he called “the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty.”

As House Democrats prepare to kick off a spate of investigations into the Trump administration, Trump issued words of caution.

“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,” he said. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”

The president issued new calls for issues where even a divided Congress could in theory muster bipartisan support, like efforts to rebuild infrastructure, lowering the cost of healthcare and protecting patients with pre-existing conditions and fighting childhood cancer. Still, it’s unlikely that Democrats in either chamber will have much of an appetite to work with Republicans on major legislation as the 2020 presidential race nears.

GOP lawmakers in Michigan welcomed Trump’s call for unity.

“If this is a pivot to bipartisanship, I say it’s about time,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph). “We can’t build anything if we don’t do it together. I hope we are truly turning the corner and I welcome the President’s offer to heal divisions and move forward.”

Tim Walberg

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) praised Trump’s agenda.

“President Trump’s message resonated throughout Michigan, speaking to the pocketbook and security concerns of hardworking families in our state,” said Walberg.  “… To keep America safe, we need to enhance border security and fix our broken immigration system. There is also important work ahead to rebuild our infrastructure, strengthen skills-based education, and combat the deadly opioid crisis. These are goals we can all get behind.”

The Democratic response was given by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who won praise for delivering a stirring defense of voting rights.

“This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have their say about the vision we want for our country,” Abrams said. “We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a ‘power grab.’”

Trump did win raucous bipartisan applause when he mentioned that women were filling the bulk of the country’s newly created jobs last year, as many Democrats did so due to the many women who arrived on Capitol Hill this year.

Rashida Tlaib | Ken Coleman

“You weren’t supposed to do that,” he said of the boisterous applause from the Democratic side of the aisle. He noted, “We also have more women serving in the Congress than at any time before.”

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) talked about that part of the speech on MSNBC Tuesday night.

“A couple of my colleagues turned around and said, ‘I don’t think he gets it,'” Tlaib said.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.