President Donald Trump cast his fight against illegal migration to the U.S. as a moral struggle, saying in his second State of the Union address that the U.S. military would meet an “onslaught” of migrants from Central America on the southern border.
“We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens,” Trump said. “No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration.
“Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards,” he said.
Trump’s address comes with a second partial government shutdown looming in just 10 days if the president and congressional Democrats can’t resolve their differences over funding his proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. His speech was delayed by a week because of the shutdown, which ended Jan. 25 after Trump capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who refused to consider money for the wall while the government was closed.
Trump’s attempt to cast his position in moral terms rebuts critics including Pelosi and Pope Francis. She has called Trump’s proposed wall “immoral,” and the pope has said of the president’s immigration policies that “a person who only thinks of building walls, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Pelosi sat on the dais in the House chamber, watching over his shoulder as Trump delivered his speech. She had little visible reaction to his immigration remarks. The divisions between the two parties were stark, as many female lawmakers on the Democratic side of the chamber plan wore suffragette white. The Republican side was dominated by men in dark suits.
While White House aides said in advance of Trump’s speech that he would attempt to strike a “bipartisan” tone, he immediately derided his opponents.
“The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda,” he said, using Republican slang for the Democratic party.
He challenged Democrats, who are undertaking investigations of many aspects of his administration, to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution -- and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and common good.
“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” Trump said -- just months after he campaigned for Republicans in midterm elections by demonizing Democrats in a zealous and unapologetic appeal to his base supporters.
He later boasted of “an economic miracle” taking place under his leadership, and said “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.”
Those remarks were met with cheers on the Republican side of the chamber and audible groans on the Democratic side.
Hours before the speech, the Republican-controlled Senate rebuked Trump for his Syria and Afghanistan policies, a rare step for the body. A measure that passed 77-23 included a provision authored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that urges Trump not to exit military conflicts in the two countries.
But Trump will defend his efforts to get the U.S. out of long-running conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.
“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach,” Trump will say, according to the advance excerpts. “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
Trump vowed in December to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria “now,” though he and his aides have since tempered the promise saying the move would be gradual.
In Afghanistan, Trump wants to bring home 14,000 American troops without plunging the country into chaos. After losing more than 2,300 U.S. soldiers and spending more than $900 billion in Afghanistan since 2001, critics say the U.S. risks losing hard-won gains in what has become America’s longest war.
His administration is seeking an agreement with the Taliban that would include a commitment to prevent terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State from continuing to use Afghanistan as a base of operations.
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