President Donald Trump on Tuesday delivered his first State of the Union address, using the occasion to make a sober appeal to unity and challenged his Democratic antagonists to cooperate in overhauling the nation’s immigration system and rebuilding its dated infrastructure.
The hour and twenty-minute-long speech pointedly lacked the partisan barbs that have become to define Mr. Trump’s presidency. Instead, Trump-the-optimistic-deal-maker was on display Tuesday, inviting bipartisan cooperation on his new year’s agenda of rebuilding the nation both economically and culturally.
“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek common ground and to summon the unity we need to delivery for the people,” he said.
Beyond the pomp and showmanship, here’s what the speech means:
- The president wants an immigration deal, with caveats. Trump has said both publically and privately he wants to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, popularly known as Dreamers, but he appropriated the movement’s language for his own purposes in last night’s speech. “My duty,” he said, “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 offered what he called a compromise: trading a pathway to citizenship for some 1.8 million Dreamers in exchange for border wall funding along the US-Mexico border, new caps on family-based migration, and a shuttering of the diversity visa lottery program. While he extended “an open hand to work with members of both parties,” glimmers of the old Trump was still on display. Seated in First Lady Melania Trump’s viewing box, Trump pointed to four parents grieving the loss of children who were murdered by members of the MS-13 gang.
- The president wants to build things again, but doesn’t know what, where, or how. “America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just 1 year,” Trump said. “Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?” The president talked up his plan for infrastructure reform in broad terms, saying he would marry federal, state, and local government revenue to cobble together a $1.5 trillion package but didn’t say how the money would be spent or where.
- The president wants to police reciprocal trade and IP. Mr. Trump, who often rails against the North American Free Trade Agreement and the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership as markers of bad trade negotiations, said he would work in the new year to “fix bad trade deals and negotiation new ones.” Enforcement actions will remain a chief concern of the administration in the new year, and the president directly pledged to protect American intellectual property–widely regarded as a shot across the bow of China, who the president regularly chides for trade and IP abuses.
- Gitmo is staying open. The White House released during the president’s speech a new executive order keep open the controversial military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The order, which reverses parts of a 2009 directive signed by President Barack Obama, allows for the possibility of new enemy combatants being sent to the prison “when lawful and necessary.”
- The president has his eye on “Little Rocket Man.” President Trump was more measured when he discussed North Korea, avoiding the Twitter taunts and big button braggadocio, and instead spoke about the brutality of the “depraved” regime who’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.” Ever the showman, Mr. Trump invited a North Korean defector to attend, receiving a standing ovation as he held over his head the crutches he needed to walk after enduring brutal torture. He also singled out the case of Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia who was traveling in North Korea while arrested and charged with crimes against the state. Brutally injured while detained, he was released recently to the United States and died shortly thereafter.