Trump veers between comity, confrontation at raucous State of the Union

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE on Tuesday used his first State of the Union address under divided government to challenge Democrats to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution,” even as he demanded they approve a border wall they have long opposed.

Trump peppered his speech with appeals for bipartisan unity, saying Americans want to see both sides “govern not as two parties but as one nation.” But his message, which also included numerous barbs at Democrats, reflected the deep partisan divisions in Washington he has helped fuel during his two years in the Oval Office.


The president called out newly emboldened House Democrats who plan to probe his administration and businesses, blasting them as “ridiculous partisan investigations” that would erase the “economic miracle” he said he created in the U.S.

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

The president also announced plans for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which he said will take place Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam. The president has made a denuclearization deal with Pyongyang one of his top foreign policy priorities and he has long teased the possibility of another meeting with Kim.

Trump’s annual address to the nation came at a pivotal moment for his presidency, with the prospect of a second government shutdown looming on Feb. 15 if Congress cannot reach a spending deal.

The president triggered a 35-day shutdown over his demand for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, only to relent on Jan. 25 when lawmakers refused to meet his request for $5.7 billion in wall funds.

The last shutdown was seen as damaging to Trump, who saw his approval ratings fall during the closure, and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNegotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (D-Calif.) dealt the president an additional blow by delaying his State of the Union until the government reopened.

Yet Trump doubled down on his demand for wall money, telling lawmakers they have “a moral duty” to address what he said is an “urgent national crisis” caused by “the lawless state of our southern border.”

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration,” the president said. “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

The appeal did not appear to sway Democrats, some of whom groaned when Trump invoked reports of another migrant caravan heading toward the U.S.

The president did not say what he might do if Congress denied him wall funding. He also made no mention of his threat to declare a national emergency, which would allow him to build a wall using his own powers but could divide Republicans and prompt legal challenges.

The House chamber was full of reminders of the divided Congress. Pelosi, dressed in white along with other women of the House to honor the suffragette movement, was seated behind Trump, with Vice President Pence beside her.


Her power has been on the rise since the shutdown, which solidified her support within her caucus. Pelosi even saw a spike in her own approval rating, according to a CNN poll released this week.

In the audience, Trump could see a number of politicians who hope to defeat him in the 2020 election, including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenTrump says government to review 5M Kodak loan deal Michelle Obama supporters urge Biden to pick former first lady as running mate On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again MORE (D-Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisMichelle Obama supporters urge Biden to pick former first lady as running mate Michelle Obama wishes Barack a happy birthday: 'My favorite guy' Harris endorses Democrat in tight California House race MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerUSAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds | Flint class action suit against Mich. officials can proceed, court rules | Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill MORE (D-N.J.). and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandBiden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman Overnight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was 'unprovoked escalation' | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw MORE (D-N.Y.), who rolled her eyes at one point during his remarks and later fundraised off the moment, which was caught on television.

Democrats also tapped former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a rising star in the party, to deliver their official response.

Trump at times appeared determined to make Democrats look bad for refusing to applaud his accomplishments, touting “unprecedented” job growth on his watch, telling an immigration agent in the House gallery that he would “never abolish our heroes from [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]” and declaring “America will never be a socialist country.”

The House also includes more women and minorities than the audience for last year’s State of the Union, courtesy of the Democrats’ success in the midterm elections, and one of the most remarkable moments came when a group of female Democrats stood and applauded when Trump congratulated them while claiming credit for job gains among women.

“You weren't supposed to do that,” a bemused Trump exclaimed.

The president appeared to grow displeased at points when the white-clad group continued to wave their hands in celebration and he said “that’s great” when the cheers finally wound down.

Despite the rancor over immigration, Trump also extended an olive branch to Democrats, offering to work together on areas where he sees the potential for bipartisan agreement like infrastructure and prescription drug pricing.

“Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure,” Trump said.

The president also called it “unacceptable” that Americans pay “vastly more” than people in other countries do for the same drugs.

“This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it,” he said.

He also urged Congress to approve his administration's revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which could come up for debate later this year.

In line with the seesaw nature of the speech, Trump also slammed Democrats on the hot-button issue of abortion, calling on lawmakers to pass a ban on “late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother's womb.”

The remarks came as the president publicly and privately expressed disgust with Democratic proposals in New York and Virginia that would ease restrictions on third-trimester abortions.

The president also addressed global conflicts, making the case for his decision to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria and for attempting to wind down the war in Afghanistan.

“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said. “Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria], it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”

Those remarks could spark concern among Republican lawmakers who oppose the president’s desire to pull back in the Middle East. Earlier on Tuesday, the GOP-controlled Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill warning Trump against a “precipitous” withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan.

Democrats blasted Trump for failing to live up to his own plea to “bridge old divisions” and “heal old wounds.”

“The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values,” Abrams said in the Democratic response.

Abrams, who said she distributed meals to furloughed federal workers during the shutdown, called it a “disgrace” that the president made “their livelihoods a pawn for political games.”