State of the Union is divided — but shouldn’t be

State of the Union is divided — but shouldn’t be
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The midterm elections brought us a divided Congress. And, now that Democrats control the House and Republicans the Senate, the battle lines are drawn.

The return of House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump congratulates Steve King challenger on GOP primary win The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Calls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress MORE (D-Calif.) finds her leading a raucous caucus which includes newly elected socialist Democrats who bring new, unique challenges to her leadership, internally and externally. Internally, it has been a challenge to manage them and to teach them the ways of Washington; externally, the challenge has been to manage public relations. The newcomers are lightning rods for media because they are so outspoken and so “out there” with regard to policy, procedure, decorum, institutional knowledge or respect for process.

Speaker Pelosi faces challenges herself. Is she back to exact revenge and settle old scores, or is she there to lead an opposition in good faith?


The speaker’s return did not start off well, with a historic government shutdown over border security. Her unwillingness to compromise with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' Pentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act Dershowitz: Does President Trump have power to declare martial law? MORE led to the longest continuous government shutdown in our nation’s history. And when the speaker planned to leave the country on a Democratic congressional delegation to Afghanistan, the president grounded her from using military aircraft, in retaliation for Speaker Pelosi disinviting the president from delivering his State of the Union from the House Chamber during the partial government shutdown.

Thereafter, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump over treatment of protesters House Democrat demands answers from Secret Service about role breaking up White House protests Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' MORE (D-N.Y.) demanded that, unless and until the president agreed to reopen government, there would be no negotiations on border security. They pledged that if the president agreed to a three-week reopening of government, they would come to the table in good faith to negotiate a way forward on border security funding. The president relented, but it remains to be seen what happens next.

With the government-shutdown ceasefire in effect, the president will address the nation via his State of the Union from the House Chamber on Tuesday. Typically, a State of the Union speech is not singularly focused. It is a speech that touches upon many subjects, including a look back at the previous year and a look ahead to the work that needs to be done. A State of the Union is an opportunity for a president to lay out his hopes and challenges for the year, and to set forth his priorities. This year the only thing people and the media will likely focus on is the border.

President Trump must make his case as to why border security is a need, as opposed to a want. He needs to shame Democrats by filling the gallery with real-life examples of why border security should be a national priority and is a national security matter that must be properly addressed by physical barriers, technical security and manpower.

The President also needs to remind Democrats and the nation that it was Democrats who shut down government in early 2018, by digging in on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Pelosi and Schumer took to the floors of their respective chambers and made their cases that it was worth shuttering the government over “dreamers.” They both said at the time that it was immoral to deny the so-called dreamers the status they deserve by coming to America through no fault of their own. Their shutdown shakedown did not work, and government was reopened with no resolution to DACA.


While the president needs to shame Democrats and remind them of their past hypocrisy, he needs to offer them a way forward. He must let the nation know that he is willing to offer a solution to DACA and other immigrants whose status is in limbo. He needs to be open to good-faith solutions to border security and looming unsolved immigration issues. And he must state that there will never be another government shutdown while he is president — Democrats and Republicans will either come to an agreement or not; there will be no further extensions.

The president must make clear that, if Democrats will not compromise on border security, he will be forced to declare a state of emergency and deal with border security on his own. The president, in the alternative, must then make his case for such a declaration. He must set forth why security on the southern border is an emergency. He must set forth that his decision would be one based on legal and moral obligations to secure our homeland, and that such action is a national priority.

Democrats have boxed themselves in, not the other way around. They are forcing the president to take unilateral action, and they will get nothing for it but fodder for a campaign slogan that is light years away in political time.

The state of our Union is divided. But It doesn’t have to be.

Bradley Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George Bush from 2001 to 2004. A principal of the 1600 Group, a strategic communications firm, he is an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University and a contributor to Fox News and Fox Business.