WASHINGTON — President Donald 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.”
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.
And the victim of one of his attack lines was embattled Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who, before people were calling for him to resign over a racist photo from his medical school yearbook page, was at the center of a firestorm over a failed Virginia abortion bill.
“We had the case of the governor of Virginia where he basically stated he would execute a baby after birth,” according to Trump’s prepared remarks.
The New York Times rated that statement, and many others in Trump’s address, false.
Though some, including the Virginia GOP, said Northam was endorsing infanticide, he was referring to “the tragic and extremely rare case in which a woman with a nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities went into labor,” as his spokeswoman said.
“It’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that’s nonviable,” Northam said in the radio interview. “The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Virginia’s Pro-Choice Coalition — including NLIRH Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, Progress Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance — said Trump “chose to parrot false information.”
“We join the millions of people across this country who are deeply disappointed by President Trump’s misleading and reckless remarks on reproductive health during tonight’s State of the Union Address,” said the coalition.
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.”
In an apparent effort to rally support, much of Trump’s speech was dedicated to warning about the “tremendous onslaught” of immigrants entering the country.
“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” he said. “We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection.”
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.
The Virginia GOP cheered the president along.
— Virginia GOP (RPV) (@VA_GOP) February 6, 2019
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.
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.
Trump won raucous bipartisan applause when he mentioned that women were filling the bulk of the country’s newly created jobs last year, as many Democrats turned to applaud the many women who arrived on Capitol Hill this year.
“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.”
In a departure from his prepared remarks, and after the Democrats chanted, “U-S-A,” Trump said, “Congratulations, that’s great.”
Editor Robert Zullo contributed.