Trump’s call for compromise—and a wall
With the deadline looming to reach a border security funding deal, President Trump used his second State of the Union address to simultaneously call for bipartisan cooperation and renew his demand for a southern border wall that Democrats have refused. “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution,” Trump said, “and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.” Nevertheless, the president vowed to build a wall with or without the support of Congress. If lawmakers do not provide wall funding, he said, “I’ll get it built.” However, Trump stopped short of saying he would declare a national emergency to bypass Congress, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned him that many Republicans would see such a maneuver as a dangerous precedent.
In a speech that Republicans cheered and Democrats received coldly, Trump also warned that bipartisan cooperation won’t be possible if the new Democratic House majority insists on aggressive investigations of the administration. He also said such probes would derail the strong economy, including the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States,” Trump said. “And the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous, partisan investigations.”
In the official Democratic response, Stacey Abrams of Georgia blamed the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration-enforcement policies for poisoning the potential for cooperation. “We know bipartisanship could craft a 21st-century immigration plan,” Abrams said. “But this administration chooses to cage children and tear families apart.”
What the editorials said
President Trump’s address “might have been the best speech of his presidency so far,” said The Washington Examiner. He convincingly touted the economic prosperity the nation has enjoyed under his administration while highlighting the Democratic Party’s lurch toward socialism. “Democrats made much of Trump’s work easy,” with liberal lawmakers embracing late-term abortion (see Talking Points) and other extremist policies. Perhaps more importantly, the president “did all this with an understated tone and a smile on his face, which has been a rare sight in recent months.” If Trump can show this happy warrior more often, “he will drastically advance his cause as he seeks re-election over the next two years.”
“Trump offered a thin sheen of ‘unity’ over large helpings of the same old polarizing demagoguery,” said The Washington Post. It was hard to take his calls for bipartisan cooperation seriously when he doubled down on his false and inflammatory rhetoric about the “tremendous onslaught” of illegal immigrants or the Democrats’ eagerness to “execute” newborn babies. He sounded like a nervous blackmailer when he claimed that “ridiculous partisan investigations” will sink the economy. If there are going to be any actual bipartisan accomplishments over the next two years, the leadership will have to come from Congress.
What the columnists said
“No one remembers State of the Union speeches,” said John Podhoretz in the New York Post, but Trump made the most of this one. The president has a “certain mad brilliance” for tricking his opponents into doing dumb things. While pushing for regime change in Venezuela, Trump vowed that “America will never be a socialist country.” Democrats sat on their hands, “while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi only managed a slight clap to applaud a sentiment any Democratic leader of the past 100 years would have felt it necessary to stand for.” If nothing else, Trump used his mixture of conciliatory rhetoric and hostility to keep “the opposition party off-balance.”
Actually, “this was a dud of a speech,” said Benjamin Wallace-Wells in NewYorker.com. A wounded president had an opportunity to reset the agenda with some bold new policy proposals. Instead, Trump offered up the same old “snuff-film roll of immigrant crimes” and the laughable boast that his skillful diplomacy has saved the country from nuclear war with North Korea. Two years into the Trump presidency, it feels as if American politics has “reached an intermission.” A divided Congress is ideologically stalemated, the White House is bracing for multiple investigations, and soon the 2020 presidential race will overshadow everything.
Read between the lines, said Greg Sargent in The Washington Post. “Trump is demanding nothing less than total capitulation” from the Democrats. Despite losing 40 House seats in the midterms and being forced to surrender in the shutdown fight, Trump refused to back down from the divisive immigration agenda that voters “soundly rejected.” He also painted any attempts by the House Democrats to perform their constitutional oversight duty as a threat to the nation’s security and prosperity. Right now, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are frantically negotiating over border security “to disable a ticking time bomb that Trump himself set.” Trump’s speech suggests he’s still willing to let the bomb go off if he doesn’t get his way.
President Trump’s path to getting a border wall has “narrowed significantly,” said Glenn Thrush and Emily Cochrane in The New York Times. Despite Trump’s State of the Union vow to build the wall with or without Congress, Senate Republicans have made it clear to Trump that declaring a national emergency to divert funds for the wall would be a “nonstarter.” If that happens, Democrats in the House are expected to immediately pass a “resolution of disapproval” that would compel the Senate to vote. It would take only a handful of Republican defectors to cancel Trump’s emergency declaration—which would be a huge embarrassment for him. In the meantime, the congressional conference committee is gambling that Trump will accept whatever deal its members negotiate, said Phil Mattingly in CNN.com. The president has been cut out of the talks at the request of negotiators. “I think the conferees ought to reach an agreement,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “And then we’ll hope that the president finds it worth signing.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
On the cover: Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris.
Cover photos from AP, Newscom, AP