Before a starkly divided Congress and with the cloud of the Russia investigation continuing to hang over his administration, President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address Tuesday, claiming to have fulfilled a number of his key promises while charting the course for the second year of his presidency at the start of what he called a “new American moment.”
Despite Trump’s unconventional presidency, the speech, which touched on a wide-ranging number of topics from the economy and infrastructure to national security and health care, largely stuck to the format of past State of the Union speeches, complete with the requisite callouts to guests who illustrated points on the president’s agenda and soaring rhetoric that highlighted American ideals and values.
But in the midst of a contentious debate over immigration reform that contributed to a three-day government shutdown earlier in the month, Trump also took the opportunity to forcefully sell his administration’s proposed policies with a congressional fight looming in the near future.
Offering a policy comprised of “four pillars,” Trump drew groans and hisses from congressional Democrats in the House chamber, even as he claimed the plan was a “bipartisan approach” that made concessions to those across the aisle and was a compromise “where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.”
The pillars included a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million so-called “Dreamers,” the young undocumented immigrants who were previously protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy ended by Trump last year, but further included the president’s proposed southern border wall and an end to visa lotteries and limits on family immigration sponsorships.
“My duty, 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,” Trump said. “Because Americans are dreamers too.”
Among the first year successes touted by the president were the Republican tax reform bill he signed into law in December, as well as a 45-year low unemployment rate and continued job growth. Trump said that the current economic circumstances represented a rare opportunity for the American people to fulfill their dreams.
“To every citizen watching at home tonight — no matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time,” he said. “If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything.”
While the president, who frequently picked fights across the aisle throughout his first year in office, took effort Tuesday to show a willingness to engage with Democrats on key issues including immigration and infrastructure, he was met largely by silence beyond the typical partisan dance in which the minority party withholds applause and ovations from the president.
Democrats lodged a number of silent protests during the speech, including by female members who dressed in black to raise attention in opposition of sexual harassment and by African-American members wearing kente cloth as a showing of solidarity with African countries reportedly called “s—hole countries” by Trump in an Oval Office meeting earlier this month.
Trump largely avoided taking swipes at Democrats and completely excluded the usual targets of his ire: the news media and the Russia investigation. Instead, the president stuck to an optimistic tone and concluded the address with a reminder of the accomplishments of the American people as he returned to his campaign motto.
“Americans fill the world with art and music,” Trump said. “They push the bounds of science and discovery. And they forever remind us of what we should never forget: The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it is the people who are making America great again.”
ABC News provided updates throughout the State of the Union. Re-read them below:
10:30 p.m. EST – Trump concludes with tribute to American people
After more than 80 minutes, Trump ended his first State of the Union by pointing to the Capitol as a “living monument to the American people” and noting the government’s task to serve the public.
“Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery. And they forever remind us of what we should never forget: The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it is the people who are making America great again,” Trump said.
“As long as we are proud of who we are, and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve,” he added.
10:20 p.m. EST – Parents of Otto Warmbier introduced
Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of Otto Warmbier, the college student who died shortly after returning to the U.S. in June following 15 months in a North Korean prison, were introduced by Trump as he addressed the rogue Asian nation.
Trump called Otto Warmbier’s 2016 trial in North Korea on a tour for crimes against the state, “shameful” and referenced the injuries Warmbier sustained during his imprisonment.
Speaking to Fred and Cindy Warmbier, Trump said: “You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all.”
10:14 p.m. EST – Guantanamo Bay prison to remain open
Trump said that he has directed Secretary of Defense James Mattis to “reexamine our military detention policy” and to keep open the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which former President Barack Obama had long attempted to close.
10:09 p.m. EST – Trump touts successes of coalition to defeat ISIS
After saying he pledged a year ago to “extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth,” Trump informed the chamber that “the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory” that had been held by the group.
“We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated,” he said.
9:57 p.m. EST – ‘Four pillars’ of immigration plan
The president outlined what he called the “four pillars” of his administration’s immigration reform proposal. According to a statement from the White House they include:
1. A path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. in their youths.
2. Border security in the form of building a wall on the southern border and hiring additional ICE agents.
3. Ending the visa lottery, which Trump claimed “randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people.”
4. Ending so-called “chain migration,” a focal point of Trump’s which he claimed allows immigrants to bring to the U.S. “virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.” The line was met with disapproval from Democrats in attendance.
9:53 p.m. EST – Immigration debate; ‘Americans are dreamers too’
As he broached the topic of immigration reform, Trump introduced the families of two teenage girls who were allegedly killed by members of the gang MS-13.
“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors,” Trump said as he called on Congress to “close the deadly loopholes.”
He went on to say that he would work with both Democrats and Republicans to protect American citizens, “because Americans are dreamers too,” in a reference to the nickname for those previously protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
9:45 p.m. EST – ‘We built the Empire State Building in one year…’
The president called it a “disgrace” that it takes 10 years to acquire a permit to “build a simple road” given America’s “great building heritage, as he delved into his infrastructure agenda.
“I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve,” he said, adding, “We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.”
Trump called on Congress to pass an infrastructure bill that strips regulations and “generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need.”
9:40 p.m. ET – Focus shifts to health care
Despite the inability of Republicans to fulfill their promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, Trump touched on several related priorities, including the affordability of prescription drugs and increasing access to experimental treatment for people with terminal illnesses.
9:31 p.m. EST – National anthem debate referenced
Without specifically mentioning the NFL, which saw widespread protests by African-American players and their supporters this year seeking to call attention to social inequality, Trump again waded into the debate about their choice to kneel during the playing of the national anthem.
After acknowledging a guest who placed 40,000 flags at the graves of veterans on Memorial Day, Trump said that such a feeling of reverence “reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
9:23 p.m. EST – Unity a theme
In discussing “what kind of nation we are going to be,” Trump delved into topics in which he felt there was widespread agreement among the public, which he called “one team, one people and one American family.”
“We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag,” he said.
9:23 p.m. EST – Tax reform
Receiving a rousing round of applause from Republicans in attendance, Trump discussed the party’s successful effort to reform the nation’s tax code.
“Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history,” Trump said.
The president noted the GOP plans’ near doubling of the standard deduction and child tax credit, reduction in corporate tax rates and repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.
9:19 p.m. EST – Trump touts employment, economic numbers
The president focused on the strength of the economy as a success in the first year of his administration, listing the creation of “2.4 million new jobs” and “200,000 jobs in manufacturing alone” as particular achievements.
“Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low,” he added.
Noting it was something he was “very proud of,” Trump further claimed that “African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.”
9:17 p.m. EST – ‘The state of our union is strong because our people are strong.’
Trump pointed to the strength of Americans in issuing his proclamation about the state of the union.
“Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew: that no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans,” Trump said. “If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it.”
9:13 p.m. EST – Trump introduces guests
Early in the speech, the president introduced two guests, Ashlee Leppert and David Dahlberg.
Leppert is a Coast Guard petty officer who took part in rescue missions during Hurricane Harvey. Dahlberg, a firefighter, rescued nearly 60 children at a summer camp during the California wildfires, Trump said.
9:10 p.m. EST – Speech begins with reminder of mission to ‘make America great again’
At the top of his remarks, Trump reminded the chamber of his joint address nearly a year ago, saying that at the time, his administration had already taken “swift action.”
“Each day since, we have gone forward with a clear vision and a righteous mission to make America great again for all Americans,” Trump said.
9:05 p.m. EST – Trump arrives in House chamber
The president has arrived at the Capitol for the State of the Union.
Breaking with modern precedent, Trump was not accompanied by his wife, first lady Melania Trump, who held a reception for her guests at the White House and traveled with them to Capitol in advance.