Demetri Sevastopulo and Courtney Weaver in Washington
Key points in Trump 2019 State of the Union address
Donald Trump said he would meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un this month, as the US president delivered a State of the Union that mixed calls for national unity with a declaration that he was sending US troops to the Mexican border to stop migrant caravans.
In revealing that he would hold the second meeting with Mr Kim in Vietnam on February 27-28, following their historic summit last year, Mr Trump proclaimed that his election had prevented war with North Korea.
“If I had not been elected president of the US, we would right now . . . be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed,” he said. “Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one.”
Mr Trump’s second State of the Union was his first to a divided Congress and came only days after the end of a five-week government shutdown triggered by his demand for funding of a wall along the US border with Mexico. With a stopgap funding bill set to expire on February 15, Mr Trump called on Congress to agree on a “common sense” plan for border security that included a “new physical barrier, or wall”.
In the meantime, Mr Trump said he was sending another 3,750 US troops to the border “to prepare for the tremendous onslaught” of “large, organised caravans” of migrants heading to the US. His warning triggered groans in the House chamber.
Mr Trump also took aim at the investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, warning that it jeopardised US prosperity.
“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 declared. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!”
The State of the Union had been delayed a week because of a stand-off between Mr Trump and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, over his demand for wall funding. He invoked “a moral duty” to create a better immigration system.
Throughout the speech, Mr Trump wove references to the need for the two political parties to come together to work on behalf of the American people. “Victory is not winning for our party, victory is winning for our country,” he said.
At the same time, he criticised the Democrats for pursuing what he described as a strategy of “resistance” — a call that has taken more resonance since the Democrats retook the House in the November midterm elections, almost guaranteeing that no key legislation gets passed this year.
Mr Trump held out the prospect of working with Democrats to lower drug prices, and pointed to infrastructure as a possible area of bipartisan co-operation. However, many political experts believe the chances for an infrastructure deal are slim.
Mr Trump touted the strength of the economy, which has kept growing in the decade since the financial crisis. Ignoring the fact that the US was on a growth path when Barack Obama left the White House, he said that during his first two years in office, he had “launched an unprecedented economic boom, a boom that has rarely been seen before”.
His speech was a far cry from last year when Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature and were basking in their successful effort to cut taxes. Seven Democrats have launched presidential campaigns and more are considering entering the race. Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman, hinted to Oprah Winfrey on Tuesday that he might run for the White House.
One group stood out among the hundreds of lawmakers inside the House chamber. Along with Mrs Pelosi, female lawmakers wore white to commemorate the women who propelled the suffragette movement more than a century ago. The act of symbolism follows the election of a record number of women in the midterms.
Mr Trump elicited his loudest applause when he said women had benefited most from the strong economy and congratulated the newest female members of Congress — the majority of whom are Democrats.
“All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before — and exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before.”
In comments that were broadly welcomed, Mr Trump said he would include money in his next budget request to fund paid family leave. But he also said he would ask Congress to pass legislation to bar the “late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb”, resurrecting one of the most divisive issues in US politics.
In an attack that appeared aimed at some of the new Democrats in Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and progressive candidates running for president, Mr Trump said he was “alarmed” about the calls by some for socialism.
“We are born free, and we will stay free,” Mr Trump said, to loud applause from Republicans. “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and a rising star in the Democratic party, delivered her party’s response to Mr Trump, with an upbeat message designed to preview the party’s push into 2020.
“Together we are coming for America — for a better America,” she said.
Ms Abrams criticised the administration for its family separation policy at the border and hinted at continued Democratic resistance to a wall. “America is made stronger by the presence of immigrants — not walls,” she said.
Defending his December decision to withdraw US military forces from Syria, Mr Trump said Isis had practically been eliminated during his first two years in office — but stopped short of repeating his previous controversial claim that the terrorism movement had been defeated.
Mr Trump said US officials were holding “constructive talks” with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban, and that as the US made progress, it would be able to further reduce its troop presence in the war-torn country.
“We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace. And the other side would like to do the same thing. It is time.”
Mr Trump told the lawmakers that he had last week pulled out of the cold war era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty because Russia had been violating the terms of the bilateral accord.
“Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t, in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far,” Mr Trump said in comments that will resurrect concerns about a nuclear arms race.
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