WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Donald Trump called for an infrastructure program, and a compromise on immigration that included many of his hardline policies, during his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Trump also touted the state of the economy in the time since he took office, and characterized North Korea as a brutal regime that “complacency and concessions” will not be sufficient to stop.
Amid thunderous applause, Trump began by noting that his administration took “very swift action” right when he took office just over a year ago — but outlined priorities where improvement was still needed.
“A new tide of optimism was already sweeping our land,” Trump said. “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.
Trump said the state of the country has improved in numerous ways since he took office.
“Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone. After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages,” Trump said. “Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low. African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic-American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.”
Trump also said the stock market has “smashed one record after another,” and in particular emphasized what he said were “the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history.”
He said the standard deduction has been nearly doubled for everyone, and said a typical family of four making $75,000 a year will see their tax bill cut in half. Trump further said this April will be “the last time you ever file under the old, broken system” and the individual mandate that he called “the core of disastrous Obamacare” has been eliminated.
Trump also noted that the business tax rate has been cut from “35 percent, all the way down to 21 percent, so American companies can compete and win against anyone in the world.”
“There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream. So to every citizen watching at home tonight — no matter where you’ve been, or where you come from, this is your time. 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,” Trump said. “Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have, and what kind of nation we are going to be.”
Trump went on to talk about patriotism, saying Americans “celebrate our police, our military, and our amazing heroes who deserve our total and unwavering support.”
“Americans love their country,” Trump said. “And they deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return.”
He credited his administration for appointing more circuit court judges than any new administration in history, defending the Second Amendment, protecting religious liberty, and passing laws to give veterans choices in their health care decisions.
Further, Trump said: “In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” He said his administration had ended “the war on beautiful clean coal” and had helped bring back auto manufacturing, among other achievements.
Echoing a theme dating back to his days campaigning in 2016, Trump said the country is now turning away from “unfair trade deals” that were detrimental to the domestic economy.
“The era of economic surrender is totally over,” Trump said. “From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair, and very importantly, reciprocal,” Trump said.
With the changes in regulations and trade deals and industries being rebuilt, Trump said it is also time to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.
“We built the Empire State Building in just one year — isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?” Trump said.
Trump called on Congress to produce a bill generating “at least $1.5 trillion for every new infrastructure investment we need.” He said the bill must streamline the permitting and approval process, reducing it to no more than two years and ideally even one.
“Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across our land,” Trump said. “And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.”
In framing immigration – an issue that was blamed for a standoff in Congress and a government shutdown this month – Trump first talked about U.S. citizens and their potential for prosperity as workers. He called for investments in workforce development and job trading as well as vocational schools, support for paid family leave, and opportunities for former inmates.
But Trump said “open borders” have been detrimental to the country.
“Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American Workers and American Families. For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They’ve allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans,” Trump said. “Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.”
Present for the speech were the fathers of two teenage girls from Brentwood, Long Island — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — who were murdered by alleged gang members using machetes and baseball bats in September 2016.
More than a dozen alleged members of the MS-13 gang were charged with the murders.
“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as illegal, unaccompanied alien minors — and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school,” Trump said.
“Tonight I am calling on Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol agents, so that this cannot ever happen again,” Trump said.
While calling the U.S. a “compassionate nation,” Trump said his main concern was “America’s children; America’s struggling workers; and America’s forgotten communities.”
Trump went on to outline an immigration reform plan with “four pillars,” in which “nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.”
The plan offers a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, people who brought to the United States illegally as children. He said that covers “almost three times more people than the previous administration.”
“Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States,” Trump said.
But in exchange, the other “pillars” represented a hard line on immigration across the board. Trump said the second “pillar” was a call to “fully secure” the border, and hiring more border patrol agents to “keep communities safe.”
The third pillar called for an end to the visa lottery, which Trump called “a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people.”
“It is time to begin moving towards a merit-based immigration system — one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country,” Trump said.
The fourth pillar, Trump said, called for an end to what the White House has called “chain migration.”
“Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” Trump said. “Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family, by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.”
Trump blamed “the visa lottery and chain migration” for the two recent terror attacks in New York. The visa lottery program, established in the 1990s, allowed Sayfullo Saipov — the suspect in a truck attack on the West Side bike path that killed eight people last Halloween – to enter the country in 2010.
Meanwhile, Akayed Ullah, 27, was charged in a pipe bomb explosion in an underground walkway near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in December. Ullah arrived in the United States in February 2011 and had a visa. He came in with his parents and siblings and subsequently obtained a Green Card and became a permanent U.S. resident.
“These four pillars represent a down-the-middle compromise — and one that will create a safe, modern and lawful immigration system. For over 30 years, Washington has tried and failed to solve this problem. This Congress can be the one that finally makes it happen,” Trump said. “Most importantly, these four pillars will produce legislation that fulfills my ironclad pledge to only sign a bill that puts America first. So let’s come together, set politics aside, and finally get the job done.”
On foreign policy, Trump emphasized the need to restore “our strength and standing abroad.” He called for fully funding “our great military,” and made a statement in favor of nuclear weapons.
“As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression,” Trump said. “Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.”
Trump also said ISIS’ power has been dramatically reduced in the time he has been in office.
“Last year I also pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the earth,” Trump said. “One year later, I’m proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. But there is much more work to be done.”
Trump said in past years, “hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists had been released,” only to reappear on the battlefield. Thus, he said he had just signed an order “prior to walking in” directing Defense Secretary James Mattis to “reexamine our military detention policy, and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.”
He also called up on Congress to “reexamine our military detention policy, and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.”
On North Korea, Trump said “no regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally.”
“We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening. Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position,” Trump said. “We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.”
Present for the speech were Fred and Cindy Warmbier, whose now-deceased son, Otto Warmbier, was held up by Trump as an example of how brutal North Korea can be.
The 22-year-old Ohio native died shortly after being returned to the U.S. last June, after he fell into a coma last year while in a North Korean prison. The University of Virginia student was accused of trying to take a propaganda poster while touring North Korea. He was detained and sentenced to 15 years hard labor.
“You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all,” Trump said of the Warmbier family.
Also present was Ji Sung-Ho, whose limbs were run over by a train as a starving boy in North Korea when he passed out while trying to steal coal from a rail car that he was hoping to barter for food.
Sung-Ho was also tortured by North Korean authorities after visiting China, but ultimately succeeded in traveling thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia. Sung-Ho now lives in Seoul, “where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears the most – the truth,” Trump said.
Trump characterized Sung-Ho’s quest for freedom “that same yearning for freedom that nearly 250 years ago gave birth to a special place called America.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a 37-year-old Massachusetts congressman and grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, rebuked Trump administration policies as divisive as he delivered the Democratic response.
Some Democrats boycotted the State of the Union address, CBS News reported.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also skipped the address while she traveled to Rhode Island to speak to a group of law students.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)