President Donald Trump avoided attacking his political rivals and instead pitched his presidency as the “great American comeback” in a State of the Union address Tuesday hours before the U.S. Senate is set to vote on whether to remove him from office.
Addressing a bitterly divided Congress, surrounded by many of the Democrats who had voted months earlier to impeach him, Mr. Trump cast his time in office as a period of “unbridled optimism,” marked by a resurgent economy and an America-centric foreign policy, setting the tone for what is likely to form the core of his campaign for re-election in November.
“In just three short years we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of American destiny,” he said.
The nationally televised speech was Mr. Trump’s first opportunity to address the country at length since he was charged in December with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his efforts to put pressure on Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. His annual address comes after a two-week trial in the Senate.
Mr. Trump had hoped to deliver the speech after the Senate had voted on his acquittal. But last week, Republican Senate leaders delayed the vote until Wednesday afternoon to give senators time to explain how they planned to vote on impeachment. With two-thirds of the Senate required to convict a sitting President and Congress deeply split along party lines, Mr. Trump is expected to be acquitted.
The President only briefly alluded to the impeachment inquiry during a section of his speech intended to focus on the issue of school choice. “Members of Congress, we must never forget, the only victories that matter in Washington are victories that deliver for the American people,” he said.
Still, tensions were clearly visible in the Capitol, with several Democratic lawmakers refusing to give Mr. Trump a standing ovation and loudly booing during the speech. The President also did not shake the outstretched hand of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who launched the impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump spent the better part of his speech touting his economic record, including an unemployment rate that hit a 50-year low, a surging stock market and a “blue collar boom” in manufacturing jobs. He pointed to renegotiated trade deals such as the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, signed by the U.S. last week, as proof of America’s resurgence in the global economy.
The USMCA would “bring trade with Mexico and Canada to a much higher level, but also to be a much greater degree of fairness and reciprocity,” he said. “We will have that, fairness and reciprocity. And I say that, finally, because it’s been many, many years that we were treated [un]fairly on trade.”
Referring to the first phase of a trade deal with China, signed last month, he boasted: “We have perhaps the best relationship we have ever had with China."
On a day when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders appeared to win the popular vote in the Democratic caucuses in Iowa, Mr. Trump also derided the “radical left” that supported Mr. Sanders’s key proposal of Medicare-for all.
“There are those who want to take away your health care, your doctor, and abolish private insurance entirely,” he said. “To those watching at home tonight I want you to know we will never let socialism destroy American health care.”
He urged Congress to sign legislation prohibiting states such as California from offering free health care to undocumented immigrants and called for bipartisan legislation on prescription drugs. “Get a bill on my desk and I will sign it into law immediately,” he said.
Several Democrats responded by shouting “H.R. 3” – a reference to a bill passed in the Democratic-controlled House but defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate that would have required the federal government health care program Medicare to negotiate for lower prices on some prescriptions drugs.
Mr. Trump also warned about the dangers of socialism, pointing to his administration’s reversal of warming relations with Cuba that had started under former president Barack Obama. He introduced Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, seeking to oust President Nicolas Maduro, as a guest of the White House.
“Mr. President please take this message back that all Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom,” he said.
The President also touted Space Force, his planned new division of the U.S. Army promised to send an astronaut on Mars.
Mr. Trump also awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom to conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who recently revealed he has advanced lung cancer.
At the conclusion of the remarks, Ms. Pelosi stood up and ripped her printed copy of the speech, tossing it onto her desk.
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