Donald Trump delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday before a divided Congress and the American electorate, urging unity despite giving a speech that often reflected the country’s bitterly polarized political climate.
The president attempted to cast his agenda as bipartisan amid rising tensions over immigration following the longest government shutdown in US history last month.
Trump’s remarks came as the White House and Democrats in Congress remain gridlocked over funding for the government, which is due to expire again on 15 February. A lack of a resolution would lead to the fourth shutdown of Trump’s presidency.
Here are key takeaways from his speech:
Trump pitches bipartisanship while pushing his own agenda
The president opened his address by extending an olive branch to Democrats.
“Millions of our fellow citizens are watching us now, gathered in this great chamber, hoping that we will govern not as two parties but as one nation,” Trump said.
“The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda. It is the agenda of the American people.”
This is not the first time the president has tempered his rhetoric; his previous two speeches before a joint session of Congress similarly saw Trump rein in the bombastic tone that has defined his political career.
But the broad appeals to both sides of the aisle have been fleeting, with little effort by Trump to follow through on bipartisan negotiations. Even as he spoke, the president was adamant that Congress approve funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border – a nonstarter with Democrats.
On immigration, a dark tone and scare tactics prevail
When the subject turned to immigration, the word “restraint” did not seem to feature in Trump’s dictionary.
Making his case for a border wall, the president pushed unsubstantiated claims linking immigrants to violence and crime.
“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” Trump said.
“Now is the time for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.”
The president has repeatedly turned to the notion that immigrants are primarily seeking entry to the US to commit violent crimes and expand the MS-13 gang, despite studies proving otherwise.
Trump has used such tactics to justify the need for a border wall and reaffirmed on Tuesday that absent money toward building one, a government funding bill would be unlikely to get his signature.
Trump celebrates women in moment rife with irony
One of the positive moments of the night came when Trump began extolling the progress made by women in the US workforce, prompting a standing ovation from the entire chamber.
At least 100 House female lawmakers, who had donned white in a nod to gender equality, stood and cheered as Trump exclaimed: “All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.”
The president pointed directly at the women in the audience, whose decision to wear “suffragette white” was in part a direct rebuke of his leadership. But Trump appeared to take the irony in jest, acknowledging the record number of women serving in Congress.
Women did in fact win big in the 2018 midterms; a historic 126 women were elected to the 116th Congress, stemming from a backlash to the Trump presidency and the outsize role played by women voters at the ballot box.
Indeed, the reverie on Tuesday was short-lived as Trump later called on Congress to pass a bill that would prohibit late-term abortion. The same women who had moments before basked in the gains mentioned by the president looked on in silence.
Trump’s foreign policy doctrine: no more ‘endless wars’
The president defended his controversial decision to withdraw US troops from Syria and accelerate an end to the war in Afghanistan.
“Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years,” Trump said, while noting the US had spent more than $7tn in the region.
“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
Trump’s approach has put him at odds with US military and intelligence leaders, as well as Republicans in Congress.
Last week, the GOP-led Senate defied the president by advancing a measure that opposed the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Syria. Trump also publicly rebuked his own intelligence chiefs, claiming they were wrong in their assessment that the Islamic State militant group remained a threat.
Trump denounces socialism in 2020 election preview
It looked as though the president was simply speaking of the uprising against the Venezuelan leader, Nicolás Maduro. Claiming the Maduro regime’s “socialist policies” were to blame, Trump once again offered his blessing to Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
But the president swiftly shifted his attention back home, suggesting socialists were on the rise in America in a thinly veiled reference to the economic populism that has increasingly become the Democratic Party’s platform.
“Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” Trump said.
He added: “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
Several Democratic presidential candidates sat stoically in the audience, including Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kamala Harris of California. The Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who is weighing a second bid for the Democratic nomination, looked visibly agitated by Trump’s comments.
It was perhaps a hint of what is to come in the 2020 election, with several Democratic candidates embracing progressive priorities that include the single-payer healthcare plan Medicare-for-All, debt-free college tuition, and universal paid family leave.
Republicans have sought to brand such ideas as “socialist”, despite polling showing the proposals as popular among the American public.