WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump implored Congress Tuesday to move past political gridlock in favor of bipartisan cooperation before he dug in on the border security fight that threatens to shut down the federal government yet again.
“We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before,” he said during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
“But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.”
But while Trump opened his remarks to the now-divided Congress with a call for a new era of unity, he showed little willingness to compromise on some of his positions – including his stance on a border wall – that were central to fight that led to the last shutdown. Federal agencies could shutter yet again if lawmakers can’t reach a deal by their Feb. 15 deadline.
Reaction to the speech from Colorado’s D.C. delegation was predictably mixed.
Democrats weren’t impressed. They accused Trump of repeating rhetoric he’s used in the past and exacerbating the partisan divide that led to the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
“What we heard tonight was classic state-of-the-union Trump, who tells everybody what they want to hear,” Rep. Diana DeGette said in a statement. “Unfortunately, what we are forced to live with every other day is a president whose actions are doing real harm to our country – from shutting down the government, to ripping families apart at the border, to making it harder for women to get the family planning services they need.”
Said Rep. Joe Neguse, also in a statement, “Instead of highlighting places where we can work together, the President returned to his campaign rhetoric of denigrating immigrants, pushing false narratives, and painting the world in stark and grim terms.”
In Trump’s first address to Congress since Democrats clinched control of the House in the November elections, he called on lawmakers to choose “greatness” over “gridlock.” The speech, originally scheduled for late last month, was delayed as Trump sparred with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over the 35-day shutdown that ended in late January.
“Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis,” Trump said. “The Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our southern border.”
Despite congressional Democrats’ insistence that they won’t provide the $5 billion in funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border, Trump doesn’t appear to be budging.
“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall – but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built,” he said. “This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier – not just a simple concrete wall.”
In an apparent effort to rally support for his position, much of Trump’s speech was dedicated to warning about the “tremendous onslaught” of immigrants entering the country.
“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” he said. “We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection.”
The deep ideological divisions in the Congress were evident during Trump’s speech. Republicans frequently stood and applauded loudly, while Democrats – including many women dressed in white to honor women’s suffrage –– sat quietly through several many of Trump’s more contentious remarks.
Trump told Congress that “America is winning each and every day,” and that “the state of the union is strong,” prompting chants of “U-S-A” from Republicans. “That sounds so, so good,” the president said.
Trump touted a host of his administration’s policies that have drawn ire from the left. He pointed to the rollback of federal rules and declared that his team has “unleashed a revolution in American energy,” becoming the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas.
He also boasted the massive tax overhaul bill he signed into law and his move to eliminate what he called “the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty.”
As House Democrats prepare to kick off a spate of investigations into the Trump administration, Trump issued words of caution.
“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 said. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”
The president issued new calls for projects for which issues where even a divided Congress could in theory muster bipartisan support, like efforts to rebuild infrastructure, lowering the cost of healthcare and protecting patients with pre-existing conditions and fighting childhood cancer. Still, it’s unlikely that Democrats in either chamber will have much of an appetite to work with Republicans on major legislation as the 2020 presidential race nears.
GOP lawmakers from Colorado welcomed Trump’s call for unity.
“It’s time for everyone to leave their partisan corners and work together on the behalf of the American people to move our country forward,” Sen. Cory Gardner said in a video he tweeted. “I stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisles to fix our broken immigration system, fund border security, invest in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure to reduce traffic in colorado, and bolster our national security.”
Read a statement from Rep. Scott Tipton: “From comprehensive tax reform to the strongest response to a drug epidemic in our nation’s history, the federal government has worked to advance policies that will have positive impacts on communities across the country.”
Trump won raucous bipartisan applause when he mentioned that women were filling the bulk of the country’s newly created jobs last year, as many Democrats turned to applaud the many women who arrived on Capitol Hill this year.
“You weren’t supposed to do that,” he said of the boisterous applause from the Democratic side of the aisle. He noted, “We also have more women serving in the Congress than at any time before.” In a departure from his prepared remarks, and after the Democrats chanted, “U-S-A,” Trump said, “Congratulations, that’s great.”
Reporter Alex Burness and intern Lena Novins-Montague contributed to this report.