This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
President Donald Trump on February 4 touted the U.S. economy’s achievements under his leadership during his third State of the Union address and said he would protect social and health-care benefits as he seeks reelection later this year.
Trump, who ran in 2016 on the election slogan “Make America Great Again,” recapped for Congress what he claimed was the country’s “comeback” under his leadership.
“Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging, and our country is thriving and highly respected again,” he said, before rolling off wage, employment, and stock-market statistics.
Trump said he delivered on his campaign promise to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he claimed led to the loss of one in four manufacturing jobs in the United States. Trump signed the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico last week.
“This is the first major trade deal in many years to earn the strong backing of America’s labor unions,” he said, claiming it will create 100,000 new jobs.
Trump spoke about the economy during the first 20 minutes of his speech before taking up health care and illegal immigration, the two other key topics of his speech.
This year’s address comes amid the Ukraine-focused impeachment trial of Trump that has sharpened the already bitter partisan divide not only inside Congress but inside the nation.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against Trump, a Republican, in December 2019. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to acquit him of those charges on February 5.
That partisan tension could be felt even before Trump started his address.
After handing a copy of his speech to Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California) standing behind him, Trump quickly turned away, either missing or ignoring Pelosi’s attempt to shake his hand. After the speech, Pelosi was seen ripping what was thought to be the speech that Trump gave her when he walked onto the podium.
Pelosi gave the go-ahead in September 2019 for the House to launch its impeachment inquiry of Trump and the two have reportedly not spoken since October.
During the speech Trump made no mention of the impeachment trial that has consumed much of Congress’s time over the past half-year. He also spoke little about foreign policy.
Democrats sat stone-faced during the speech with some shaking their heads. Some Republicans chanted “four more years” and gave standing ovations.
Trump is seeking reelection this year and his address resembled many of his campaign speeches around the country with its focus on economic growth and fighting illegal immigration.
The race to determine the Democratic candidate who will face Trump on November 3 kicked off yesterday in Iowa.
Trump has a job-approval rating of 49 percent, according to a poll published by Gallup before his address. It represents his highest rating since taking office in 2017.
However, only 7 percent of Democrats approve of his performance compared with 94 percent of Republicans. That is the widest gap ever recorded by Gallup for a sitting president and underscores the country’s sharp partisan divide.
Trump, whose anti-immigration platform helped him win in 2016, used his speech to boast about his administration’s progress in arresting undocumented immigrants and preventing them from entering the country.
The president said the wall being built along the U.S. border with Mexico will reach 800 kilometers by the beginning of next year.
He blasted politicians that have prevented U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from deporting undocumented immigrants.
He also criticized a Democratic bill that offers free health care to undocumented immigrants, saying it was “a powerful lure for illegal immigration” and would “raid” the benefits of older Americans.
Trump also spent much of his address on improving the country’s health-care system, including lowering drug prices.
Aside from foreign-trade deals, the president spent little time on foreign policy.
Trump said he is willing to end sanctions against Iran if the nation abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons and stops financing terrorism.
“We can help them make [the economy] very good in a short period of time, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help. We are here. Let’s see which road they choose,” he said.
Trump also said he is working on a peace agreement to end the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan and bring home more U.S. troops.
In a surprise move, Trump invited to his address Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, the main adversary of Russian-backed President Nicolas Maduro.
“Maduro’s grip of tyranny will be smashed and broken,” Trump said as he acknowledged Guaido in the crowd.
James Carafano, a foreign-policy analyst at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said there was a debate within the administration over whether to invite Guaido and his appearance is a sign that Trump is “doubling down” on his support.
“It is a pretty powerful statement that the policy in Venezuela is driving on,” he said.