State of the Union 2018: Donald Trump warns of immigration dangers

ByRob Elgas and Liz Nagy WLS logo
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
State of the Union 2018: Donald Trump calls for 'new American moment'
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Addressing a deeply divided nation, President Donald Trump called upon lawmakers Tuesday night to set aside differences and "summon the unity" needed to make good on promises.

WASHINGTON (WLS) -- Addressing a deeply divided nation, President Donald Trump called for a "new American moment" of unity Tuesday night and challenged lawmakers to make good on long-standing promises to fix a dangerously fractured immigration system, warning of evil outside forces seeking to undermine the nation's way of life.

Trump's State of the Union address blended self-congratulation and calls for optimism amid a growing economy with dark warnings about deadly gangs, the scourge of drugs and violent immigrants living in the United States illegally. He cast the debate over immigration - an issue that has long animated his most ardent supporters - as a battle between heroes and villains, praising the work of an immigration agent who arrested more than 100 gang members and saluting the families of two alleged gang victims.

He also spoke forebodingly of catastrophic dangers from abroad, warning that North Korea would "very soon" threaten the United States with nuclear-tipped missiles.

CLICK HERE to read a full transcript of Trump's State of the Union address

"The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world," Trump said. "But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers and America's forgotten communities."

CLICK HERE for the Associated Press's fact check of Trump's State of the Union address

Trump spoke with tensions running high on Capitol Hill. An impasse over immigration prompted a three-day government shutdown earlier this year, and lawmakers appear no closer to resolving the status of the "Dreamers" - young people living in the U.S. illegally ahead of a new Feb. 8 deadline for funding operations. The parties have also clashed this week over the plans of Republicans on the House intelligence committee to release a classified memo on the Russia investigation involving Trump's presidential campaign - a decision the White House backs but the Justice Department is fighting.

The controversies that have dogged Trump - and the ones he has created- have overshadowed strong economic gains during his first year in office. His approval ratings have hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency, and just 3 in 10 Americans said the United States was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.

At times, Trump's address appeared to be aimed more at validating his first year in office than setting the course for his second. He devoted significant time to touting the tax overhaul he signed at the end of last year, promising the plan will "provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses." He also highlighted the decision made early in his first year to withdraw the U.S. from a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade pact, declaring: "The era of economic surrender is totally over."

He spoke about potential agenda items for 2018 in broad terms, including a call for $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending and partnerships with states and the private sector. He touched only briefly on issues like health care that have been at the center of the Republican Party's policy agenda for years.

Tackling the sensitive immigration debate that has roiled Washington, Trump redoubled his recent pledge to offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants - but only as part of a package that would also require increased funding for border security, including a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ending the nation's visa lottery method and revamping the current legal immigration system. Some Republicans are wary of the hardline elements of Trump's plan and it's unclear whether his blueprint could pass Congress.

Trump played to the culture wars, alluding to his public spat with professional athletes who led protests against racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, declaring that paying tribute to the flag is a "civic duty."

Republicans led multiple rounds of enthusiastic applause during the speech, but for the opposition party it was a more somber affair. Democrats provided a short spurt of polite applause for Trump as he entered the chamber, but offered muted reactions throughout the speech. A cluster of about two dozen Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, remained planted firmly in their seats, staring sternly at the president and withholding applause.

After devastating defeats in 2016, Democrats are hopeful that Trump's sagging popularity can help the party rebound in November's midterm elections. In a post-speech rebuttal, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, was seeking to undercut Trump's optimistic tone and remind voters of the personal insults and attacks often leveled by the president.

"Bullies may land a punch," Kennedy said, according to excerpts from his remarks. "They might leave a mark. But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future."

On international affairs, Trump warned of the dangers from "rogue regimes," like Iran and North Korea, terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, and "rivals" like China and Russia "that challenge our interests, our economy and our values." Calling on Congress to lift budgetary caps and boost spending on the military, Trump said that "unmatched power is the surest means of our defense."

The president also announced that he had signed an executive order directing the Department of Defense to keep open the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. The order reverses the Obama-era policy of the executive branch, long stymied by Congress, to close the prison.

First lady Melania Trump, who has largely stayed out of the spotlight following the latest allegations of Trump infidelity, arrived at the capitol ahead of her husband to attend a reception with guests of the White House. Those sitting alongside the first lady included an Ohio welder who the White House says will benefit from the new tax law and the parents of two Long Island teenagers who were believed to have been killed by MS-13 gang members.


In a small room full of people from mixed backgrounds, a mostly immigrant crowd watched the State of the Union, mostly in silence.

"Frankly dismayed and disappointed is how I would characterize it," said Graciella Guzman.

The captive audience has a vested interest in the president's policies. Many of them are DACA recipients who were brought by their parents to the U.S. illegally as children. Their futures are up to the people on the screen.

Trump is proposing a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million people, but some of those watching said it came at a steep price.

"We're being used as pawns," said one DACA recipient named Angelica.

And some of what Trump said brought boos and even tears to the immigrant audience.

"That's not what I know of the immigrant journey," she said.


Soaring stock prices under President Donald Trump have boosted investor portfolios and corporate profits but failed to give workers their fair share of the reward, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III said Tuesday in the Democratic response to Trump's first State of the Union address.

Kennedy called on Americans to reject the extreme partisanship and "chaos" of the Trump era. In an apparent reference to Trump, Kennedy said "bullies may land a punch" and leave a mark but have "never managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future."

In a hard-hitting speech for a political newcomer, Kennedy decried a rollback of civil rights protections, noting proposals that target Muslims, transgender people and others.

The administration "isn't just targeting the laws that protect us - they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection," Kennedy said in a speech from a vocational high school in Fall River, Massachusetts, a onetime manufacturing hub now struggling with high unemployment and other problems.

Trump's record is "a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count - in the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government," Kennedy said.

Kennedy, 37, a three-term congressman and grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, has urged Democrats to focus on the economic worries of working-class voters who bolted the party in the 2016 elections.

Fall River demonstrates the value of that message, Kennedy said.

"Fall River has faced its share of storms. But people here are tough. They fight for each other. They pull for their city," he said.

The red-haired Kennedy was elected to the House in 2012, returning the family to Congress two years after the retirement of Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the son of Joe Kennedy III's great-uncle Ted.

The selection of Kennedy, known mostly for his famous last name, has been criticized by some as tone-deaf at a time when the sexual harassment of women and the Black Lives Matter movement are at the forefront of Democratic politics.

Speaking without a suit coat in front of a rebuilt car and an enthusiastic audience, Kennedy tried to defuse that Tuesday by citing the #MeToo movement and declaring, "Black lives matter."

In a nod to "Dreamers," the 700,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and now here illegally, Kennedy spoke in Spanish as he said Dreamers are a part of America's story and promised that Democrats will not walk away from them.

Kennedy said Trump and his administration were breaking a core promise of America - that everyone will be treated equally under the law. He accused the administration of "callously" appraising Americans' worth and deciding "who makes the cut and who can be bargained away."

Under the leadership of Trump and congressional Republicans, Americans are "bombarded with one false choice after another," Kennedy said. "Coal miners or single moms. Rural communities or inner cities. The coast or the heartland."

Democrats "choose both," Kennedy said, outlining a Democratic vision that promises a "better deal for all who call this country home."

Democrats support a higher minimum wage, paid leave for employees and affordable child care, among other priorities, Kennedy said.

A former Peace Corps volunteer, Kennedy was an assistant district attorney in two Massachusetts districts before being elected to Congress. He has focused on economic and social justice in Congress and has advocated on behalf of vocational schools and community colleges and championed issues such as transgender rights and marriage equality.

To illustrate that message, Kennedy invited U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King, a transgender woman, as his guest to the State of the Union. King, an infantry squad leader at Fort Lewis, Washington, was the first person to have sex reassignment surgery paid for by the military.


Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said: "If the President chooses to follow through on his prepared remarks tonight, he will find Democrats ready to work with him on lowering prescription drug prices, making massive new investments in America's crumbling roads and bridges, passing meaningful paid family leave legislation, and protecting Dreamers."

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth said in part: "With the world watching, I hoped Donald Trump would finally remember some of the promises he made to the American people and display the leadership needed to unify this nation. I hoped he would present a serious infrastructure plan that makes the investments we desperately need to rebuild our crumbling roads, tunnels and bridges. I hoped he would offer a plan to rebuild rural communities that have been left behind like Cairo, Illinois. And I hoped he would finally propose a realistic bipartisan proposal to lift the inhumane threat of deportation countless Dreamers face because of him.

Instead, the President engaged in more of the reckless rhetoric that divides instead of unites... We need our commander-in-chief to change course, try to forge bipartisan agreements on issues like immigration, and present the American people with a more positive and inclusive message that moves us forward as a nation. Tonight, President Trump failed on each of these counts."

Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said in part: "I am still hopeful, but I don't see this Congress and this President coming to an agreement that prevents the deportation of the Dreamers. The White House agenda is to gut legal immigration in exchange for allowing some of the Dreamers to live here. For those of us who support legal immigration, and that's most Democrats and many Republicans, it won't fly. And the Dreamers themselves have said they do not want legal status if it comes at the expense of others who will suffer more as part of the bargain. The speech did nothing to bring the pro- and anti-immigrant sides closer together."


Some of Illinois' representatives chose to invite guests with pointed purpose.

"I was completely surprised and taken aback by the invitation, and there was no refusal to it. I automatically said yes," said Ana Campa Castillo, DACA recipient.

Campa Castillo will join other young immigrants in the crowd Tuesday night.

"We want to make a statement, you know? We want to tell the president that we do have allies and their voices are being heard in our communities," she said.

She was the guest of Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL).

"I invited her because I thought it was important that when President Trump looks across into the crowd, that some of the faces he sees are from Dreamers. These are kids who have never known any other country and their lives are in the balance," Foster said.

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) will be in attendance as well.

"I'd like to hear kind of an end to the divisive rhetoric," he said.

"My hope is what are some of the things we can do, finding ways to come together to solve challenges that our constituents are facing, and America is facing," said Congressman Randy Hultgren (R-IL).

At least eight House Democrats are boycotting the speech, citing his divisive rhetoric.

That includes three Illinois representatives: Jan Schakowsky, Bobby Rush and Danny Davis.

Schakowsky was the first to announce last week that she would not be attending the State of the Union. She said she cannot stand by a president she believes is dividing America but she will watch the speech Tuesday night.

"This year, I felt I could not go because I did not want to normalize this president, who in every way I think has betrayed the institutions of our country and I don't want to sit or stand or be there to say that this president is in the parameters of a normal president," she said.

Duckworth said she understands Davis, Rush and Schakowsky's decisions.

"I don't expect to hear anything from the president that moderates his position. I hope I do," Duckworth said.

Of the Democrats in attendance, many female House members, like Representative Lois Frankel (FL-21), are expected to wear black in solidarity for victims of sexual harassment.

Trump has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct. He has denied their accusations.

And at least 24 House members and some Senators are bringing DACA recipients as their guests, including Raleigh high school teacher America Moreno Jimenez, who was brought to the U.S. when she was 2 years old.

"I am very concerned, because that means my future can change drastically," she said.

"I'd like to hear the President talk about unity. I think laying out a vision for infrastructure which is hopefully next on the agenda, laying out his vision for immigration reform, how to get a win-win for both Republicans and Democrats for the American people. So, I hope it's an optimistic speech, I predict it will be and I'm looking forward to hearing what the president has to say," said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).

In a bit of a surprise, Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Hultgren announced they will unite during the speech by sitting together. Both lawmakers were sending a message to their peers that work must be done together.

"Looking forward to being with Brad Schneider tonight. He's a friend of mine, we've got good relationships and friendships with Illinois delegations. Brad and I share Lake County and work together, so we're going to be talking about that, what we can continue to do and a lot of things on transportation and infrastructure that we want to continue to fight for," Hultgren said.

It has been quite some time since a physical display of bipartisanship such as this has been seen during a State of the Union address.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also released a message ahead of the State of the Union:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.