President Donald Trump gestures as he finishes his first State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)
Jessica Wehrman, Dayton Daily News
President Donald Trump vowed during his first State of the Union address that he would spend his next year in office attempting to unite the country around issues of infrastructure, immigration and national security.
Trump spent his time at the podium as many predecessors have: touting achievements such as the nation’s recent economic growth and a newly-passed tax bill and laying out his agenda for the year ahead – an agenda that he said would create a “safe, strong and proud America.”
“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve," he said.
Even in vowing to unite, Trump couldn’t resist a jab or two. Honoring a 12-year-old boy who plants flags at the graves of veterans, Trump inserted a subtle reminder of his distaste for NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racism.
“Preston’s reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance and why we proudly stand for the national anthem,” he said, to raucous cheers from Republicans in the chamber.
VIDEO: President Donald Trump made a dig at NFL players protesting the national anthem. While introducing a guest at the State of the Union, Trump spoke about the importance of respecting the US flag pic.twitter.com/Ys4F9hhyCI
Immigration, too, was a fraught topic. Trump — who sparred sharply with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over a recent attempt to prevent the deportation of those brought here illegally as children — said such “loopholes” allowed for the proliferation of the gang MS-13, singling out in the chamber the parents of two teens murdered in 2016 by MS-13 members.
“My highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities,” he said. “I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise … my duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans.”
Some Democrats on the House floor were visibly unhappy, booing when he called for an end to “chain migration,” which allows immigrants to bring relatives into the country.
Trump was on less polarizing ground on infrastructure, where he called for “safe, reliable and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.” Specifically, he wants Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for new investment into roads and bridges.
Trump vowed to get tougher on ISIS and North Korea, singling out the parents of Ohio native Otto Warmbier – who was imprisoned in North Korea and sent home days before his death – as an example of the brutality of North Korea's regime. Watching in the chamber were Fred and Cindy Warmbier, who Trump called “powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world.” The White House did not announce the Warmbiers' presence in the chamber until midway through the speech.
"Incredible people. You were powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world and your strength truly inspires us all": President Trump pays tribute to the parents of Otto Warmbier, who died after being detained in North Korea for 17 months https://t.co/Dx8XePoY5dpic.twitter.com/vz1bhUt1PI
“Bullies may land a punch,” he said in excerpts released before his speech. “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.”