Donald Trump Makes Last Appeal for Wall Funding in State of Union Address

USA

06 February 2019, 06:30

M.News

President Donald Trump is using the State of the Union address to make a final push for a wall along the southern U.S. border, just days ahead of what he has warned could be another government shutdown, VOA news reports.

Trump is expected to focus much of his prime-time speech on dangers at the border with Mexico. But reports suggest he will stop short of declaring a national emergency to obtain funds to build the wall, one of his signature campaign promises.

“We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens,” Trump will say, according to excerpts released ahead of the address. “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

Trump is making his second State of the Union address with a new backdrop: for the first time a Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, will be looking over Trump’s shoulder as he speaks in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol.

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Democrats took control of the House of Representatives during November midterm elections, creating a divided government that makes it much harder for Trump to implement his policy proposals.

The recent 35-day partial government shutdown over wall funding was evidence of Trump’s weakened position. Trump’s approval rating sank steadily during the shutdown, as opinion polls showed more Americans blamed him than Democrats for the impasse that resulted in 800,000 federal workers being furloughed or forced to work without pay.

Trump has repeatedly warned he may declare a national emergency if Congress doesn’t give him $5.7 billion for a border wall by February 15, when government funding runs out again. The move is opposed by many lawmakers, including in Trump’s Republican Party, most significantly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Democratic response

Congress seems unlikely to give Trump what he wants, if the formal Democratic response to the president’s speech is any indication.

In her rebuttal speech, Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia state lawmaker who is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, will slam the shutdown as “a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values,” according to prereleased excerpts.

Despite the fierce partisan disagreements, Trump’s speech will feature prominent calls for bipartisanship and unity — a sharp contrast in tone from the president’s usual insults and name-calling on Twitter.

“Together we can break decades of political stalemate,” Trump will say. “We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future.”

Economy

As Trump begins his third year as president, he has presided over a quickly growing economy. The U.S. economy added 2.6 million jobs in 2018, the highest figure since 2015. As of January, the unemployment rate stands at just 4 percent.

“After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world,” Trump’s prewritten remarks read.

But there are several underlying concerns.

The national debt has ballooned to nearly $22 trillion and recently accelerated thanks in large part to Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. The stock market, meanwhile, is down more than 3 percent since Trump’s last State of the Union address, due to uncertainty about Trump’s trade policy.

Trade

Trump, however, is digging in on trade.

To build on U.S. economic success, Trump will say that “one priority is paramount: reversing decades of calamitous trade policies.”

Trump has promised to massively increase tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods if the two sides cannot reach an agreement by March 1.

The White House is also considering imposing tariffs of up to 25 percent on imports of automobiles and car parts.

“It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it,” Trump will say.

North Korea

Foreign policy, including Trump’s talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, will be a heavy focus of the speech.

Trump is expected to announce a venue and date for his upcoming second summit with Kim, which is expected to be held in Vietnam.

The summit could help break a deadlock in U.S.-North Korean talks. Since agreeing last year to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the two sides have not been able to agree on what that means or how it will be carried out.

Afghanistan, Syria

Trump is also expected to address U.S. peace talks with the Taliban.

Last month, U.S. officials announced progress on a framework deal under which the U.S. would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban promises that the country would not be used by terrorists.

Trump has also announced plans to withdraw the 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, saying Islamic State has largely been defeated there.

“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars,” Trump will say — comments that could upset many in Congress.

The Republican-led Senate this week broke with Trump on Syria and Afghanistan, passing a largely symbolic resolution that opposed a “precipitous withdrawal,” insisting militants in both countries still pose a threat to the U.S.