“We repealed the core of disastrous Obamacare, the individual mandate is now gone,” Donald Trump said tonight in his first official State of the Union to great Republican applause. “We eliminated an especially cruel tax that fell mostly on Americans making less than $50,000 a year, forcing them to pay tremendous penalties simply because they could not afford government-ordered health plans,” the President also said of his predecessor Barack Obama’s primary legislative achievement.
“Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses, many of them thousands of dollars per worker,” POTUS said of his own big legislative get of his first year. “Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America and hire another 20,000 workers,” he said in a well paced-speech to the people’s representatives and the TV cameras.
Trump being Trump, even when he is trying to stay on script, the President got boisterous when he spoke of Americans sharing “the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag.” If viewers didn’t pick up on his nod to his frequently articulated and tweeted disdain for NFL players who take a knee or other form of protest during the playing of the national anthem at games, the President threw that red state red-meat ball high and clear on Tuesday.
“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,” Trump virtually belted out in reference to 12-year-old Preston Sharp and his flag-planting efforts as his supporters took to their feet and clapped their hands. These remarks come less than a week before the Super Bowl sees the New England Patriots and thePhiladelphia Eagles face off for ratings-challenged pro football’s big trophy on February 4.
Immediately kicking off with memories of his first time at the podium in front of Congress last year and recalling that “a new tide of optimism was already sweeping across our land,” a somewhat stiff and somber Trump also declared the “incredible progress and achieved extraordinary success” his administration has achieved since taking office. With a “I think they like you, Steve” aside, Trump went off the teleprompter early as the Congress gave “the legend from Louisiana,” GOP Rep. Steve Scalise, a round of applause after his near-tragic shooting last June at a congressional baseball practice. Otherwise, with some tame chest beating about the tax cuts bills and low unemployment rates among minorities, the speech started as fairly standard SOTU that almost any Democrat or Republican could have delivered.
Later in the modularly designed speech tonight, a mainly even-toned Trump weaved from helping the poor, bipartisanship and criminal justice reform to a verbal hit on besieged DACA kids and then back to the likes of the opioid epidemic, defeating ISIS, terrorism, a strong military, gang violence, job training, bringing down the price of prescription drugs and a more than $1 trillion infrastructure push.
Not wasting any good will he might have built up with the Democrats and a number of GOPers tonight, Trump strongly proclaimed four pillars of his immigration reforms — a sure to be well-covered part of the speech that raised up building a wall on our Southern border and, to a small chorus of what appeared to be boos, ending what has been termed as chain migration. Stressing the “unmatched power” of America military might, POTUS announced he will keep Guantanamo Bay up and running to keep terrorists behind bars, face down potential threats from North Korea and keep imposing sanctions against “the communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.”
If those remarks will get a lot of cable news time in the coming hours and days, Trump not mentioning the Russia probe, the exit of the Deputy FBI Director on Monday and more of what D.C. is really taking about will also. Once again, and sure to gain pundit traction, in remarks that ran more than an hour, moves against America by the likes of Iran were put in Trump’s spotlight, but Vladimir Putin’s Russia barely was mentioned at all.
After Trump’s successful and prompter-adhering dalliances with the global elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Tuesday’s relatively low-expectations speech comes as Washington swirls with more rumors that the former Celebrity Apprentice host truly will fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller as the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election deepens. The heavily partisan political and pundit scene also speculated beforehand that Trump would pull off a few surprises off such as overturning President Obama’s staid executive order to close the terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo — which he did indeed do.
Of course, this is not the first time the 45th POTUS has addressed a joint session of Congress, but technically the February 28, 2017 speech was not a SOTU for the then very new Commander-in-Chief. The conventional wisdom is to expect a stark contrast to Obama’s pledges in his first State of the Union on January 27, 2010, to seek clean-energy job creation, rap the knuckles of the Supreme Court and hit “rescue, rebuild, restore” as his themes in those still-troubled economic times. Number of standing ovations and other math comparisons to Obama’s first SOTU aside, the real comparison of Trump’s speech tonight might be Bill Clinton’s 1998 address to Congress as he faced a sex scandal that threatened to bring down his presidency. Ignoring the elephant in the Republican-dominated room, Clinton stayed away from the pending impeachment proceedings, stayed on an optimistic message and asserted — as Trump did tonight — that “the state of our union is strong.”
Then again, this being the endless media tsunami and spectacle of the Trump administration, news was made before the president even uttered a single word.
Notably absent from the Davos trip of last week after more revelations about her husband’s alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels were made public, Melania Trump was in the gallery for the speech. In an unusual move traveling separately from the President to Capitol Hill, the First Lady sat with the usual well-chosen, telegenic group of more than a dozen special guests for POTUS to call on, as has been the case since the Reagan Era. Presumed to drive back to the Executive Mansion with the First Lady, Trump was giving shout-outs to many of them from nearly the top of the speech. One such shout-out didn’t go as planned with the President referring to special guest and Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Celestino Martinez as both DJ and CJ, the former being incorrect. “He said call me either one,” improvised Trump.
Not in the House chamber on Tuesday were a record number of 14 Democrats including Rep. John Lewis and Rep Maxine Waters, who was scheduled to give a response of her own to Trump’s remarks on BET tonight. Drawing on a well-known family dynasty of their own, the Democrats picked Robert Kennedy’s grandson, Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, to deliver the official response to the SOTU from Fall River in his home state.
Of special note perhaps to Kiefer Sutherland, this year’s designated survivor was Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. The former Georgia governor watched from a secure undisclosed location as the backup if, as is the primary plot of the ABC drama, the rest of the line of succession was wiped out.
Something that even in fiction is too horrible to contemplate, no matter where on the political spectrum you stand.