For Republicans, President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address was a strong speech with a call for unity and a vision for pro-America agenda.
“I thought he was reaching out and appealing to all of us to find common ground,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said in an interview. “I appreciated his call to transcend our differences.”
For Democrats, it was a speech from a person who should take his own advice on unity, stop causing division and fear.
“The president governs from crisis to crisis, imperils our nation’s standing in the world, endangers our future by denying the threats of climate change and sells out working people in favor of wealthy special interests,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement released just minutes after the speech. “Our country deserves better from its leaders and the president’s words tonight ring hollow.”
Trump seemed to start his speech with what Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, called “a victory lap” that listed the economic gains since he took office.
“This was probably the best speech I’ve ever heard Donald Trump give,” Risch said. “The American people needed to hear that because they are certainly not getting it from the national media.
Some 11 days after the nation’s longest federal government shutdown ended, and 10 days before a deadline that could start another one, Trump urged Congress to reach a deal with him to end the threat of “the lawless state of our southern border.”
At some points of the speech, he seemed to say the deal had to include a wall, contending “walls work and walls save lives,” and noting that many veteran members had voted for a wall in the past but it never got built. “I will get it done,” he said.
But he also talked about a smart, strategic see-through barrier, and said the details should be decided by people in charge of securing the border.
McMorris Rodgers said she remains convinced that a deal could be made that involves more money for border security and certainty for immigrants covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Such a deal has not yet surfaced but “I’m encouraged by what I hear in the Senate.”
Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, said he thought Trump may not have moved Democrats in Congress with his comments about border security, but may have been trying to make his case to the American public to press Congress to find common ground with the administration on border security.
“I think (the strategy) was to go direct to the people, with the hope that the people would put pressure on people like me,” he said.
Perhaps the two strong personalities involved – Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – could step back and let others negotiate a resolution, Fulcher said.
Elected in November and attending his first State of the Union Address, Fulcher called the speech “classic Trump,” covering many topics, unapologetic about the progress for items on his agenda and with nods toward heroes in the audience.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., agreed there were many familiar themes in the speech, but to her that wasn’t a good thing. She described the speech as “more divisiveness” and a “big step in the wrong direction.”
“People don’t want more Trump shutdowns or needless drama,” Murray said in a statement released after the speech. “They don’t want to pay for a wasteful border wall, especially one that they were promised Mexico would pay for.”
She took issue with Trump’s call for legislation to outlaw late-term abortions, contending people don’t want him to “politicize women’s health care and take away their rights.”
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who said Trump laid out a strong vision of America as “an opportunity society, not a big government caretaker society,” saw some room for compromise with Trump’s call for having the people providing border security say what is needed.
Whether that will result in the deal the president wants is unclear, he said. “There has been a significant amount of negotiations. I can’t say if they’re getting anywhere.”
But neither Crapo nor McMorris Rodgers seemed persuaded by the president’s suggestion that Congress could either have peace and legislation, or war and investigation – a call for ending the Mueller investigation without mentioning the special counsel by name.
“I’ve consistently said the Mueller investigation should come to a conclusion,” Crapo said.
“Congress has to do both, legislate and investigate,” McMorris Rodgers said. “It has a responsibility to do oversight.”
Trump’s comment that “great countries don’t participate in endless wars” got praise from several members of Congress, but McMorris Rodgers said she was surprised to hear negotiations in Afghanistan include the Taliban.
“I’d have some concerns about that,” she said.
But Risch, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that’s part of an effort to restructure and rethink strategy in Afghanistan after some 17 years of war. “We’re not going to give up the fight on terrorism,” he said.
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