Trump to urge unity in State of the Union speech

Sebastian Smith, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 06 2019 10:12 AM | Updated as of Feb 06 2019 10:41 AM

Trump to urge unity in State of the Union speech 1
FILE PHOTO: US President Donald Trump listens as South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a statement from the Rose Garden after meetings at the White House in Washington, US June 30, 2017. Jim Bourg, Reuters

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump was to appeal for unity among Americans in a State of the Union speech Tuesday where he sought to turn the page on 2 years of divisive turmoil and recast himself as a bipartisan national leader.

"The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican Agenda or a Democrat Agenda. It is the agenda of the American People," Trump told Congress and a huge television audience, according to a draft of his speech released by the White House.

In the speech, Trump highlighted "incredible economic success" and said he had been right to embark on a muscular new trading policy that has brought Washington and Beijing to the brink of a trade war.

And he urged his Republican Party and the opposition Democrats to work together "for a great rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure."

This was the "optimistic" Trump promised by White House aides.

But nothing could have been further from a unified picture in Congress, where Democrats control the House of Representatives, Republicans are in charge of the Senate, and Trump finds himself stymied at every turn.

After 2 years of a presidency in which Trump has driven an already polarized country into bitter, even violent debate over almost every aspect of politics, his calming words were likely to fall on many deaf ears.

'CHAOS'

Just a few hours before the speech got underway, the senior Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, gave a blistering preview.

"The state of the Trump economy is failing America's middle class," Schumer tweeted. "The state of the Trump healthcare system is failing American families. The state of the Trump Administration is chaos."

Trump ripped back at Schumer for "already criticizing my State of the Union speech, even though he hasn't seen it yet."

Another tough preview was due a few minutes before the speech when Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, who has announced a challenge to Trump in the 2020 presidential election, planned a so-called "prebuttal."

Once Trump finishes, the Democrats were to field another woman, Stacey Abrams, who almost upset the odds to win Georgia's governorship, to deliver the traditional rebuttal.

WALLED IN

At the heart of the rancor is Trump's single-minded drive -- and failure -- to get congressional funding for walls along the US-Mexican border.

Trump says a wall or fence is needed to prevent an "invasion" of Central American migrants whom he repeatedly casts as a horde of killers and rapists.

Democrats accuse Trump of fearmongering and refuse to give their approval.

The resulting standoff has turned a relatively minor funding debate into an existential test of political strength in the buildup to 2020 presidential elections.

Increasingly frustrated, Trump took revenge on Congress by triggering a crippling five-week partial shutdown of government. Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was to sit behind Trump for the State of the Union, exacted her own reprisal by forcing the speech to be delayed by a week.

Things could soon escalate, with Trump threatening to declare a national emergency so that he can bypass Congress and give himself power to take military funds for his project.

FOREIGN POLICY CLAIMS

Trump's claims to foreign policy successes are not necessarily endorsed even in his own party.

He repeated in the speech, according to the prepared text, that he wants US troops to pull out from long-running wars, such as Afghanistan and Syria as soon as possible.

"Great nations do not fight endless wars," he said.

But that has been criticized by some in the security services and many Republicans, who fear a loss of American influence on the world stage.

Trump was likewise expected to update Congress on China trade talks and on his intention to hold a second summit with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he is trying to persuade to give up nuclear weapons.

Closer to home, he dialed up the pressure on Venezuela's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, saying "we stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom."

Opposition leader Juan Guaido's envoy to Washington was among the top guests invited to attend the speech.