WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump told Americans in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that illegal immigration was an urgent national crisis and he vowed to build a border wall as he sought funding for a project rejected by Democrats.
“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall, but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built,” Trump said in the highly anticipated speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, with his main Democratic adversary, new House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, watching over his shoulder.
Trump used part of his speech to offer a spirit of compromise, but whether Trump and his opponents would follow through was far from clear with both sides entrenched in long-held positions and girding for 2020 elections.
The Republican president appeared in the House chamber just weeks after his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall triggered a historic 35-day partial government shutdown that more than half of Americans blamed him for, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.
The nationally televised address gave Trump his biggest opportunity to date to explain why he believes a barrier is needed on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The speech was delayed for a week because of the shutdown, which ended on Jan. 25.
Democrats call the wall a waste of money, ineffective and immoral.
Trump criticized attempts by House Democrats to investigate his personal finances and various aspects of his administration, saying they would put U.S. economic growth at risk.
“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations,” he said.
Pelosi, who wore white like many Democratic lawmakers to celebrate the 100th anniversary of American women gaining the right to vote, applauded lightly at times and frequently sat stony-faced through Trump’s address.
She has shown no sign of budging from her opposition to Trump’s wall-funding demand. That has led Trump to contemplate declaring a national emergency, which he says would let him reallocate funding from elsewhere without congressional action.
Trump was not expected to use his speech to announce plans for a national emergency, which would draw a swift court challenge from Democrats. Instead he was urging a congressional committee to work out a border security deal by Feb. 15.
In his speech excerpts, Trump was to call attention to his efforts to rewrite trade deals with China and other nations to make the terms more favorable to the United States.
“To build on our incredible economic success, one priority is paramount: reversing decades of calamitous trade policies,” he will say.
He also will call out Iran for threats against Israel.
“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants Death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people,” he will say.
SCHUMER SEES CHAOS
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday criticized Trump over the economy, healthcare and other issues. “The president will say the state of the union is strong but the American people know the state of the Trump administration is chaos,” he said.
Trump’s speech also offered areas of potential bipartisan agreement, such as infrastructure improvements, lowering prescription drug costs and healthcare.
Trump’s message could also be undermined by his threats to go his own way on the long-promised wall if he cannot get Congress to approve the funding he wants. He has said the wall, which he promised during his 2016 campaign and said Mexico would pay for, is needed to deter illegal immigration and drugs.
Some of Trump’s fellow conservatives have urged him not to declare an emergency. Such a move would “upend” the balance of powers between the White House and Congress, Republican Senator Susan Collins told reporters on Tuesday.
Trump also will address foreign policy, including support for an effort to coax Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro into leaving power and declaring the Islamic State militant group all but defeated. He also will give an update on trade talks with the Chinese.
Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney