WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union address Tuesday night under the cloud of impeachment and bitter relations with congressional Democrats.
President Trump entered the chamber to applause and took a brief moment to speak to Chief Justice John Roberts, who has been presiding over his impeachment trial in the Senate. Before he began his speech, Republican lawmakers chanted "four more years."
Tensions were visible between the president and Democrats throughout the address. Before the speech began, Trump refused to shake hands with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. After Trump ended his speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore the copy of the president's remarks.
Trump stood on the dais and began his speech, "Three years ago we launched the great American comeback. Tonight I stand before you to share the incredible results."
The president cited improvements in the economy, record-low unemployment, a strengthened military, increased confidence and a decline in poverty rates and welfare recipients. "America's enemies are on the run, America's fortunes are on the rise and America's future is blazing bright," Trump said in a notably different tone from his inaugural address that described "American carnage."
"For all of these reasons, I say to the people of our great country and to the members of Congress: the state of our union is stronger than ever before," the president said. "We have shattered the mentality of American decline, and we have rejected the downsizing of America's destiny."
ECONOMY, TRADE AND 'THE GREAT AMERICAN COMEBACK'
The opening of the president's address focused predominantly on the economy and wage growth which has increased by 16% in the past three years. "This is a blue-collar boom," Trump said to applause.
Trump applauded the work of Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who developed the plan for Opportunity Zones, to promote investment in underdeveloped communities. Two of the president's guests at the State of the Union are beneficiaries of the program.
Trump turned to the growth of U.S. industries, specifically the boom in energy production and the return of manufacturers to the country. "Companies are not leaving, they are coming back to the U.S.A.," Trump said.
A significant part of the president's agenda included rewriting international trade deals. "I keep my promises," Trump said emphasizing the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) to replace NAFTA and the signing of phase one of a U.S.-China trade agreement.
TRUMP RECOGNIZES VENEZUELAN LEADER JUAN GUIADO
Trump then turned to his administration's policies in the western hemisphere and focused on the U.S. diplomatic coalition against Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader of Venezuela. The opposition leader of Venezuela Juan Guiado was in the House chamber for the State of the Union. The United States and other nations have recognized Guiado as the rightful president of Venezuela.
Trump attacked the system of socialism and called on Guiado to bring a message to his country "that all Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom."
President Trump then turned to the massive $2.2 trillion investment made in the military since he took office. He highlighted the creation of the Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military by referring to the story of a 13-year old boy who aspires to be part of the Space Force. Trump also recognized the boy's great-grandfather, Charles McGee, one of the first black fighter pilots and one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen.
TRUMP PROMISES TO PROTECT PREEXISTING CONDITIONS, MEDICARE, SOCIAL SECURITY
One of the Democrats' core campaign issues in 2018 and 2020 has been health care. Trump's political opponents have repeatedly argued that his health plan will strip protections for patients with preexisting medical conditions.
On Tuesday, Trump stated, "I have also made an ironclad pledge to American family: We will always protect patients with preexisting conditions. And we will always protect your Medicare, and we will always protect your Social Security. Always."
Trump then attacked his political opponents who he argued "want to take away your health care." Referring to Medicare for All as "a socialist takeover of our health care system," Trump promised, "We will never let socialism destroy American health care." Democrats in the gallery jeered.
The president cited his executive order on drug transparency and called for bipartisan legislation to dramatically reduce the cost of drug prices. "Get a bill on my desk, and I will sign it into law immediately," Trump said as Democratic lawmakers burst out chanting "H.R.3," a House proposal to lower the cost of pharmaceuticals.
TRUMP HONORS RUSH LIMBAUGH
After pledging to continue the fight against the opioid epidemic, work with China on the coronavirus, address childhood cancer and eradicate AIDS, Trump turned to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
"In recognition of all you have done for our nation...I am proud to announce tonight you will be receiving our country's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom," Trump said. Limbaugh appeared emotional as first lady Melania Trump placed the medal around his neck.
TRUMP CALLS ON CONGRESS TO BAN LATE-TERM ABORTIONS
In a section of his speech addressing American families, Trump called on Congress to pass legislation banning late-term abortions. Trump previously backed a bill that would outlaw most abortions after 20 weeks, The call to Congress comes after Trump made history as the first president to attend the pro-life March for Life last month.
Trump then touted the signing of a bill to provide federal workers 12 weeks of paid family leave. He called on Congress to further advance the issue and extend elements of the benefit to other American families by passing the Advancing Support for Working Families Act. Trump further urged Congress to increase funding for child care.
TRUMP ATTACKS SANCTUARY CITIES, ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
The president then turned to the controversial issue of immigration and sanctuary cities, calling on Americans to support law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
"Tragically, there are many cities in America where radical politicians have chosen to provide sanctuary for these criminal illegal aliens," Trump said calling out California' specifically for its sanctuary state law. Highlighting several instances where Americans were killed by undocumented immigrants, Trump insisted, "The United States of America should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens."
The president has introduced several administrative rules to crack down on so-called "catch and release" policies. He received applause from his conservative supporters for the work with Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to crack down on illegal border crossings, which have declined for the past eight months.
"With every action, my administration is restoring the rule of law and reasserting the culture of American freedom," Trump stated.
RETURNING TO THE MOON AND GETTING TO MARS
After receiving applause for reaffirming his commitment to protecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms and the religious liberties, Trump turned to America's "destiny" in space. He asked Congress to fully fund NASA's Artemis Program for a manned lunar mission by 2024.
"Now we must embrace the next frontier, America's manifest destiny in the stars. I am asking Congress to fund this program to ensure that the next man and first woman on the moon will be American astronauts, using this as a launching pad to ensure that America is the first nation to plant its flag on Mars," Trump said.
TERRORISM: ISIS AND IRAN
Since delivering the last State of the Union, the president has directed U.S. forces to take out the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ordered a drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Highlighting his administration's fight against terrorism, Trump warned, "Our message is you will never escape American justice. If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life."
The president then highlighted his efforts to end U.S. wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan. "It is also not or function to serve other nations as law enforcement agencies," Trump said, praising U.S. warfighters as "the best in the world." He continued, "They either want to fight to win or not fight at all. We are working to finally end America's longest war and bring our troops back home."
SOLDIER REUNITES WITH FAMILY AT STATE OF THE UNION
In a surprising moment toward the end of the address, President Trump addressed Amy Williams, a military spouse who was in the gallery with her two children. William's husband, Sgt. First Class Townsend Williams had been deployed to Afghanistan, his fourth tour with the Army.
Addressing Mrs. Williams, Trump stated, "I am thrilled to inform you that your husband is back from deployment. He is here with us tonight. And we couldn’t keep him waiting any longer."
Sgt. Williams entered the House chamber where he was reunited with his family to applause and chants of "USA" by members of Congress.
'THE BEST IS YET TO COME'
In a divided chamber, the president wrapped up his speech by celebrating the achievements of generations of Americans with a message imbued with rhetoric from his presidential campaigns.
"America is a land of heroes. There's a place where greatness is born, where destinies are forged and where legends come to life," Trump said. "Our ancestors built the most exceptional republic ever to exist in him in history. We are making it greater than ever before."
Trump continued, "We look at tomorrow and see unlimited frontiers just waiting to be explored. Our brightest discoveries are not yet known. Our most thrilling stories are not yet told." He concluded, "My fellow Americans, the best is yet to come."
Sinclair Broadcast Group streamed special coverage of the event starting at 7 p.m. with "America This Week" host Eric Bolling.
Democrats selected Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered their rebuttal after the president's address. Michigan is a key battleground state in 2020 and Whitmer's 2018 gubernatorial victory represents a win for Democrats in the state that went for Trump in 2016.
Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders also delivered a response to the president's address.
A TENSE ENVIRONMENT AHEAD OF THE ADDRESS
The White House announced the theme of the president's address would be "the Great American Comeback." Trump will reportedly focus on improving the economy and moving past what the White House described as the "pessimism" of some in Congress.
According to the White House, Trump would cover five major policy areas: economic growth, supporting working families through paid family leave, lowering the cost of health care and prescription drugs, immigration and national security.
This year's State of the Union address not only comes in an election year, it was also scheduled the day before the Senate vote on the impeachment charges brought by the House—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be seated behind President Trump on the dais next to Vice President Mike Pence.
Throughout the day, at least eight House Democrats announced they were boycotting the president's address.
Reps. Al Green of Texas, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Maxine Waters of California and Frederica Wilson of Florida refused to participate as did two freshmen congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
Ocasio-Cortez said she would not attend because it would "legitimize" and "normalize Trump's lawless conduct & subversion of the Constitution."
Blumenauer wrote in a statement, "I have chosen not to dignify Trump’s parade of lies about health care, his persistent exaggeration, and his personal attacks with my attendance at this year’s State of the Union Address."
Green explained his boycott in a tweet denouncing the president as "impeached, reckless, ruthless, lawless, shameless, corrupt, & unapologetically bigoted."
SPECIAL GUESTS SHOW PRIORITIES
Both the president and members of Congress displayed their priorities in choosing guests to invite to the State of the Union.
President Trump and the first lady announced eight guests. One guest was the widow of a U.S. Army staff sergeant who was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb reportedly supplied by the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who Trump ordered killed in a drone strike last month. He will also host a former Venezuelan police officer who escaped the country in 2019.
Trump also invited a Border Patrol officer and the brother of a California man who was killed by an undocumented immigrant will highlight the president's message on border security and sanctuary cities. The president is expected to focus on his economic agenda by inviting two men who were given jobs in the administration' s Opportunity Zones. Trump also invited two children and their families to highlight health care and education.
House and Senate Democrats invited more than 80 patients, doctors and health care advocates. The guests represent individuals "who have been impacted by President Trump’s attacks on protections for people with preexisting conditions, broken promise to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, and broader health care sabotage," Speaker Pelosi's office explained in a press release.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., hoped to highlight gun violence in inviting Andrea Chambliss, the widow of John McNamara, one of five Capital Gazette journalists fatally shot in 2018.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott will highlight Chinese human rights abuses, an area where Trump has faced criticism from Republicans and Democrats. Rubio invited two guests who are raising awareness of the Chinese government's atrocities against Uighur Muslims. Scott invited a young Hong Kong democracy activist.