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State of the Union: Trump hails 'new American moment'

Wednesday - 31/01/2018 08:23
A bullish US President Donald Trump has proclaimed a "new American moment" as he delivered his maiden State of the Union speech to Congress.

In a primetime address, the Republican leader said he was "extending an open hand" to Democrats to work together.

Mr Trump also said he was ordering Guantanamo Bay to be kept open, reversing an Obama-era directive to close the controversial detention camp.

The American economy is booming but Mr Trump's approval rating languishes.

In an upbeat message a world away from his apocalyptic "American carnage" inaugural speech of just a year ago, Mr Trump said his administration was "building a safe, strong and proud America".

"There has never been a better time to start living the American dream," he told lawmakers in a one-hour-and-20-minute speech.

As many as 40 million television viewers were expected to tune in as he implored the nation to come together as "one team, one people and one American family".

Mr Trump made a plea for the kind of bipartisan co-operation that has been in short supply during a turbulent first year in office.

The president, who has enraged Democrats by withdrawing protections for immigrants who entered the US illegally as children, offered an olive branch.

"Tonight I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens, of every background, colour and creed."

But he insisted on a border wall with Mexico and other concessions from Democrats as part of any over-arching immigration deal.

Some Democrats booed.

What did a Trump voter and a 'Dreamer' think of the State of the Union?
What did a Trump voter and a 'Dreamer' think of the State of the Union?
 

Mr Trump again touted his pet plan to rebuild America's ageing roads and other infrastructure, though he did not offer many details.

The president said that 2.4 million jobs had been created on his watch.

The unemployment rate is at a 17-year low as the US continues its recovery from the recession of a decade ago.

But Mr Trump's average job approval is jammed at 40%, according to Real Clear Politics.

How did Democrats respond?

Massachusetts congressman Joseph Kennedy III, a great-nephew of President John F Kennedy, delivered the Democratic rebuttal.

He attempted to seize Mr Trump's political mantle by purporting to speak for "Americans who feel forgotten and forsaken".

Democratic congressman Joseph Kennedy III said he was speaking for all Americans
Democratic congressman Joseph Kennedy III said he was speaking for all Americans
 

Bewailing a "fractured country" and depicting the Trump presidency as "chaos", Mr Kennedy, 37, said: "Many have spent the past year anxious, angry, afraid."

"Bullies may land a punch," he said. "They might leave a mark.

"But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defence of their future."

In one telling moment from Mr Trump's speech, members of the Democratic Congressional Black Caucus sat in stony-faced silence amid a standing ovation as the president noted African-American unemployment has hit a record low.

About a dozen Democratic lawmakers said they would boycott this State of the Union.

Smooth touch, sharp edges

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News

You can tell a lot about a State of the Union address by where a president chooses to begin. On Tuesday night, Donald Trump delivered a polished speech that started by touting his economic record. Lower unemployment. Restored consumer and business confidence. A higher stock market. Mr Trump's poll numbers have lagged below the mark one would expect a leader presiding over a prosperous economy. The president, in his speech, set about trying to change that.

When it came to policy, Mr Trump offered some bipartisan suggestions with few details, such as addressing high prescription drug prices, infrastructure investment, job training and prison reform. Where the president lingered, however, were on topics that will prove as divisive as ever. The paeans to patriotism and traditional values will be viewed by Democrats as a rekindling of culture wars. He spoke of religious liberty and standing for the national anthem, and Democrats sat stone-faced.

The president's pledge to offer an open hand on immigration negotiations was surrounded by extended passages about immigrant crime and a veiled swipe that "Americans are dreamers, too".

This speech had a softer touch. The language was smooth. The edge, however, was still as sharp.

 

What did Mr Trump say on foreign policy?

Mr Trump condemned "depraved" North Korea.

He warned that Pyongyang's "reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.

"We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening."

Mr Trump paid tribute to a disabled defector from the regime, Ji Seong-ho, who fled the country on crutches and was in the audience.

The president also noted that nearly all the territory in Syria and Iraq once controlled by the Islamic State group has been retaken.

"We will continue our fight until [the Islamic State group] is defeated," Mr Trump vowed.

While his two White House predecessors have used their State of the Union speeches to forecast victory for American forces in Afghanistan, Mr Trump largely skirted what is now America's longest war.

In an apparent acknowledgment of the deteriorating security situation there, he said the US "military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines".

He only mentioned Russia once alongside China as a rival.

Mr Trump did not refer to the federal inquiry into whether his campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 presidential election, a controversy that is dogging his presidency and which both he and Russia have denied.

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