state of the union Trump speech leaves state Dems flat

February 6, 2019

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump offered a mix of reconciliation and hyperpartisan red meat in his delayed State of the Union speech Tuesday night, but Connecticut Democratic lawmakers listening to the speech were on guard for the more divisive parts of it, especially immigration and Trump’s long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Trump shut a major portion of the government down after Democrats refused to concede any ground on the wall. Connecticut’s entire Democratic congressional delegation opposed the wall.

“President Trump’s calls for unity seem deeply hollow and empty when he appeals to policies that critically divide us,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal in a statement. “He wants to build more walls — not bridges.”

But in his speech Monday night, Trump showed he was in no mood to compromise.

“I will get it built,” he said of the wall. “Walls work and walls save lives.”

Trump also took an indirect swipe at special counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation of Trump 2016 campaign connections to Russian intelligence — a probe that already appears close to Trump’s doorstep and threatens to cross the threshold.

Trump did not mention Mueller by name, but he condemned “ridiculous partisan investigations.”

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way!”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sitting right behind Trump as he spoke, appeared to signal Democrats not to respond to Trump’s partisan dig.

“His call for an end to the Russia investigation is yet another effort to derail and even obstruct or avoid any accountability for potential wrongdoing,” Blumenthal said. “That line shows all the more why the special counsel must do a report with all the facts and evidence and disclose it directly to the American people.”

Originally scheduled for Jan. 25, the State of the Union speech was cancelled by Pelosi because of the shutdown.

Trump briefly toyed with the idea of delivering the speech outside of Capitol Hill, but backed off. After the shutdown ended, it was rescheduled for Tuesday night.

As he has done in the past, Trump justified the need for a wall by highlighting criminal incidents involving illegal immigrants and the threat of MS-13 gang members.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration,” Trump said. “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

The remark about politicians living behind walls drew eye rolls from Democrats in Connecticut and elsewhere. In arguing for the controversial nearly-2,000-mile barrier, Trump had stated that former President Barack Obama lived in a house in Washington surrounded by a wall. Subsequent photos showed the claim was false.

Although the wall remains a major unfulfilled promise, Trump highlighted what he sees as the achievements of his administration.

“After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on earth, and America is winning each and every day,” he said.

As is customary in State of the Union speeches, Trump went through a laundry list of topics confronting the nation, from decaying infrastructure to trade to sentencing-guideline reform to rising drug prices.

He shocked some listeners with a graphic account of late-term abortion that he said amounted to infanticide. It was a description that abortion-rights groups quickly disputed as little more than a ruse to restrict all abortion, not just late term.

Trump doubled down on his view of Iran as a major threat in the Middle East that cannot be trusted to maintain the now-disrupted nuclear deal.

“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ and threatens genocide against the Jewish people,” he said.

At the same time, he defended his decision to scale back U.S. military presence in Syria and Afghanistan.

“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach,” he said. “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”

Although Democrats including Sen. Chris Murphy have criticized Trump for blindly believing North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un would agree to denuclearization, Trump asserted that the U.S. would be at war with North Korea if he hadn’t been elected president.

Even though Democrats from Connecticut and elsewhere have steadfastly refused to cede ground on the wall, Trump nevertheless offered them a few olive branches of sorts to Democratic opponents.

“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate,” he said. “We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make.”

And he even waxed poetic, with a riff on choosing greatness.

“We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction,” he said. “Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness.”

Pro-Trump partisans punctuated the president’s statements with thunderous applause and chants of “USA, USA, USA!”

Connecticut Democrats and others for the most part blame Trump for the toxic partisanship in Washington that brought on the shutdown, which could start up again Feb. 15 if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement Trump will sign.

“As governor, it’s my job to work on behalf of everyone in Connecticut and to reach across the aisle to find commonsense, bipartisan solutions to the challenges confronting our state,”said Gov. Ned Lamont. “I was pleased to hear President Trump echo a similar sentiment at the beginning of his speech. But those words tonight must be followed up by actions tomorrow that show his administration’s commitment to truly seek common ground and common purpose on behalf of all Americans.”

Murphy questioned the validity of the speech because of what he views as the president’s frequent misstatements, about-faces, denials and outright fabrications.

“I’m going to speech because I have a level of respect for the office,” Murphy said in an interview prior to the speech. “But I don’t know if what he says really matters.”

On Trump’s long-sought wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Murphy said Democrats have always sought the middle ground on border security.

“Democrats are willing to vote for border security money, but not a medieval wall,” he said. “I hope the president is willing to settle for border security money that’s not a wall. It’s up to him to take ‘yes’ for an answer.”

Murphy’s guest was Regina Moller, the executive director of Noank Community Support Services in Groton, which provides housing and services for troubled youth, as well as immigrant minors mostly from Central America.

A check from HUD for $327,000 was held up for 35 days during the shutdown, forcing the agency to take out a bank loan and depend on emergency donations. But in an interview before the speech, she said her thoughts would be less on the funding and more on the fate of the immigrant youth in her shelter.

“What’s going through my mind is the unaccompanied minors sitting back in the shelter who need a place to live, who need a life, and who need to be treated like human beings,” she said.

Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the race for governor of Georgia last year, gave the Democratic response to Trump’s speech. Not surprisingly, she focused on the shutdown.

“The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the President of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people — but our values,” she said.

She recalled helping out with volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers.

“Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace,” she said.