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State of the Union: Md. Dems Skeptical of Trump’s Calls for Unity

If Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats had their way, President Trump might not deliver another State of the Union address. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump implored Congress Tuesday to move past political gridlock in favor of bipartisan cooperation before he dug in on the border security fight that threatens to shut down the government yet again.

“We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before,” Trump said during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

“But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.”

But while Trump opened his remarks to the now-divided Congress with a call for a new era of unity, he showed little willingness to compromise on some of his positions — including his stance on a border wall — that were central to fight that led to the last shutdown. Federal agencies could shutter yet again if lawmakers can’t reach a deal by their Feb. 15 deadline.

Democrats in the Maryland congressional delegation weren’t impressed by Trump’s speech. They accused the president of repeating rhetoric he’s used in the past and exacerbating the partisan divide that led to the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

“The White House promised this State of the Union would be one of unity and a vision for bipartisan cooperation. But most of what we heard tonight was the same division and dishonesty that sadly has become the hallmark of this presidency,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) in a statement. “The President could have used this time to offer concrete plans on bipartisan economic priorities that actually help working people. Instead, he was long on empty promises and short on real policy proposals.”

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D) said in a statement that Trump resorted to his old tactics of trying to scare Americans.

“President Trump leaned on falsehoods and fear to obscure the reality of a presidency lacking in leadership and harmful to America’s future,” he said. “Nothing in the substance of his remarks indicates that he will change course away from domestic policies that make it harder for our people to attain real economic security or foreign policies that embolden our adversaries and undermine our alliances. His words and his deeds continue to make the state of our union more divided and less adherent to the values and principles upon which it was founded.”

Hoyer, newly reinstalled as the House majority leader, said Democrats are poised to offer an alternative vision and pass substantive legislation.

“With our new Majority, House Democrats will move forward on the American people’s priorities,” he said.

In Trump’s first address to Congress since Democrats clinched control of the House in the November elections, he called on lawmakers to choose “greatness” over “gridlock.” The speech, originally slated for late last month, was delayed as Trump sparred with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over the 35-day shutdown that ended in late January.

“Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis,” Trump said. “The Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our southern border.”

Despite congressional Democrats’ insistence that they won’t provide the $5 billion in funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border, Trump doesn’t appear to be budging.

“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,” he said. “This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall.”

In an apparent effort to rally support for his position, much of Trump’s speech was dedicated to warning about the “tremendous onslaught” of immigrants entering the country.

“As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” he said. “We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection.”

The deep ideological divisions in the Congress were evident during Trump’s speech. Republicans frequently stood and applauded loudly, while Democrats — including many women dressed in white to honor women’s suffrage — sat quietly through many of Trump’s more contentious remarks.

Trump told Congress that “America is winning each and every day,” and that “the state of the union is strong,” prompting chants of “U-S-A” from Republicans. “That sounds so, so good,” the president said.

Trump touted a host of his administration’s policies that have drawn ire from the left. He pointed to the rollback of federal rules and declared that his team has “unleashed a revolution in American energy,” becoming the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas.

He also boasted the massive tax overhaul bill he signed into law and his move to eliminate what he called “the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty.”

And he vowed to push to restrict women’s access to abortion – a line that brought applause from most Republicans, including Maryland’s lone Republican in Congress, Rep. Andrew P. Harris.

@POTUS is absolutely right on this — we must protect children, born and unborn, and we have to start now,” Harris wrote on Twitter during the speech.

As House Democrats prepare to kick off a spate of investigations into the Trump administration, Trump issued words of caution.

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

Harris applauded that line.

“Democrats should join us in helping the country, not focus on stopping the President,” he tweeted.

The president issued new calls for issues where even a divided Congress could in theory muster bipartisan support, like efforts to rebuild infrastructure, lowering the cost of health care and protecting patients with pre-existing conditions and fighting childhood cancer. It’s unclear whether Democrats in either chamber will have much of an appetite to work with Republicans on major legislation as the 2020 presidential race nears, though the newest member of Maryland’s congressional delegation, Rep. David J. Trone (D), found some appeal in Trump’s calls for bipartisanship.

“There is more that unites us than divides us – and I hope that President Trump’s call for unity tonight was made in earnest,” he said.

Trump won raucous bipartisan applause when he mentioned that women were filling the bulk of the country’s newly created jobs last year, as many Democrats turned to applaud the many women who arrived on Capitol Hill this year.

“You weren’t supposed to do that,” he said of the boisterous applause from the Democratic side of the aisle. He noted, “We also have more women serving in the Congress than at any time before.” In a departure from his prepared remarks, after the Democrats chanted, “U-S-A,” Trump said, “Congratulations, that’s great.”

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State of the Union: Md. Dems Skeptical of Trump’s Calls for Unity