Unveiling his second year agenda to a deeply divided Congress and nation, a bullish United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday used his first State of the Union address to appeal for bipartisanship on issues like immigration while pledging to tackle the Islamic State and a nuclear-armed North Korea.
During his 80-minute prime time address, Trump laid out a four-pillar immigration plan, one of the major debates that loomed over his first year in office, and sought the backing of the Congress for a merit-based immigration system that admits skilled people, a proposal that could benefit technology professionals from countries like India.
He also outlined a plan that would allow up to 1.8 undocumented immigrants to remain in the country while funding a border wall with Mexico, ending the visa lottery system and reforming family immigration rules.
In one of the longest-running State of the Union speeches in US history, the 71-year-old businessman-turned politician heralded the economic successes of his administration, including a soaring stock market and low unemployment.
While keeping mum on the ongoing investigations into his his election campaign’s ties to Russia, Trump appealed to the Democrats and Republicans to look past deep national divisions in order to do good by the American people.
In his speech, laced with American stories of triumph and tragedy, Trump said it was not enough to come together only in times of tragedy.
“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.
“I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties -- Democrats and Republicans -- to protect our citizens of every background, colour, religion, and creed,” Trump said as US First Lady Melania Trump and other dignitaries watched.
Unlike his apocalyptic “American carnage” inaugural speech of just a year ago, Trump said his administration is “building a safe, strong and proud America”.
“This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream,” he said.
Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low, the president said, adding that small business confidence is at an all-time high. The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $ 8 trillion in value, Trump, who is facing historically low approval ratings, said.
Trump’s overall job approval number nationwide was never over 50 per cent in Gallup polling at any point in 2017, CNN reported.
In his speech, Trump called on lawmakers to approve a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package and touted his work on health care.
He said his administration has slashed the business tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent, so American companies can compete and win against anyone in the world.
US President Trump warned that North Korea’s “reckless pursuit” of nuclear missile could threaten American cities, and asserted that he will not “repeat the mistakes” of past administrations that got the US into “dangerous position”.
He said no regime has oppressed its own citizens more brutally than the cruel dictatorship of Kim Jong-un.
“North Korea’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,” he said, indicating that he will take preventive measure to stop North Korea from gaining a nuclear weapon.
He also said that “rivals” like China and Russia are challenging America’s interests, economy and values.
“As we rebuild America’s strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad. Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values,” he said.
“As part of our defence, we must modernise and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression,” he said.
“Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet,” he said.
Trump said last year he pledged that he would work with US allies to extinguish the Islamic State terror group from the face of the Earth.
“One year later, I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 per cent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated,” he said.
He said he was also asking the Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda, the US should have “all necessary power to detain terrorists -- wherever we chase them down.”
On Afghanistan, he said the American forces in the war-torn country have new rules of engagement.
“Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans,” he said.