Washington, January 5 – With his anticipated acquittal in his impeachment trial a day away, President Trump used his annual State of the Union address Tuesday to paint an optimistic picture of the country’s future and tout the strong economy nine months before Election Day.
“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We have totally rejected the downsizing,” Mr. Trump said in the House chamber. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back.”
Mr. Trump entered the chamber just after 9 p.m. to sustained applause, pausing for a moment to speak with Chief Justice John Roberts, who has been presiding over the impeachment trial.
From there, Washington’s deep partisanship was on full display. The president handed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) a copy of his remarks, but turned away without shaking her hand as she extended it. Mr. Trump and Mrs. Pelosi haven’t spoken in months; tension over impeachment has frayed their relationship. Moments later, Republicans began chanting, “Four more years!”
During the speech, Republicans repeatedly jumped to their feet and cheered, and Democrats sat stone-faced, standing rarely. A few Democrats walked out of the State of the Union speech early. At the end of the address, Mrs. Pelosi tore her copy of the president’s speech in half.
Asked by reporters why she ripped up the speech, Mrs. Pelosi said, “Because it was a manifesto of mistruths.”
In a one-hour, 18-minute address punctuated by made-for-TV moments, from Mr. Trump presenting a school-age girl with a scholarship to a surprise appearance by a service member returning from his overseas deployment, the president’s remarks focused squarely on the economy.
He ticked through a litany of statistics designed to drive home his core message that he is the lead architect of America’s economic boom. “If we hadn’t reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration, the world would now not be witnessing this great economic success,” he said.
In the speech, Mr. Trump focused on election themes, such as his plans for health care, the impact of economic growth on the middle class and the wall along the southern border.
With acquittal in the Senate on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges expected Wednesday afternoon, the speech comes at a moment when the president is feeling triumphant, according to people close to him. He spent part of the day Tuesday reveling in the chaos in Iowa over counting the results of the Democratic caucuses.
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The impeachment trial doesn’t appear to have moved the president’s approval ratings. Mr. Trump’s job approval in the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll late last month stood at 46%, with 51% disapproving, in line with results throughout his presidency.
Mr. Trump avoided commenting on impeachment, even as he spoke in front of the Democrats who sought to remove him from office.
The president told television anchors during an off-the-record lunch at the White House Tuesday afternoon that he planned to address impeachment in more detail later this week, according to people familiar with the matter. After Bill Clinton in 1999, he was the second president to deliver a State of the Union address during his impeachment trial.
House and Senate lawmakers, as well as Supreme Court justices and the president’s cabinet attended the address. The top Democratic candidates—including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts—weren’t in the audience. Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren were in New Hampshire for campaign events Tuesday. Several House Democrats boycotted the speech.
The theme of the speech, “The Great American Comeback,” echoed the tone of Mr. Trump’s recent remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Voters consistently list the economy as a top issue, and the president’s advisers view it as central to Mr. Trump’s re-election chances.
As he did in his remarks in Davos, Mr. Trump touted what he calls a “blue-collar boom,” part of an effort to highlight how his policies are helping the middle class. The president also trumpeted the economic effects of a pair of recent trade agreements: newly approved U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal and a “phase one” deal with China.
“Many politicians came and went, pledging to change or replace Nafta—only to do absolutely nothing. But unlike so many who came before me, I keep my promises,” he said.
He emphasized his administration’s efforts to help working families, including his support of paid family leave and affordable child care. Lowering the cost of health care, as well as the cost of prescription drugs, were also major themes of the speech.
The issue of health care presented Mr. Trump with an opening to criticize his Democratic opponents. The president echoed comments he made in his 2019 address criticizing efforts “to adopt socialism in our country.”
“To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know: We will never let socialism destroy American health care,” Mr. Trump said.
When Trump said there are those who want to take away people’s doctors and abolish private insurance, Democrats shouted, “Who? Who?”
Drew Hammill, the deputy chief of staff to Mrs. Pelosi, said Mr. Trump hasn’t lived up to his promises to make health care affordable and lower prescription drug prices.
“He has broken both of those promises with his ongoing crusade to repeal protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, putting a pharmaceutical executive in charge of drug prices, and siding with Big Pharma against the House’s game-changing Lower Drug Prices Now Act,” he said.
The president called on Congress to approve legislation implementing his vision on health care, school choice and other issues. Bitterly divided and with the election later this year, Congress is unlikely to pass major legislation before November.
Mr. Trump also highlighted immigration, an issue that animates his supporters. In addition to giving an update on his efforts to build a wall along the southern border, the president took aim at sanctuary cities.