The US President's call for unity met the groans of Washington politics, as Democrats redoubled criticism of his policies and Republicans acknowledged differences of opinion within their party on immigration. The President, in his first State of the Union address, called for the two parties to come together — remarks sharply at odds with the combative manner in which he has conducted his Presidency so far. The President also outlined an ambitious agenda for his second year in office, from a $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure to a four-pronged immigration package, to a pledge to reduce prescription drug prices. He also laid out details of his immigration package, offering citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, who are known as "dreamers" in return for increased spending on border security, including for his promised wall at Mexico's border; an end to the visa lottery; and limits on family reunification policies. Part of his challenge will be persuading members of his party to back the plan. House Republicans voiced opposition to his approach just hours before his speech, with some arguing against offering dreamers citizenship. By all estimates, sharp divisions will probably remain in Washington despite the President's call for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address.
Predictably, Democrats slammed the President for "scapegoating a population of people by inciting fear." "This has been an administration that has decided that it profits politically from selling hate and division in our country." The President has set a March deadline to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, which has protected those who applied from deportation, and lawmakers are scrambling to come up with an alternative that can survive the political crosscurrents of both chambers. The speech came at a moment when the President faces a number of challenges: historically bad approval ratings for a chief executive at this point in his term, an investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election hanging over his administration and midterm elections ahead in which Democrats are expected to do well.
Republicans enjoy total dominance in Washington, with the Democrats shut out of power in Congress and the White House. But the party has only one major legislative accomplishment, a new tax law, to show for its first year in full control. The President pointed to that achievement — which he again falsely claimed is "the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history" — as contributing to a resurgent economy. He ticked off growth in jobs, wages, small-business confidence and a stock market that "smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value."While Republicans cheered throughout, Democrats sat stonily. When the President said the unemployment rate among African Americans was at a record low, for example, members of the Congressional Black Caucus refrained from applauding. To give their official response, Democratic leaders picked third-term Representative Joe Kennedy (Mass.), who marks the third generation of the Kennedy clan to serve in Congress. He spoke from Massachusetts. "It would be easy to dismiss the past year as chaos, partisanship, politics. But it's far bigger than that. This administration isn't just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection." The President made only passing reference to the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, the federal government's response to which has been widely criticised. Though he did not say "Little Rocket Man," his provocative nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he spoke with toughness and resolve about the threat across the Pacific. "We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies, "he said. He did not mention the Russia investigation, which is reaching a critical point that could include the President being called in for an interview with special counsel Mueller's team. There is, obviously, more suspense in store.