Donald Trump connects presidency with prosperity in ‘American moment’

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Washington: Donald Trump sought to connect his presidency to the nation’s prosperity in his first State of the Union address, arguing that the US has arrived at a “new American moment” of wealth and opportunity.

The president dispensed with his trademark antagonism in a bid for bipartisanship, portraying his administration—marked in his first year by discord—as working to build a “safe, strong and proud America,” according to excerpts of the speech released by the White House. In contrast with polling that shows most Americans consider him divisive, he will say he’ll unify the country “as one team, one people and one American family.”

“I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens, of every background, color, and creed,” Trump will say. He began speaking shortly after 9pm New York time.

The White House billed the prime-time address as part economic victory lap and part bipartisan rallying cry. Central to the president’s vision of a more unified country is an electorate widely benefiting from an economic boom for which Trump claims full credit. Tax cut legislation he signed late last year has already yielded bigger paychecks for millions of Americans, Trump will say.

“Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses – many of them thousands of dollars per worker,” Trump will say. “This is our New American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream.”

While some employers have publicly credited the tax cuts for recent bonuses they’ve issued to workers, some of the money may have been paid out regardless thanks to the nation’s tight labour market and strong economy. The director of the White House National Economic Council, Gary Cohn, said on Fox News before Trump’s speech that the 3 million figure includes “some type of tax bonus or wage increase or pension increase” awarded to workers.

Cohn said more than 350 companies have made “announcements in direct reflection of what we’ve done with taxes.”

Trump’s speech is to feature bipartisan pitches on subjects including infrastructure and immigration. Guests seated in the First Lady’s box at the speech include victims of gang violence and law enforcement officers wounded in the line of duty. The decision to highlight areas for possible cooperation across the aisle and to frame the president’s remarks around stories of exceptional Americans is a tacit admission that Trump is addressing a Congress and a country sharply divided by the opening year of his administration.

Softer tone

Controversy over the probe into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia has been heightened in recent days by his administration’s decision to largely avoid imposing new sanctions on Russia and a bid by congressional Republicans to release a memo in which they allege improper behaviour by FBI leadership investigating the president.

Trump planned to steer clear of those controversies in his speech, said a person familiar with the text. He will instead devote his remarks to the idea that an improving economy has helped all Americans. Central to that argument is a celebration of the tax cuts, passed by Republicans toward the end of last year, and a promise to crackdown on what Trump considers to be unfair trade arrangements.

“America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs and our nation’s wealth,” he will say.

In striking a softer tone, the White House hopes to win back voters who appear to be abandoning the president and his party ahead of upcoming midterm elections, according to polls. Trump also seeks to encourage lawmakers in the throes of an immigration policy debate and still smarting from a dispute that led to a brief government shutdown to consider Trump’s policy priorities.

Infrastructure plan

One of the centerpieces of the president’s remarks will be his pitch for an infrastructure development plan. Trump has proposed to allocate $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years on roads, transit and other projects, and White House officials say they expect that investment would spur states, localities and the private sector to spend as much as $1.6 trillion.

“I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve,” he will say.

As part of that effort Trump wants to streamline the gauntlet of federal regulations major projects face before construction begins. But critics warn the president’s plan doesn’t include enough direct spending, and say that his efforts to cut red tape could gut important environmental protections.

“America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year – isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?” he will say.

Immigration overhaul

The White House similarly believes Trump’s pitch for an immigration overhaul should win Democratic support—and that more neutral language by Trump can shift a racially-charged debate. The administration has offered to give 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children a path to citizenship. But the trade-offs proposed by the administration include cuts to family-based immigration, what Trump calls “chain migration,” and a $25 billion trust fund for enhanced security including a wall on the Mexican border.

“Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families,” Trump will say.

Even as the White House framed the president’s efforts as an attempt at reconciliation, guests of First Lady Melania Trump indicate the administration is digging in for a fight. Attendees include a law enforcement agent who has targeted the MS-13 gang, as well as parents of victims of the group. Many Democrats, meanwhile, invited immigrants who entered the country illegally as children and are facing uncertain futures after the president cancelled his predecessor’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Trump’s wife travelled to the Capital ahead of her husband, in a break with tradition.

Foreign policy presents similar challenges. While White House advisers say Trump seeks unity on issues of war and peace, invoking the heroism and sacrifice of service members fighting on behalf of the United States, he’ll face lawmakers sceptical of his belligerent rhetoric toward North Korea and concerned by his bid to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump will celebrate the US fight against Islamic State, which has cost the militant group 98% of its territory in Syria and Iraq, according to Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the international coalition combating the group.

“Last year I pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth,” Trump will say, using an acronym for the group. “One year later, I’m proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria.”

Aides say the speech was drafted over several weeks, with the president offering handwritten edits and sending aides ideas for passages and catchphrases. Aides involved in the writing of the address included senior adviser Stephen Miller, staff secretary Rob Porter and speechwriters Vince Haley and Ross Worthington.livemint