U.S. President Donald Trump (front) delivers his State of the Union address to ajoint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, Jan. 30, 2018. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)
by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- In his first-ever State of the Union (SOTU) address, U.S. President Donald Trump called for unity in Washington in a bid to get both parties on the same page and pass an agenda he said would bring tremendous benefit to Americans.
But at a time of bitter partisan rancor, many experts have expressed doubt whether unity will occur.
FIRST SOTU SPEECH
In a nationally televised speech, the president called for unity for the sake of serving the American people, saying "these are the people we were elected to serve," noting that his administration has boosted employment and enacted one of the biggest tax cuts in U.S. history -- which has sent the markets soaring.
Pushing for a 1 trillion U.S. dollar infrastructure spending bill, Trump told lawmakers in the audience that he was "asking both parties to come together" to produce a bill that will "fix the infrastructure deficit."
At the same time, he called for a multi-pronged immigration revamp in a bid to fix the nation's broken immigration system.
That included fixing the "deadly loopholes" that allow violent criminals to enter the United States illegally, noting a case a couple of years back in which MS-13 gang members -- a Hispanic gang with members illegally residing in the United States -- murdered two American high school girls.
The plan also called for a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million immigrants whose parents brought them illegally into the United States when they were minors.
"So let's come together" and "get the job done" he said, in an effort to reach out to Democrats.
LITTLE CHANCE FOR BIPARTITIAN COOPERATION
But while the White House had earlier touted the speech as an olive branch to Democrats, some experts noted that much of the speech trumpeted the president's own achievements and gave little credit to Democrats.
This comes at a time when Trump will need Democrats on his side to pass his legislative agenda, including his massive infrastructure spending plan.
"In his first year, he could pass legislation with only a majority. And this time around, when it comes to immigration and infrastructure, he's going to need some Democrats," Republican Strategist Ford O' Connell told Xinhua.
"And I think the big question here is...he gave a powerful speech and it was well delivered. But at the same time, is it going to make it easier to make a deal on immigration or infrastructure ? I think that's still up in the air," O' Connell said.
O' Connell said the real question for Trump will be how independent voters respond, at a time when the president has a very low approval rating among Democrats.
"Because if you look at the latest Fox News poll, Republicans are still with Trump, and Democrats are still against Trump. If he can find a way to get public opinion on his side with respect to (independents), he may be able to (pass his agenda)," he said.
"So only time is going to tell whether or not he's able to make these deals, but they're going to require Democrats, and that's why he honed in on those issues -- immigration and infrastructure," O' Connell said, referring to the speech.
Moreover, whether Trump is able to pass his agenda comes down to a simple numbers game.
"When it comes to immigration or infrastructure, they key number is 279," O' Connell said.
"218 (votes) in the House, where Republicans have a majority and 60 in the Senate, where they don't have the majority, and one presidential signature. So 279 is the key. How we get there, we don't know yet," O' Connell said, referring to Trump's attempts to get bills through Congress.
But other experts doubt whether the two parties will come together.
"There will be few opportunities for bipartisanship. Based on the past year, Democrats are antagonistic towards the GOP and their base wants confrontation, not bipartisanship," Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West told Xinhua.
"The only possibility for bipartisanship is infrastructure investment. That may be an area where the parties could come together because each side understands the need to rebuild bridges, highways, and dams," West said.
West noted that Trump mentioned immigration reform but cast new arrivals as a threat to security and prosperity, linking that issue to gang violence and unnecessary murders.
"That is not a basis for cooperation with Democrats. It is hard to see how the two sides can do much in this area," he said.
CONCILIATORY ON DOMESTIC POLICY
Indeed, Trump emphasized in his speech the need to boost border security in a bid to keep out drug dealers and violent gangs like MS-13, many of whose members hail from El Salvador.
But many Democrats say this emphasis is unfair to the millions of honest and hardworking immigrants who enter the United States seeking a better life.
In the official Democratic response after the speech, Democrat Joe Kennedy III said in Spanish "we'll fight for you," addressing over a million so-called "Dreamers" -- those who were brought to the United States illegally while they were minors. Experts said that's already an indication that Democrats are wary of Trump.
West said overall, it was a conciliatory speech on domestic policy.
"The president talked about Americans helping one another during times of natural disaster and the need to love one another. He called for unity and talked about the 24 million new jobs that have been created," West said.
"But it is going to be hard to overcome extreme actions Trump has taken in the last year. He has not done a good job of involving Democrats in policies so it is going to be hard for them to take his unity pleas very seriously. There is very little basis for the two sides to trust one another," West said.
Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, told Xinhua: "While he talked about bipartisanship on infrastructure and immigration, I don't think it's likely on either front."
"On immigration in particular, the changes Trump is seeking on legal immigration in particular are almost certainly non-starters among Democrats," said Galdieri.
"On infrastructure, I think Trump is seeking too large a role for private partners for many Democrats to be comfortable, and there aren't the Republican votes to pass a plan like the one he sketched without Democratic votes," Galdieri said.
TRUMP TOUGH ON FOREIGN POLICY
Trump's speech later turned to foreign policy, emphasizing what he stressed was the need to turn up the heat on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the country's leader Kim Jong Un continues to threaten the United States with nuclear weapons.
Riley Walters, Asia research associate at the Heritage Foundation, said President Trump declared to continue his campaign of maximum pressure to deter the DPRK's use of nuclear weapons.
"He believes making America, and the American military, strong will make the U.S. resilient to any efforts by either country," Walters said.
Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Michael O'Hanlon told Xinhua that he worries about his choice of words on the DPRK, "because I doubt he can really prevent Pyongyang from having a long-range strike option against the United States, and I don't favor the use of military force to prevent it...though his words were indirect enough that I'm not overly concerned."