President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union speech Tuesday, presenting an upbeat vision of the country and focusing on his economic and regulatory successes that played well with his GOP base.
“We have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone," Trump noted. "After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages. Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low. African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.”
“There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream,” he emphasized.
While he didn’t mention agriculture or rural America specifically, he touched on important issues for farmers and ranchers like tax reform, trade, infrastructure, immigration and regulatory reform.
“In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history,” he said to thunderous applause from his fellow Republicans.
Without mentioning any specific trade agreement, Trump said, “The era of economic surrender is over. 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. From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal. We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.”
The often-divisive president at times seemed to welcome the chance to bring a polarized country together for common goals like infrastructure and immigration reform. Trump urged Democrats to join him in moving a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that would include changes in environmental and other regulations to streamline the approval process for road, bridge and sewage projects.
"America is a nation of builders," he said. "We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn't it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?"
On immigration reform, he re-emphasized four key pillars of his plan, which he said, “should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise -- one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.” Those pillars include a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age, securing the border, ending the visa lottery and moving toward a merit-based immigration system, and doing away with chain migration.
But as Democrats, who either boycotted the speech or sat stoically during the event, demonstrated, finding bipartisan solutions on controversial issues like immigration will not be easy.
“It would be easy to dismiss the past year as chaos, as partisanship, as politics, but it's far bigger than that," said Rep. Joe Kennedy in delivering the Democratic response. "This administration isn't just targeting the laws that protect us. They're targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.
Kennedy, the 37-year-old grandson of Robert Kennedy, said the Trump administration had asked Americans to pick between "coal miners or single moms, rural communities or inner cities, the coast or the heartland."
"We fight for both," Kennedy said. "Because the strongest, richest, greatest nation in the world should not have to leave any one behind.
The president’s remarks were warmly received by some farm and rural advocates, even though some wanted the president to do much more.
American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said it was “refreshing” to hear Trump’s pledge to make Washington accountable.
“From regulatory reform and trade to immigration reform and infrastructure upgrades, President Trump tonight unveiled a policy roadmap that aims to unify and strengthen our nation. Many of the provisions he outlined will continue the theme of renewing rural America. Now, we must work to secure those policy provisions,” Duvall said.
“With the more-than-$1 trillion infrastructure development package he announced tonight, it is our expectation that rural communities will be partners in what he described as a New American Moment. Infrastructure upgrades tied to our rural communities will help pave the way for economic renewal that is so badly needed."
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, “Family farmers and rural residents are looking to President Trump to deliver on his promises to fix the nation’s failed free trade agreement framework and crumbling rural infrastructure.
“The President, rightly so, spoke to how our past trade agreements disadvantage the working class, family farmers and their communities. These agreements operate under a failed framework that the president can begin to fix by replacing NAFTA with an agreement that addresses our massive trade deficit and lost sovereignty.
"Unfortunately," Johnson said, "President Trump has gone about this in a fashion that isn’t conducive to positive relations with our trading partners. The administration must produce a better NAFTA and avoid massive market disruption through a NAFTA withdrawal."
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