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Trump talks economy, immigration in first State of the Union

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged Congress to lift budget caps to fully fund the military and said he signed an order to keep the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay open during his first State of the Union address on Tuesday.

But Trump used the bulk of his speech before a joint session of Congress to tout his tax and deregulation policies that he claimed are fueling an economic boom. He also called for bipartisanship to tackle divisive issues like immigration reform.

Trump also spoke of the heroism witnessed last year during hurricanes, wildfires and the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

“We saw strangers shielding strangers from a hail of gunfire on the Las Vegas Strip,” Trump said.

“Together, we are building a safe, strong and proud America,” Trump said.

Trump claimed tax cuts that he promised nearly a year ago have provided tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.

“This is our new American moment,” Trump said to applause. “There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream.”

The president’s televised speech during prime-time served as a platform to lay out future goals and called for bipartisanship and optimism to meet those goals.

Nevada’s delegation

Nevada Democrats, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Rep. Jacky Rosen and Rep. Ruben Kihuen, invited guests that included Las Vegas immigrants seeking permanent protection from deportation, including Salvadoran immigrants and recipients of temporary protection status.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” Rosen said. “It is the reason people look to us. We are a beacon of hope.”

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., left open her guest seat as a memorial to 58 victims and hundreds wounded in the Oct. 1 attack by a gunman on concertgoers on the Las Vegas Strip, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Titus is demanding that gun violence be addressed.

More than a dozen Democrats announced before the speech that they would boycott the president’s address. None were from Nevada.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., watched the speech from home in Nevada. Amodei said he left Washington to get an “extra day for meetings with constituents and federal agencies.”

Infrastructure and tax cuts

The president touched on numerous topics in his speech, including tax cuts, infrastructure, immigration, trade and national security.

Republicans rammed through a $1.5 trillion tax cut package without Democratic support in the House or Senate that Trump signed into law, accomplishing a major campaign pledge.

Trump claimed the tax cut and deregulation efforts are fueling an economic boom that is creating jobs and marked by stock market records that are increasing the value of retirement accounts.

The president also called for $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, repairing roads and bridges and transportation systems nationwide that have fallen into a state of disrepair.

“We will do it with American heart, American hands and American grit,” Trump said.

But even before the president touted his infrastructure plan, Democrats said Trump’s blueprint would shift the burden of financing the rebuilding to the private sector and cash-strapped state and local governments.

“We can all agree that our infrastructure needs a major investment and upgrade, but indications of the president’s plan simply won’t cut it,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., the ranking member on the Joint Economic Committee.

Democrats respond

Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., the grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy, delivered the Democratic response, saying his party was the best to represent middle class workers.

Kennedy, speaking from Massachusetts, said it would “be easy to dismiss the past year as chaos, partisanship and politics, but it’s far bigger than that.” He said the Trump administration is rolling back protections for Americans.

Kennedy said Democrats want a “Better Deal” for the middle class — a higher minimum wage, paid leave and extended health care. He said CEOs making “300 times the average worker is not right.”

The president weighed in on the divisive issue of immigration reform, and the impasse with Democrats that led to a brief government shutdown.

Path to citizenship

Trump has proposed a framework that would offer 1.8 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship in exchange for $25 billion to build a wall system on the Southwest border, improve security on the northern border and hire immigration judges.

His plan also calls for restrictions on legal immigration, and an end to the diversity lottery visa program, proposals that have been rejected by Democrats and some Republicans.

Trump said his plan would help immigrant communities with immigration communities that focus on American workers and American families, “because Americans are dreamers too.”

The president said he is “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 said.

A bipartisan group of senators are writing their own bill to create a program similar to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals policy that the Obama administration created that shielded from deportation undocumented immigrants.

Military funding

In the speech, Trump called on Congress to increase funding for the military still fighting terrorists overseas, and he said he asked Defense Secretary James Mattis to reexamine the military detention policy.

Trump said he had signed an executive order to keep open facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because too many terrorists had been turned loose only to be combatants again.

The decision to keep open the facility would reverse action by President Barack Obama following controversial tactics.

Trump also touted another decision that reversed precedent by previous presidents, both Republicans and Democrats.

His recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was met with opposition by dozens of nations in the United Nations. Trump urged Congress to penalize countries that receive U.S. aid and send assistance only to countries “that serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends.”

The address was delivered against a backdrop of an ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and ties to Trump’s campaign.

Public opinion polls show the nation remains deeply divided, and the Gallup Poll shows Trump with the lowest approval ratings of any recent president at 38 percent — 42 percent among Nevada adults surveyed.

The division is likely to remain as midterm elections approach and Democrats hope to regain control of the House.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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