US President Donald Trump boasted about the economy, job growth and his “America first” policy during his first State of the Union address, which was met by protests both inside and outside of Congress.
“This, in fact, is our new American moment,” Trump said as he addressed the current state of the US and laid out his top priorities for the year ahead.
“There has never been a better time to start living the American dream,” he added.
The president addressed a wide-range of issues from job growth and tax reform to infrastructure, immigration reform and national security.
Trump highlighted that “since the election, we have created more than 2.4 million new jobs” and “unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low”.
While it is true that the job market, as well as the economy has seen growth, many analysts have pointed out that the upward trend began well before Trump took office.
The US president also took the opportunity to congratulate himself and Congress on passing a massive tax overhaul, which has been criticised by Democrats and rights groups for unfairly benefiting wealthy Americans, while raising taxes for middle class families. It will also add nearly $1.5-trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years.
Trump again called on Congress to pass a immigration reform package that includes creating “a path to citizenship” for 1.8 million undocumented people who were brought to the US as children, “fully securing the border” by building a wall on the US-Mexico border, ending the diversity visa lottery programme, and stopping immigration based on family ties, which Trump often refers to as “chain migration” – a phrase rights group and Democrats call “unhelpful” and “racist”.
Immigration reform has been high on the agenda for Democrats, who are seeking a permanent way to protect recipients of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, which was ended last year by the Trump administration.
Earlier this month, the government shut down for three days after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach an agreement on DACA, which the Democrats tied to government spending measure .
A temporary spending bill was passed, however, after Democrats accepted a promise by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to debate immigration on a “level playing field”. Guantanamo to remain open
On the foreign policy front, Trump said he was “proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100 percent of the territory” recently held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
Earlier this month, Paul E Funk II, the commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said that while “more than 98 percent of the land once claimed by the terrorist group has been returned to the people”, ISIL’s “repressive ideology continues” and conditions remain for the armed group to return.
The president announced he was directing the defence department to keep open the controversial prison camp at Guantanamo Bay .
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, signed an executive order in 2009 to close the facility, but it remained opened.
The US president also called for the modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal, warning that: “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.”
Trump named China and Russia as rivals.
Dreamers in audience
More than a dozen Democratic Congress members did not attend the speech, which local media reported could be the biggest boycott of its kind for a State of the Union Address.
Many Democrats also brought undocumented immigrants and recipients of the DACA programme, also known as Dreamers, as their guests to the speech.
“I will be bringing Denea, one of California’s 220,000 DACA recipients,” Senator Kamala Harris said on Twitter before the address. “Denea, a UCLA alumnus, is actively involved in empowering black immigrant communities through advocacy work,” she added.
Others brought sex abuse survivors as guests. This year, allegations of sexual abuse in the film industry, politics and other workplaces have rocked the US, prompting the #MeToo movement. Many women in the audience at Tuesday’s address wore black to stand in solidarity with those who have affected by sexual abuse and harassment. Trump, himself, is facing more than 20 sexual misconduct allegations , according to the Washington Post.
Outside the capitol building, hundreds of anti-Trump protesters chanted “lock him up” as Trump’s motorcade arrived for the address, according to US media.
On Monday, activists and celebrities gathered in New York City for a “People’s State of the Union” to highlight some of the greatest achievements of the “resistance movement” against Trump.—Al Jazeera