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State Of The Union: 'Tonight, I Ask You To Choose Greatness,' Trump Says

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Updated at 10:17 p.m. ET

President Trump began his second State of the Union address with a call for bipartisanship and unity, even as he remains at a logjam with Congress over immigration in the shadow of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

It's the first time Trump will address Congress with Democrats controlling the House, and the president opened by telling them he was "ready to work with you to achieve historic breakthroughs for all Americans" and aiming to "govern not as two parties but as one nation."

"There is a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage to seize it. Victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country," the president said to a standing ovation from both parties.

Trump called on Congress to "reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good."

"Together, we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America's future," he continued. "The decision is ours to make. We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction. Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness."

However, Trump's rhetoric throughout his presidency — and in the hours ahead of his speech — is likely to undercut that message and make it hard for his highly anticipated remarks to break through. For example, Tuesday morning the president tweeted that his administration has "sent additional military" to the Southern border. "We will build a Human Wall if necessary," Trump also said. "If we had a real Wall, this would be a non-event!" That tweet was soon followed by another that targeted the Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York.

And not long into his remarks, that tone of comity did fade. Trump condemned Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into his 2016 presidential campaign and whether there was any collusion with Russia — which has led to the arrests and convictions of several former aides. Trump, who has frequently called Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt," blamed it for curtailing economic progress.

"An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations," Trump said, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visibly reacted behind him. "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn't work that way! We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad."

Trump's address comes less than two weeks before another funding deadline that could result in another partial government shutdown. The president has been pessimistic about the chances that a bipartisan group of lawmakers engaged in negotiations will find a palatable solution on border security he would sign. As expected, he made immigration — and his continued argument that a Southern border wall of some type is necessary — a central part of his speech, asking Congress "to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country."

"We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today, who followed the rules and respected our laws. Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways," Trump said. "I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally."

Trump said his push for a wall would be a "smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall" which would "be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down."

Trump has floated declaring a national emergency as a way to build the wall, which was a key campaign promise — albeit with the caveat that Mexico would pay for it — that drew wild praise from his supporters. Even some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have cautioned that such a declaration would be a risky strategy, drawing likely legal challenges and setting a potentially dangerous precedent for future presidents.

The president didn't reference such a declaration in his speech, but he did insist he would "get it built."

The chamber looked quite different than in past years. Democrats have control of the House for the first time in eight years, with that success coming due to the record number of women — most of whom wore white Tuesday night in honor of early 20th century suffragettes — elected in last year's midterms.

As Trump began to tout his economic success, he noted that "no one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year." The Democratic women began to stand and cheer, egged on by their male colleagues.

"You weren't supposed to do that," Trump quipped with a smile, though he urged them to keep standing for his next remarks: "All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before — and exactly one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than ever before." That prompted even more cheering and chants of "USA!" from the female lawmakers. Ironically, it was, in large part, due to Trump and his policies that many of those Democratic women decided to run for office.

Democrats have chosen former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who fell short in her bid last year to become the country's first black female governor, to give their response to the president's address. According to excerpts from her prepared remarks, Abrams will hit Trump hard over the prolonged shutdown and its effect on workers.

"Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers. They waited in line for a box of food and a sliver of hope since they hadn't received a paycheck in weeks. Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace," Abrams will say. "The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people — but our values."

Other parts of Trump's remarks will touch on foreign policy, the economy, changing the country's criminal justice system and improving America's infrastructure.

"After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on earth, and America is winning each and every day," Trump will argue.

And as he has pushed for withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and drawing down the American military presence in Afghanistan — an idea even Republicans in the Senate have rebuffed — Trump will remind the country that, "As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars."

Infrastructure, especially, is an issue where there could be some bipartisan agreement, and Trump will tell Congress that "both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure." However, past efforts by the administration to highlight such efforts have often been overshadowed by controversy or other news.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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