Democratic and Republican lawmakers were underwhelmed by Trump's State of the Union as threat of another government shutdown looms

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reads the speech, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019.
  • President Donald Trump made his need for a wall along the United States-Mexico border paramount during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
  • Democrats were displeased with the speech, while Republicans downplayed Trump’s overall tone.
  • The speech did nothing to calm fears that there will be another shutdown or that the president will make an emergency declaration on border security after the February 15 deadline.
  • Follow along with all of INSIDER’s coverage of the State of the Union here.

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s second State of the Union address accomplished very little, according to initial reactions: He didn’t win over Democrats, his calls for a border wall hardly advanced the debate, and he left fears of another government shutdown unaddressed when funding expires in 10 days.

In immediate aftermath of Trump’s speech, both Republicans and Democrats alike appeared unsure on whether Trump would sign the border security compromise the bicameral conference committee is tasked with hashing out by the February 15 deadline.


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“I would say that a lot of members, with all due respect, are tuning him out,” Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas told INSIDER. “We got to sit down and try to get an agreement.”

Cuellar, who is a member of the conference committee, added that he is “cautiously optimistic” the bipartisan group will have a plan to present by Friday or perhaps into the weekend.

But Cuellar also noted the president did not do much to calm the concerns of lawmakers wary of another shutdown situation or the prospect that Trump will make an emergency declaration to begin construction of additional barriers along the United States-Mexico border.

“He kept saying ‘dangerous, dangerous.’ If you look at all the FBI statistics, the border is a lot safer,” he said. “In fact, my hometown of Laredo is about four or five times safer than Washington, DC. But again, the president is playing to his base.”

“If he doesn’t get what he wants, he has that option to declare an emergency,” Cuellar added. “But again, I’ve always said if the fire department sees a fire, that’s an emergency and rush to it. They don’t say, ‘Hey, let me look at it. I’ll think about it’ and then in two, three, four, or five months declare an emergency. So I think any judge – any reasonable judge – will look at that and declare it unconstitutional.”

There were a handful of moments during the president’s hour-long speech that drew applause and standing ovations from Democrats and even more that pleased Republicans. But when it came to immigration and border security, Democrats were stone cold.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration,” Trump said at one point in his speech. “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

That line, along with countless others like it, frustrated Democrats in the room. From freshmen Reps. like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to top brass like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Trump’s remarks fell flat.

When Trump mentioned the caravans that travel through Central America and Mexico to reach the US border, There were audible groans and shouting of “no” from multiple House Democrats in the chamber.

Other Democrats noted they were pleased with Trump’s push for other initatives like tackling drug pricing and implementing a paid family leave policy, but the president’s focus on hot button issues like immigration stole the show.

“It was a slap in the face with an olive branch,” saidDemocratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.

“Oh I thought that was just window dressing,” Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia said of Trump’s speech. “I didn’t hear anything that really reached out to Democrats asking us to participate legislatively.”

“He filled with platitudes and bromides when it came to that,” Connolly added. “And then he reverted to really divisive rhetoric about the wall, about manufacturing a crisis on the southern border.”

Republicans downplayed the president’s tone

“I thought it was OK,” said Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Senate chairman of the conference committee. “I thought he was not incendiary.”

When asked about the president’s focus on his need to add more miles of physical barrier along the border, Shelby suggested Trump was using language to please the base and that Congress should continue its work in the conference committee.

“Well the president is always going to talk about a wall. We call it a barrier, a fence, a whatever,” he said. “But we’ll see what happens.”

Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, a senior appropriator, told INSIDER he was pleased with Trump’s tone, but said that it is still up in the air as to whether he is ready to sign what the conference committee comes up with.

“It was very conciliatory,” he said. “So that was a good thing. So we’ll just have to wait and see.”

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