The New York Times Company
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump claimed credit for a “great American comeback” in a speech to Congress on Tuesday night, boasting of a robust economy, contrasting his successes with the record of his predecessors and projecting optimism in the face of a monthslong Democratic effort to force him from office.
Trump, who lamented what he called “American carnage” when he was inaugurated in January 2017, described a different country today, declaring in his third State of the Union address that the nation’s future was once again “blazing bright.”
“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American Decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny,” Trump said in a speech that stretched for 78 minutes. “We have totally rejected the downsizing. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never, ever going back!”
“The state of our union,” Trump declared, “is stronger than ever before.”
Welcomed by enthusiastic applause from Republican lawmakers, the president marched confidently into the same historic chamber where he was impeached 49 days earlier. Trump described the nation as enjoying what he called a “blue-collar boom,” fueled by trade agreements and his success in “restoring our nation’s manufacturing might.”
On the eve of a Senate vote expected to acquit him, Trump never mentioned the impeachment inquiry that has threatened his presidency and consumed Washington. But his interactions Tuesday night with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who started the investigation by Democrats that has forever stained his legacy, underscored the deep bitterness between them.
As he arrived at the rostrum, Trump turned to hand copies of his speech to Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence. But when Pelosi offered her hand to shake, the president pointedly turned away without taking it.
Seated just behind the president, Pelosi grimaced and shook her head several times during Trump’s address. Moments after Trump finished and was basking in applause from Republicans, the speaker ripped up the pages of his speech, holding them high for the cameras to catch her unmistakable statement of scorn.
With the theatrical touches of a showman-turned-president, Trump surprised the wife of an Army soldier with the soldier’s return home from battle, highlighted the story of a 100-year-old Tuskegee airman and his 13-year-old grandson, and — in a remarkable moment — awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, the combative, conservative talk radio host and for decades a villain to the left.
The president did not unveil any major new initiatives, but called on Congress to pass bills to encourage school choice, lower prescription drug prices, provide a small amount of funding for neonatal research, ban late-term abortions, and work toward improving the nation’s roads, bridges and tunnels.
As he has done each year, Trump focused a large part of the speech on immigration. He called on Congress to ban “free government health care for illegal aliens” and to pass legislation allowing the victims of crimes by unauthorized immigrants to sue so-called sanctuary cities.