CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A week after President Donald Trump was scheduled to give his second State of the Union address before the United States Congress, the president spoke Tuesday in front of a politically-divided body about the need for bipartisanship.
Trump spoke for 82 minutes, touching on a range of issues including immigration, health care, infrastructure and energy.
“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 said. “The decision is ours to make.”
The State of the Union was first scheduled for Jan. 29, but Trump had to postpone the address because of the partial government shutdown. Tuesday also marked the first time Trump spoke before a divided Congress; Republicans control the Senate, while Democrats are one month into being the majority party in the House of Representatives.
Trump spoke highly of the economic progress of his administration but added Republicans and Democrats need to cooperate for the benefit of the country.
“I think you as a voter would be very disappointed if we didn’t. That’s why you send us to Washington. It’s to work together,” U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., said.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said Trump’s address was a tool for ending the political stalemate often seen on Capitol Hill.
“We must return our focus to helping the American people rather than scoring political points. Our citizens deserve a Congress that will work together to push legislation that will help them,” he said in a press release.
Miller, who is a month into her first term in the House, said she was “inspired” by the president’s message. She took note of Trump’s request for an infrastructure bill, adding the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee she serves on will address roads as well as related economic development.
“There are needs in southern West Virginia that need to be addressed,” she said. “That’s what I look forward to working on, and it’s a bipartisan issue.”
Trump spoke of potential infrastructure legislation in last year’s State of the Union address, but Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said a deal did not happen because of questions surrounding funding.
“Infrastructure is traditionally a bipartisan item because all of our states need vast infrastructure improvements, whether it is broadband, airports, transits, roads, dams, bridges,” she said.
“I think as we move forward, I think that’s going to be one of the first things that we’re going to go to,” Capito added. “Working with the states to develop a 21st-century infrastructure plan.”
The looming challenge facing Capito and a bicameral conference committee is reaching a border security deal; lawmakers have until Feb. 15 to approve measures that fund multiple departments and agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and related border security efforts.
Trump did not declare a national emergency for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, yet he did say such structure will be built.
“This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier, not just a simple concrete wall,” he said. “It will 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, way down.”
Trump also mentioned a proposal he put before Congress, which includes drug detection at ports among other provisions.
Capito said the wall has to be part of a compromise.
“Humanitarian assistance, technology, some refinements in our detention policies. We can work this out,” she said. “I don’t think there is a magic number, but I do think a wall and barrier has to be a part, but it can’t stand alone. I don’t think it will.”
Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., said while he wants to see the entire wall funded, he would feel comfortable if Trump and border security officials approved a lesser percentage.
“We need to protect every human being and secure our border,” he said. “It’s not a price tag. It’s just getting the job done.”
Capito, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said past Congresses have supported a wall, adding the conference committee can work out a deal.
“We are the negotiators and compromisers in Congress because we have to reach a consensus on how much we are going to spend, and we have to do this year after year,” she said. “We’re custom to the give and take of trying to reach some kind of agreed-upon result. I think that’s why you see the strong leadership we have and the confidence people have in us. We know how to make a deal. If we are left to our own devices, I think we can do it.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Trump’s address was a step in the right direction regarding tone and cooperation. He again noted if the president wants to look for bipartisan legislation, the 2013 immigration bill is “the best piece of bipartisan legislation” on the issue, and added he believes the issue surrounding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients has held an agreement from previously coming together.
“Basically, he has the DACA children trying to find a pathway. They’re in our society, they’re in our military, they’re in our university. Should they not have a pathway forward?” he said. “A lot of his hard-right (supporters) won’t let him get there.”
Manchin proposed a two-year agreement protecting DACA individuals who entered the country illegally as children. He also said he wants to hear from border security professionals about what efforts need to be made on the northern and southern borders.
“I don’t think anyone has the appetite for a shutdown. They are so harmful and self-inflicting, and so many people suffer,” he said. “I don’t why we can’t get a two-year overture and look at it in a longer aspect. Let the professionals step in and work through it, and for him to think about the DACA procedure.”
Manchin stood up and applauded Trump when he mentioned energy, saying the country has become a net exporter of energy for the first time in 65 years; the U.S. Energy Information Administration said last week the country is expected to export more energy than it imports by 2020.
“There was duplication among regulations that have been eliminated to a standpoint. I want to make sure our water and our environment and our air is adequately protected, but overregulation to basically where it is a burden has basically stymied a lot of growth,” Manchin said.
“I believe to be energy independent and not have to rely on foreign countries to deliver our energy to us, really, that’s a solid good thing for the superpower of the world,” he added.
Trump mentioned one area he wishes to focus on is reducing the costs of prescription drugs and health care.
“It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it,” the president said.
Trump also noted he wants to protect coverage of pre-existing conditions, a contrast to actions of his administration last year regarding a lawsuit targeting the federal health care law. Twenty states, including West Virginia, sued the federal government over the law, arguing the statute as unconstitutional following the repeal of the individual mandate in the 2017 tax overhaul legislation. The Department of Justice did not defend “Obamacare” in the lawsuit.
While Manchin approved the president’s want to reduce drug costs, he said Republicans have not been willing to work to improve the current health care law.
“The market is not going to move to where it’s going to protect people with pre-existing conditions. It’s just won’t go there,” he said.
Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced in October 2017 a legislative proposal that included cost-sharing reduction subsidies as well as flexibility for states to secure waivers for provisions of the current health care law.
“We started working and got a good compromise to reduce the premiums for individual payers by 20, 30, 40 percent overnight. But they won’t let it come to the floor,” Manchin said.
McKinley said he was encouraged by Trump’s remarks on waiting to lower health care costs. McKinley is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has led inquiries into the shipment of opioids.
“We have seen firsthand that the high costs of prescriptions and healthcare require many Americans to make difficult financial decisions for themselves and their families. That is why I have worked across the aisle to introduce legislation to help provide patients with access to lifesaving medications and care at affordable prices,” he said.
“I look forward to continuing to work with both parties and the President to help Americans receive the care they need, while also keeping money in their pockets.”
Democrats — included scores of congresswomen dressed in “suffragette white” — remained seated during portions of the president’s address, but Mooney said bipartisanship remains a possibility.
“We have differences of opinions, but President Trump won the election. He has the right to make his position known,” he said.
Trump did not stray far away from conservative talking points; he asked Congress to ban late-term abortions in wake of legislation in New York and Virginia, and criticized “foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.” The House Intelligence Committee is planning to send to Special Counsel Robert Mueller interview transcripts regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.