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Brookings experts on Trump’s first State of the Union

U.S. President Trump delivers first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington

President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address to Congress on January 30, 2018. In the speech, the president highlighted his administration’s accomplishments over its first year, and emphasized its policy priorities. These include infrastructure investment, immigration changes, and confronting the challenge of North Korea.

Below, experts from across Brookings offer their comments on President Trump’s first State of the Union. Hover over or click on highlighted text to see what they have to say.


Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, first lady of the United States, and my fellow Americans, less than one year has passed since I first stood at this podium in this majestic chamber to speak on behalf of the American people and to address their concerns, their hopes and their dreams. That night, our new Administration had already taken very swift action. A new tide of optimism was already sweeping across our land.

Each day since, we have gone forward with a clear vision and a righteous mission: to make America great again for all Americans.

Over the last year, we have made incredible progress and achieved extraordinary success. We have faced challenges we expected and others we could never have imagined. We have shared in the heights of victory and the pains of hardship. We have endured floods and fires and storms. But through it all, we have seen the beauty of America’s soul and the steel in America’s spine.

Each test has forged new American heroes to remind us who we are and show us what we can be. We saw the volunteers of the Cajun Navy, racing to the rescue with their fishing boats to save people in the aftermath of a totally devastating hurricane.

We saw strangers shielding strangers from a hail of gunfire on the Las Vegas strip. We heard tales of Americans, like Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert, who is here tonight in the gallery with Melania.

Ashlee was aboard one of the first helicopters on the scene in Houston during the Hurricane Harvey.

Through 18 hours of wind and rain, Ashlee braved live power lines and deep water to help save more than 40 lives. Ashlee, we all thank you. Thank you very much.

We heard about Americans like firefighter David Dahlberg. He’s here with us, also. David faced down walls of flame to rescue almost 60 children trapped at a California summer camp threatened by those devastating wildfires. To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, everywhere, we are with you, we love you, and we always will pull through together always.  

Thank you to David and the brave people of California. Thank you very much, David. Great job.

Some trials over the past year touched this chamber very personally. With us tonight is one of the toughest people ever to serve in this House, a guy who took a bullet, almost died, and was back to work three-and-a-half months later, the legend from Louisiana, Congressman Steve Scalise. I think they like you, Steve.

We’re incredibly grateful for the heroic efforts of the Capitol Police officers, the Alexandria Police, and the doctors, nurses, and paramedics who saved his life and the lives of many others, some in this room. In the aftermath — yes. Yes.

In the aftermath of that terrible shooting, we came together, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as representatives of the people. But it is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy. Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people. This is really the key. These are the people we were elected to serve. 

Thank you.

Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew: that no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there’s a frontier, we cross it. If there’s a challenge, we tame it. If there’s an opportunity, we seize it.

So, let’s begin tonight by recognizing that the state of our union is strong because our people are strong. And together we are building a safe, strong, and proud America.

Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including … including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone. Tremendous number. After years and years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages. Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low. And something I’m very proud of, African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded. And Hispanic-American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history. 

Small-business confidence is at an all-time high. The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion and more in value in just this short period of time. The great news … the great news for Americans, 401K, retirement, pension, and college savings accounts have gone through the roof.

And just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history. Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small business. To lower tax rates for hardworking Americans, we nearly doubled the standard deduction for everyone. Now the first $24,000 earned by a married couple is completely tax-free. We also doubled the child tax credit. A typical family of four making $75,000 will see their tax bill reduced by $2,000, slashing their tax bill in half.

In April, this will be the last time you will ever file under the old and very broken system, and millions of Americans will have more take-home pay starting next month. A lot more.

We eliminated an especially cruel tax that fell mostly on Americans making less than $50,000 a year, forcing them to pay tremendous penalties simply because they couldn’t afford government-ordered health plans. We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare. The individual mandate is now gone.

We slashed the business tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent, so American companies can compete and win against anyone else anywhere in the world. These changes alone are estimated to increase average family income by more than $4,000. A lot of money.

Small businesses have also received a massive tax cut and can now deduct 20 percent of their business income. Here tonight are Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger of Staub Manufacturing, a small beautiful business in Ohio. They’ve just finished the best year in their 20-year history. Because of tax reform, they are handing out raises, hiring an additional 14 people, and expanding into the building next door. Good feeling.

One of Staub’s employees, Corey Adams, is also with us tonight. Corey is an all-American worker. He supported himself through high school, lost his job during the 2008 recession, and was later hired by Staub, where he trained to become a welder. Like many hardworking Americans, Corey plans to invest his tax cut raise into his new home and his two daughters’ education. Corey, please stand. And he’s a great welder. I was told that by the man that owns that company that’s doing so well, so congratulations, Corey.

Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses, many of them thousands and thousands of dollars per worker. And it’s getting more every month, every week. Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America and hire another 20,000 workers.

And just a little while ago, ExxonMobil announced a $50 billion investment in the United States. Just a little while ago.

This, in fact, is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream. 

So, to every citizen watching at home tonight, no matter where you’ve been or where you’ve come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve absolutely anything.

Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have and what kind of a nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family can do anything. We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag.  

Together, we are rediscovering the American way. In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. The motto is “in God we trust.” And we celebrate our police, our military, and our amazing veterans as heroes who deserve our total and unwavering support.

Here tonight is Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old boy from Redding, California, who noticed that veterans’ graves were not marked with flags on Veterans Day. He decided all by himself to change that and started a movement that has now placed 40,000 flags at the graves of our great heroes. Preston, a job well done.

Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans. And I met Preston a little while ago, and he is something very special, that I can tell you. Great future. Thank you very much for all you’ve done, Preston. Thank you very much.

Preston’s reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.  

Americans love their country. And they deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return. For the last year, we have sought to restore the bonds of trust between our citizens and their government.

Working with the Senate, we are appointing judges who will interpret the Constitution as written, including a great new Supreme Court justice and more circuit court judges than any new administration in the history of our country.

We are totally defending our Second Amendment and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.

And we are serving our brave veterans, including giving our veterans choice in their health care decisions. Last year, Congress also passed, and I signed, the landmark V.A. Accountability Act. Since its passage, my administration has already removed more than 1,500 V.A. employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve, and we are hiring talented people who love our vets as much as we do.

And I will not stop until our veterans are properly taken care of, which has been my promise to them from the very beginning of this great journey. All Americans deserve accountability and respect, and that’s what we are giving to our wonderful heroes, our veterans. Thank you.

So tonight, I call on Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in the history of our country.

We have ended the war on American energy, and we have ended the war on beautiful clean coal. We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.  

In Detroit, I halted government mandates that crippled America’s great, beautiful autoworkers so that we can get Motor City revving its engines again. And that’s what’s happening.

Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States, something we haven’t seen for decades. Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan. Toyota and Mazda are opening up a plant in Alabama, a big one. And we haven’t seen this in a long time. It’s all coming back.

Very soon, auto plants and other plants will be opening up all over our country. This is all news Americans are totally unaccustomed to hearing. For many years, companies and jobs were only leaving us. But now they are roaring back, they’re coming back. They want to be where the action is. They want to be in the United States of America. That’s where they want to be.

Exciting progress is happening every single day. To speed access to breakthrough cures and affordable generic drugs, last year the FDA approved more new and generic drugs and medical devices than ever before in our country’s history.

We also believe that patients with terminal conditions and terminal illness should have access to experimental treatment immediately that could potentially save their lives.

People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure. I want to give them a chance right here at home. It’s time for Congress to give these wonderful, incredible Americans the right to try.

One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. And it’s very, very unfair. That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of my top priorities for the year.

And prices will come down substantially. Watch.

America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our wealth. Our nation has lost its wealth, but we’re getting it back so fast. The era of economic surrender is totally over. From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and, very importantly, reciprocal.

We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones. And they’ll be good ones, but they’ll be fair. And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property through strong enforcement of our trade rules. As we rebuild our industries, it is also time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.

America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road? I am asking both parties to come together to give us safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve.  

Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs. Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit. And we can do it.

Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process, getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.

Together, we can reclaim our great building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.

We want every American to know the dignity of a hard day’s work. We want every child to be safe in their home at night. And we want every citizen to be proud of this land that we all love so much. We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity.

As … as tax cuts create new jobs, let’s invest in workforce development and let’s invest in job training, which we need so badly. Let’s open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential. 

And let’s support working families by supporting paid family leave.

As America regains its strength, opportunity must be extended to all citizens. That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance at life.

Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families.

For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They’ve allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.

Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens. Their two teenage daughters — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — were close friends on Long Island.

But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa’s 16th birthday, such a happy time it should have been, neither of them came home. These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage MS-13 gang have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as illegal unaccompanied alien minors and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school.

Evelyn, Elizabeth, Freddy, and Robert, tonight, everyone in this chamber is praying for you. Everyone in America is grieving for you. Please stand. Thank you very much.

I want you to know that 320 million hearts are right now breaking for you. We love you. Thank you. While we cannot imagine the depths of that kind of sorrow, we can make sure that other families never have to endure this kind of pain.

Tonight, I am calling on Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminal gangs, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol agents — these are great people, these are great, great people that work so hard in the midst of such danger — so that this can never happen again.

The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country anywhere in the world to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world. But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities. I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise.

So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed.

My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream. Because Americans are dreamers, too.

Here tonight is one leader in the effort to defend our country, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Celestino Martinez. He goes by DJ. And CJ. He said call me either one. So, we’ll call you CJ.

Served 15 years in the Air Force before becoming an ICE agent and spending the last 15 years fighting gang violence and getting dangerous criminals off of our streets. Tough job. At one point, MS-13 leaders ordered CJ’s murder, and they wanted it to happen quickly. But he did not cave to threats or to fear. Last May, he commanded an operation to track down gang members on Long Island. His team has arrested nearly 400, including more than 220 MS-13 gang members.

And I have to tell you what the Border Patrol and ICE have done. We have sent thousands and thousands and thousands of MS-13 horrible people out of this country or into our prisons. So, I just want to congratulate you, CJ. You’re a brave guy. Thank you very much.

And I asked CJ, what’s the secret? He said, “We’re just tougher than they are.” And I like that answer.

Now let’s get Congress to send you — and all of the people in this great chamber have to do it, we have no choice — CJ, we’re going to send you reinforcements and we’re going to send them to you quickly. It’s what you need.

Over the next few weeks, the House and Senate will be voting on an immigration reform package. In recent months, my administration has met extensively with both Democrats and Republicans to craft a bipartisan approach to immigration reform. Based on these discussions, we presented Congress with a detailed proposal that should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise, one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs and must have.

Here are the four pillars of our plan. The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age. That covers almost three times more people than the previous administration covered. Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States over a 12-year period.

The second pillar fully secures the border. That means building a great wall on the southern border, and it means hiring more heroes like CJ to keep our communities safe. Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country, and it finally ends the horrible and dangerous practice of catch and release.

The third pillar ends the visa lottery, a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of American people. It’s time to begin moving toward a merit-based immigration system, one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country.

The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.

This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security and for the future of America. In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration.

In the age of terrorism, these programs present risks we can just no longer afford. It’s time to reform … these outdated immigration rules and finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century.

These four pillars represent a down-the-middle compromise and one that will create a safe, modern, and lawful immigration system. For over 30 years, Washington has tried and failed to solve this problem. This Congress can be the one that finally makes it happen.

Most importantly, these four pillars will produce legislation that fulfills my ironclad pledge to sign a bill that puts America first. So let’s come together, set politics aside, and finally get the job done.

These reforms will also support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction. Never before has it been like it is now. It is terrible. We have to do something about it.

In 2016, we lost 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses, 174 deaths per day, seven per hour. We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge. My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need, for those who have been so terribly hurt. The struggle will be long and it will be difficult, but as Americans always do, in the end, we will succeed, we will prevail.

As we have seen tonight, the most difficult challenges bring out the best in America. We see a vivid expression of this truth in the story of the Holets family of New Mexico. Ryan Holets is 27 years old, an officer with the Albuquerque Police Department. He’s here tonight with his wife, Rebecca. Thank you, Ryan.

Last year, Ryan was on duty when he saw a pregnant, homeless woman preparing to inject heroin. When Ryan told her she was going to harm her unborn child, she began to weep. She told him she didn’t know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby.

In that moment, Ryan said he felt God speak to him: “You will do it because you can.” He heard those words. He took out a picture of his wife and their four kids. Then he went home to tell his wife, Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope.

Ryan and Rebecca, you embody the goodness of our nation. Thank you. Thank you, Ryan and Rebecca.

As we rebuild America’s strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad. Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.

In confronting these horrible dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense. 

For this reason, I am asking Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.  

As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else.

Perhaps some day in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, we are not there yet, sadly.

Last year, I also pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth. One year later, I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100 percent of the territory just recently held by these killers in Iraq and in Syria and in other locations, as well. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.

Army Staff Sergeant Justin Peck is here tonight. Near Raqqa last November, Justin and his comrade, Chief Petty Officer Kenton Stacy, were on a mission to clear buildings that ISIS had rigged with explosive so that civilians could return to that city, hopefully soon and hopefully safely.

Clearing the second floor of a vital hospital, Kenton Stacy was severely wounded by an explosion. Immediately, Justin bounded into the booby-trapped and unbelievably dangerous and unsafe building and found Kenton, but in very, very bad shape. He applied pressure to the wound and inserted a tube to reopen an airway. He then performed CPR for 20 straight minutes during the ground transport and maintained artificial respiration through two-and-a-half hours and through emergency surgery.

Kenton Stacy would have died if it were not for Justin’s selfless love for his fellow warrior. Tonight, Kenton is recovering in Texas. Raqqa is liberated. And Justin is wearing his new Bronze Star, with a V for Valor. Staff Sergeant Peck: All of America salutes you.

Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil. When possible, we have no choice but to annihilate them. When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them. But we must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants. And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.

In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield, including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi, who we captured, who we had, who we released.

So today, I am keeping another promise. I just signed prior to walking in an order directing Secretary Mattis — who is doing a great job, thank you … to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay. I am asking Congress to ensure that in the fight against ISIS and Al Qaida we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists, wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And in many cases, for them it will now be Guantanamo Bay.

At the same time, as of a few months ago, our warriors in Afghanistan have new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.

Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the U.S. Senate just months before. I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this decision. In 2016, American taxpayers generously sent those same countries more than $20 billion in aid. That is why tonight I am asking Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign assistance dollars always serve American interests and only go to friends of America, not enemies of America.

As we strengthen friendships all around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries. When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent. America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.

I am asking Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.

My administration has also imposed tough sanctions on the communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela. 

But no regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea. North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening.

Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position.

We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies. 

Otto Warmbier was a hardworking student at the University of Virginia. And a great student, he was. On his way to study abroad in Asia, Otto joined a tour to North Korea. At its conclusion, this wonderful young man was arrested and charged with crimes against the state.

After a shameful trial, the dictatorship sentenced Otto to 15 years of hard labor, before returning him to America last June, horribly injured and on the verge of death. He passed away just days after his return.

Otto’s wonderful parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, are here with us tonight, along with Otto’s brother and sister, Austin and Greta. Please. Incredible people. You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength truly inspires us all. Thank you very much. Thank you. Tonight we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with total American resolve. Thank you.

Finally … we are joined by one more witness to the ominous nature of this regime. His name is Mr. Ji Seong-ho. 

In 1996, Seong-ho was a starving boy in North Korea. One day, he tried to steal coal from a railroad car to barter for a few scraps of food, which were very hard to get. In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs. He then endured multiple amputations without anything to dull the pain or the hurt.

His brother and sister gave what little food they had to help him recover and ate dirt themselves, permanently stunting their own growth. Later, he was tortured by North Korean authorities after returning from a brief visit to China. His tormentors wanted to know if he’d met any Christians. He had, and he resolved after that to be free.

Seong-ho traveled thousands of miles on crutches all across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape and was tortured to death. Today he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears most: the truth.

Today he has a new leg, but Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those old crutches as a reminder of how far you’ve come. Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all. Please. Thank you.

Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom. It was that same yearning for freedom that nearly 250 years ago gave birth to a special place called America. It was a small cluster of colonies caught between a great ocean and a vast wilderness. It was home to an incredible people with a revolutionary idea, that they could rule themselves, that they could chart their own destiny, and that, together, they could light up the entire world.  

That is what our country has always been about. That is what Americans have always stood for, always strived for, and always done.

Atop the dome of this Capitol stands the Statue of Freedom. She stands tall and dignified among the monuments to our ancestors who fought and lived and died to protect her. Monuments to Washington and Jefferson, and Lincoln and King. Memorials to the heroes of Yorktown and Saratoga, to young Americans who shed their blood on the shores of Normandy and the fields beyond. And others who went down in the waters of the Pacific and the skies all over Asia.

And freedom stands tall over one more monument: this one. This Capitol. This living monument. This is the monument to the American people.

We’re a people whose heroes live not only in the past, but all around us, defending hope, pride, and defending the American way. They work in every trade. They sacrifice to raise a family. They care for our children at home. They defend our flag abroad. And they are strong moms and brave kids. They are firefighters and police officers and border agents, medics and Marines. But above all else, they are Americans. And this Capitol, this city, this Nation belongs entirely to them.

Our task is to respect them, to listen to them, to serve them, to protect them, and to always be worthy of them.

Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery. And they forever remind us of what we should never, ever forget: The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it’s the people who are making America great again.

As long as we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve. As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens, and trust in our God, we will never fail.

Our families will thrive. Our people will prosper. And our nation will forever be safe and strong and proud and mighty and free. Thank you, and God bless America. Good night.

x To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, California, and everywhere else — we are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together.
Samantha Gross / Foreign Policy

Truly standing with those affected by these natural disasters requires acknowledgement that events like these are more likely in a changing climate.

x Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people. This is really the key. These are the people we were elected to serve. (Applause.)
Alice M. Rivlin / Economic Studies

Belatedly, after a year of exacerbating partisan, geographic, and racial/ethnic hostility, President Trump rightly senses that what Americans need most is a skillful leader who will bring them together to solve the problems that face our divided country. The great deal-maker has missed golden opportunities. He could have: worked with moderates in both parties to replace the Affordable Care Act with a more workable structure; crafted and taken credit for a bipartisan tax reform; and worked with Congress to pass a budget for the current fiscal year that avoided shutting down the government. Now he has a chance to negotiate an immigration solution that will protect the Dreamers, secure the border, and move future immigration policy more toward rewarding skills. He can help Congress cut a deal on next year’s spending that will strengthen the military and launch infrastructure modernization. Moderates in both parties have been working together on all these fronts and many bipartisan groups have constructive proposals. But becoming the facilitator of bipartisan deals would require the president to transform himself in two unlikely ways. He would have to stop insulting the people whose support he needs and he would have to disappoint the hard right-wingers in his own party. As long as he lets the hard right hold him and the country hostage, we will have partisan warfare and likely gridlock.

x African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.
Martha Ross / Metropolitan Policy Program

Correct. As of December 2017, the black unemployment rate was 6.8 percent, the lowest it’s been since 1972. After peaking at about 16 percent during the Great Recession, it started declining in 2011. While a falling unemployment rate is good news, it masks a longer-term problem: that millions of Americans are dropping out of the labor market. In 2000, 66 percent of African-Americans over the age of 16 participated in the labor force, meaning they were either working or actively looking for work. That figure is now about 62 percent. When the unemployment rate goes up or down by four percentage points, we pay a lot of attention, and although the labor force participation rate isn’t a headline statistic, it’s also newsworthy. Other data highlight that labor force participation is falling markedly among people in some of their most productive working years (25-54), particularly among African-American men and people with a high school diploma or less. And it does not appear to be driven primarily by choices to focus on school or take care of family. Most people support themselves and their families through work, and if fewer people are working or interested in working, it raises difficult questions. How are they making ends meet? Why don’t they see work as an option? And how should we cope on a macro level, given that falling labor force participation is associated with slower economic growth?

Nicol Turner-Lee / Governance Studies

President Trump once again took credit for the declining unemployment rate among African Americans and Hispanics, and failed to acknowledge the work of his predecessor whose policies and programs supported its decline. Under President Obama, black unemployment was cut almost in half from 16.8 percent in 2010 to 7.8 percent by the time the current administration took office. Hispanics also experienced similar declines in unemployment, bringing them to their current rate of 4.9 percent. Yet despite these positive gains, the combined unemployment rate for both of these groups is still higher than the national average of 4.1 percent, with current black unemployment at nearly double this figure. President Trump also failed to account for the combined effects of other Obama-era policies and programs on unemployment from employer-incentives that motivate hiring to safety nets that provide workers with some level of income stability, such as student loan forgiveness, employer-provided educational assistance, and even subsidized health care. Going forward, how the GOP rollbacks and reversals will affect these contributing factors will be the real test of his success.

x We eliminated an especially cruel tax that fell mostly on Americans making less than $50,000 a year, forcing them to pay tremendous penalties simply because they couldn’t afford government-ordered health plans. We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare. The individual mandate is now gone.
Matthew Fiedler / Economic Studies

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repeal of the individual mandate will reduce the number of people with insurance coverage by 13 million and increase individual market premiums by 10 percent. That outcome is a striking contrast with the president’s previously stated objectives for health care legislation: covering more people at lower cost. Looking ahead, most of the viable paths to expanding insurance coverage involve expanding the public sector’s role, such as by increasing subsidies for purchasing individual market coverage or restoring the individual mandate. Many Democratic policymakers would support those types of steps, but the president and his congressional allies have generally supported moving in the opposite direction.

Paul B. Ginsburg / Economic Studies

President Trump’s claim that “we repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare” does not reflect reality. Legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) did not pass the Senate. The one exception was the repeal of the individual mandate as part of the tax legislation, which my colleague Matt Fiedler discusses. So the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid remains intact and additional states are considering expansion at this point. Tax credits for those earning less than 400 percent of the poverty line continue and the dollar amounts of the credits will increase to offset the higher premiums that have come from ending payments to insurers for cost-sharing subsidies for low-income families and ending the individual mandate. The president has certainly damaged the individual insurance markets that were reformed by the ACA through these steps and others, with much of the damage impacting taxpayers and those needing individual insurance with incomes too high to be eligible for tax credits.

x There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream.
Jenny Schuetz / Metropolitan Policy Program

Economic optimism will be a hard sell for the 11 million American families who spend more than half their income on rent, then struggle to buy food and clothes for their children.

x If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything,
Jenny Schuetz / Metropolitan Policy Program

If only this were true! Economic mobility in the U.S. is lower than many other countries. And Trump-supporting counties have some of the lowest mobility in the U.S.

x We all share the same home, same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag.
Nicol Turner-Lee / Governance Studies

The racial bigotry that was displayed in Charlottesville found no place in President Trump’s address. Instead, words to promote nationalism served to mask what remains a very divided nation. In recent weeks, the president has not appealed to unity by offending immigrants from countries that he considers less desirable. He has instilled fear in the millions of undocumented immigrants who could face immediate deportation at any time, and from any location. He has ignored the widespread and public concerns around sexual harassment and workplace discrimination. His policies have threatened to reverse the progress of LGBTQ communities by placing them back into a zone of silence. African-American athletes who decided to #takeaknee to honor their convictions were called out as unpatriotic and their mothers equally disdained for raising them as such. And even during the actual speech, he made wholesale derogatory statements about Hispanic immigrants, calling them out as drug lords and gang members. If these deeply divisive, generalized categorizations of who comprises the heart of America are the foundation for his truth, the country will not make any movement toward racial healing and unity.

x In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is: “in God we trust”.
Shibley Telhami / Foreign Policy

The appeal to faith communities, especially Evangelicals, has been Trump’s biggest political success. But what may not be fully known is that, even within his Republican base, the appeal to faith has been more impactful than the appeal to “America first.” In a fresh study I just released with my colleague Stella Rouse, based on three University of Maryland Critical Issues Polls (November 2015, October 2016, and November 2017), our results showed that American national identity has declined even among Republicans, despite two years of Trump’s “America first” campaign. In response to questions about which identity Americans ranked first among several (U.S. citizenship, world citizenship, religion, race, ethnicity, gender), 62 percent of Republicans chose U.S. citizenship as their top identity at the start of the U.S. presidential campaign in November 2015. Two years later, in the latest November 2017 poll, that number had dropped to 53 percent. Religious identity was the biggest winner, increasing by a corresponding 9 points, from 24 percent to 33 percent in the last two years. The Rev. Franklin Graham summarized the message that some Evangelical leaders are hearing when they listen to Trump: While Trump may not be a Christian, he is “defending Christians from secularists.”

x Preston’s reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us of why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.
Célia Belin / Foreign Policy

The triumvirate that composed the Reagan coalition of conservatives—namely social conservatives, economic conservatives, and neoconservatives—is being replaced by a new coalition. The first two groups are still fundamental pillars of the GOP coalition. President Trump’s judicial agenda is enough to secure the social conservatives, who are thankful to him for nominating Neil Gorsuch and dozens of conservative federal judges. The economic conservatives are delighted by his tax reform and vast elimination of regulations. The third group, neoconservatives, has been among the most vocal critics of the new Republican president, denouncing his protectionist, sovereignist, and anti-immigration approach to foreign policy. However, their voice is diminishing within the party, replaced by identity nationalists who have adopted the president’s slogan for a primacy of American interests, “America First,” as well as his unabashed patriotism. The president’s stances on trade and immigration, as well as his call to stand during the national anthem, are all meant to unite and revive this brand of American nationalism. Slowly but surely, Republican members of Congress adapt to this new coalition of conservatives. The party of Ronald Reagan is becoming the party of Donald Trump.

x Working with the Senate, we are appointing judges who will interpret the Constitution as written, including a great new Supreme Court Justice, and more circuit court judges than any new administration in the history of our country.
Sarah A. Binder / Governance Studies

As our colleague Russell Wheeler recently wrote, Trump’s claim about record confirmations of federal judges needs to be put into context. True, Trump and the Senate have put 11 judges on the appellate bench; but Nixon and Kennedy were close behind in their first year with 10. More importantly, Trump’s appellate judges filled 7 percent of today’s 179 appellate judgeships. Kennedy’s 11 appointees filled 14 percent of the 78 judgeships at the time.

x In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in the history of our country.
Aaron Klein / Economic Studies

An anti-regulatory mindset coupled with active deregulation of the housing and financial services sectors were key ingredients of the perfect storm that led to the housing/financial crisis of 2007-2009. As a candidate, Trump promised to “do a number” on the Dodd-Frank Act, the regulatory framework established under President Obama in response to the financial crisis. So far not many Dodd-Frank regulations have been rolled back, despite comments like this from the president and concerns from regulatory advocates. However, that is set to change as the Trump financial regulatory team is finally in place and starting to actively change financial regulation, particularly at the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau where President Trump has installed his chief White House budget officer as acting director.

x We have ended the war on American Energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.
Samantha Gross / Foreign Policy

There was no war on American energy before President Trump took office. U.S. oil and natural gas production reached near-record and record highs, respectively, during the Obama administration and the U.S. began exporting both oil and natural gas. Natural gas waged the only war on coal, by out-competing coal to fuel U.S. power plants. The decline in coal production happened due to competitive factors, not regulation.

x One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. (Applause.) In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. And it’s very, very unfair. That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of my top priorities for the year. (Applause.) And prices will come down substantially. Watch.
Paul B. Ginsburg / Economic Studies

President Trump has been talking about bringing down drug prices substantially for over a year now, but concrete policies to do this have not yet been put forward. An important exception to this has been actions by the FDA to speed approvals of both new drugs and generic drugs, which are encouraging. Faster approvals mean more competition. While some new drugs will be the first and will command very high prices, other drugs that are therapeutic alternatives will constrain prices through competition with the first drugs. Faster approvals of generic drugs will help address situations where few generic alternatives exist, although the proportion of spending involved in these cases may be small.

x The era of economic surrender is over.
Tarun Chhabra / Foreign Policy

On both economics and national security, Trump has consistently advanced this narrative of ending his recent predecessors’ alleged abdication of U.S. interests. As a presidential candidate, he described the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement as a would-be “rape” of the U.S. economy. More recently, his National Defense Strategy laments that the U.S. is “emerging from a period of strategic atrophy.” And Trump’s National Security Strategy indicts at least three recent Democratic and Republican presidents with the charge that, after the Cold War, the “United States began to drift … [a]s … we took our political, economic and military advantages for granted … [and] stood by while countries exploited the international institution we helped to build … subsidized their industries, forced technology transfers, and distorted markets.” It still remains to be seen whether Trump intends to redress this perceived abdication by taking a crowbar to “the world America made” (the title of a splendid, short book by my Brookings colleague Robert Kagan), or instead by recalibrating America’s engagement with it. His recent speech at the Davos World Economic Forum suggests he is banking toward the latter. But 2018 will tell.

x And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.
Tarun Chhabra / Foreign Policy

This is a reference to ongoing administration reviews and potential countermeasures against protectionist Chinese policies and regulations related to steel production and intellectual property. Not directly mentioned but closely related is what Trump’s National Security Strategy refers to as America’s “National Security Innovation Base” (NSIB). The administration has yet to define the potentially large swathes of industry and academic research activity it sees as comprising the NSIB. Nor has the administration sketched out the scope of restrictions it is considering. However, a recent hint at their ambition might be a recently leaked National Security Council memorandum proposing a nationalized 5G wireless communications infrastructure, designed to reduce U.S. vulnerabilities to malicious Chinese cyber activity. Expect the administration to table some controversial NSIB-related proposals in 2018. These could range from broadened standards and restrictions imposed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, to new visa restrictions on foreign nationals working or studying in certain fields such as artificial intelligence, to measures designed to stop and, in some cases protect, private companies operating abroad from releasing or sharing advanced, proprietary technology and sensitive data.

x I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.
Nicol Turner-Lee / Governance Studies

Not one mention of broadband was heard in President Trump’s address, which is oddly strange for a leader who is heavily reliant on Twitter as his preferred method of communication. Bipartisan legislators have already come forth with proposals that urge the inclusion of at least rural broadband infrastructure, which should be one of the critical assets prioritized in the now $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. Yet, references to traditional public works projects, followed by a call to action to improve citizens’ vocational skills only made it into the speech. The digital economy is driving job creation, while innovation is rapidly disrupting commerce, transportation, health care, education, and other sectors. Broadband service providers stand ready to invest in next generation networks, expand fiber backhaul, and even offer community benefits to ensure that every citizen and business are online. Yet, no mention of broadband as part of the infrastructure plan, which should be reconsidered if the U.S. wants to build more intelligent infrastructure, and lead in the next wave of technologies that are changing the way citizens live, learn, earn, and even communicate.

x Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need. Every Federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment — to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.
Joshua Gotbaum / Economic Studies

What is interesting here is that, unlike with immigration, the president has made no specific proposals, nor any way to fund the federal share of his (newly-increased) $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment target. Instead, he’s raising the bar and leaving Congress the task of achieving it and paying for it. The administration has repeatedly said it would make its own infrastructure proposal, but a year in has not done so.

Aaron Klein / Economic Studies

Leverage federal funding with state and local financing and private capital is a mainstream and consensus solution to addressing the infrastructure deficit. However, it is far easier to call for it than to enact it, given the structural impediments to getting private capital investment, particularly given the active and cheaper source of financing: the municipal debt market. The devil is in the details in how to best unlock new capital sources: privatizing existing infrastructure assets has proven politically unpopular at the state and local level. The federal gas tax has not been raised since the price of gas was $1/gallon. Without actual federal dollars being offered, the federal government is a surprisingly weak player in infrastructure decision-making which is predominantly left to state and local governments. Republican philosophy has generally favored local decision-making, but that conflicts with setting federal priorities for infrastructure project selection. Details will make the difference and the State of the Union was surprisingly light on infrastructure. The administration probably has internal conflict, where the president maybe to the left of his advisers.

Molly E. Reynolds / Governance Studies

“State of the Union addresses can help focus Congress’s attention on policies prioritized by the president. President Trump touted a forthcoming infrastructure plan for much of the first year of his administration, so it’s not surprising that he mentioned the issue in the speech.

By calling for involvement by state and local governments, President Trump is signaling that the federal contribution to his plan will be relatively small; recent reports have suggested it will be roughly $200 billion, but that’s far from certain. Any proposal that relies heavily on state and local contributions may be a difficult sell for members of Congress from less densely populated states and those with cash-strapped state and local governments. The structure of the plan also matters for its potential to attract Democratic support.

The president also did not address how he plans to pay for the plan. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently called for an increase in the gas tax in order to cover increased infrastructure spending, but that idea is a non-starter with many Republicans. While congressional Republicans were willing to abandon deficit hawk rhetoric and pass large tax cuts last year, their enthusiasm for significant increases in federal spending is not on the same level.”

Adie Tomer / Metropolitan Policy Program

This is easily the largest infrastructure “program” we’ve seen mentioned in federal politics since the New Deal. It’s enough to denote images of grand new projects across the whole country. But hitting that level of public investment will be hard to match, as we wrote last year. And it will be especially hard without sizable federal investment, which leads to the next line …

The remarks are unspecific, but the plan being discussed by his team (still not released in long-form) is much clearer: the federal government would be a minority investor in most projects. That flies in the face of past and current federal programs from the New Deal to interstate highways where there is federal leadership on spending and content. It’s also insensitive to fiscal health in communities across the country, many of which would struggle with this approach. Here’s a primer on their position from a transportation perspective

x Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process
Jenny Schuetz / Metropolitan Policy Program

One good idea with bipartisan potential. If the federal government can work with states and localities to streamline infrastructure approval, that would be a big win.

x Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.
Adie Tomer / Metropolitan Policy Program

The President is right that major infrastructure investment can lead to greater economic opportunity, but it won’t be from just construction alone. That’s the immediate bump, although there is real question whether we need that bump during a time of near full employment. Instead, it’s the long-run gains from additional operations jobs and support for more trade-related occupation. See how we estimate infrastructure jobs to capture 11 percent of the labor market.

x We want every American to know the dignity of a hard day’s work. We want every child to be safe in their home at night. And we want every citizen to be proud of this land that we love. We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity.
Martha Ross / Metropolitan Policy Program

The problem here predates Trump, but achieving prosperity and financial independence is tough when real wages are flat. (Real wages are adjusted for inflation, so they represent the same buying power over time.) Since the late 1970s, median weekly earnings have barely budged, and earnings growth has been concentrated at the top. Average hourly wages of those in the highest 20 percent of earners climbed from $38 to $48 per hour between 1979 and 2016, an increase of more than 25 percent. Meanwhile, among those in the bottom 20 percent of the earnings range, real wages actually fell slightly over the same time period, and remained just under $10 per hour. Wages among those in the middle of the earnings range rose modestly by 3.4 percent, and reached about $20 per hour in 2016. While earnings of $20 per hour would lift most families above the poverty line, that’s a low bar, and leaves little margin for unexpected expenses, such as auto repairs or medical bills, let alone making investments in homeownership or education.

x As tax cuts create new jobs, let us invest in workforce development and job training. Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.
Jon Valant / Governance Studies

Here’s the only direct reference to education in the speech. It’s a notable one, although it lacks detail. Congress has been working to reauthorize the Perkins Act, which defines the federal government’s role in career and technical education. Last year, the House passed H.R. 2353 (by voice vote) with bipartisan support, which would grant more control to states. The Senate’s efforts dissolved in partisan disputes. However, there are signs that both parties are ready to move. An aide to Lamar Alexander (chairman of the Senate HELP committee) recently said that reauthorizing the Perkins Act is a top priority, and the Democrats chose an interesting location for Joe Kennedy’s SOTU response—Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School.

x For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.
Sarah A. Binder / Governance Studies

This in a nutshell will be Trump’s predicament in securing cooperation from Democrats on immigration reform. He has framed the need for immigration reform as a matter of keeping violent criminals out of the U.S. and stopping immigrants from taking U.S. jobs. That’s not how Democrats think about the challenges and opportunities offered by immigrants to the U.S. (and it incorrectly suggests that undocumented immigrants are the key perpetrators of violent crime) and will make Democrats doubt the president’s commitment to resolving the DACA issue to the benefit of their families and long-term success in the U.S.

x Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country.
Sarah A. Binder / Governance Studies

Trump’s first policy prescription on immigration involves a Central American criminal gang. That reinforces Democrats’ skepticism about deal-making with the president to resolve the fate of the Dreamers.

x The second pillar fully secures the border. That means building a great wall on the southern border, and it means hiring more heroes like CJ to keep our communities safe. Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country, and it finally ends the horrible and dangerous practice of catch and release.
Dany Bahar / Global Economy and Development

Every country, and of course the U.S. too, has the right to secure its borders and define its immigration policy, including dealing with illegal immigration. But let’s be honest on the motivations to do so. When it comes to crime, the evidence does not fully support the statement made by the president. While the number of illegal immigrants in the US has increased from about 3.5 million in the early 1990s to over 11 million as of today, a report from the U.S. Department of Justice shows that crime rates have decreased by more than half during the same period. Moreover, another report suggests that in the U.S. the share of male immigrants (between ages 18 and 39) incarcerated is roughly 1.6 percent, as compared to 3.3 percent of native-born males in the same age range. Of course, there are immigrants who are criminals, but the numbers show that it is the exception rather than the rule.

Daniel L. Byman / Foreign Policy

Trump errs here. Jihadist terrorists have not successfully exploited weaknesses in U.S.-Mexican border security. The big issue is home-grown terrorism, both jihadist and right-wing—that’s where the President’s focus should be. Unfortunately, his anti-foreigner rhetoric risks legitimizing right-wing violence.

x The third pillar ends the visa lottery, a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of American people. It’s time to begin moving toward a merit-based immigration system, one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country.
Dany Bahar / Global Economy and Development

President Trump is right that the U.S. needs to fix its broken immigration system, but his motivations are not based on evidence. For instance, while diversity visa lottery winners are indeed randomly selected from countries underrepresented in the U.S. (citizens from Mexico, for instance, are not eligible to participate), they are still required to have completed a highschool diploma or to have had work experience in order to get a green card. Moreover, they go through clearances in terms of health and of security. But more importantly: this is a program that brings about 50,000 foreigners a year; in a country of 324 million people, this group of individuals is simply not enough to shape socioeconomic outcomes in the country. Without looking at the actual data on the propensity of people in this group to commit crimes, any policy decision is based on emotions and not on facts.

x The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.
Dany Bahar / Global Economy and Development

“Chain migration” (others refer to it as family reunification) has allowed immigrants to sponsor visas for their direct family members, but with quite a bit of restrictions. Can this system be improved? Certainly. But we need to understand more what it is and the data behind some claims. Without getting into the details on how it works, we have to be clear on a number of things when discussing this matter. First, it is not that easy as claimed by the president, for an American citizen to extend their residence or citizenship to their non-American direct family members to the country: it is a lengthy and expensive process, in which it is the U.S. government–and no one else—the entity that makes the final decision on a case by case basis; thus, it is a controlled system. Second, beyond a handful of anecdotal examples, there is no evidence whatsoever that immigrants and their families are more linked to crime (or terrorism) in higher proportions than the natives (see my other comment above). Third, immigrants are and have always been an important driver of innovation, entrepreneurship, job creation, and economic growth, and there is no mention about any of this, which makes me think that the president and his administration don’t understand that curbing migration is not going to result in better wages (or less crime) for the American people, but maybe even the opposite.

x In 2016, we lost 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses: 174 deaths per day. Seven per hour. We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge. My Administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. The struggle will be long and difficult — but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.
Anthony F. Pipa / Global Economy and Development

This was a huge missed opportunity to set a clear goal and mobilize the nation and all levels of government around stopping the opioid crisis, a top priority for both parties. The SOTU provided a prime-time platform to get specific–such as a call to cut the rate of overdoses and addiction in half by 2023–and outline clear policy actions that could have given Democrats and Republicans something to rally around, giving meaning to the calls for bipartisanship. Instead, we got a “long and difficult struggle” toward … what? By keeping his exhortations vague and undefined, the president is protecting himself and the administration from being held accountable for future lack of progress. The emphasis on drug dealers and pushers right after the overdose statistics implies that they are the core of the problem, whereas a 2014 study found that 75 percent of heroin users getting treatment started their addictions with painkillers. Hollow leadership all around.

x Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.
Célia Belin / Foreign Policy

True to his own motto, Trump delivered a speech that talked about “America First” and foremost, and the president relegated international interactions to footnotes. He did touch upon a few adversaries and rivals, denouncing their regimes as dictatorships (“corrupt” in Iran, “communist and socialist” in Cuba and Venezuela, “cruel” in North Korea) rather than explaining the threat that they pose to the United States. Other partners are viewed as mostly ungrateful (on Jerusalem), a familiar theme for a leader who claims to want to restore respect for America. President Trump makes no mention of European allies or NATO, referring only quickly to the “challenges” posed by Russia and China, an understatement in terms of threat assessment to say the least, especially compared to his vehement denunciation of gang-related or immigration-related crimes in the U.S.

James Kirchick / Foreign Policy

This is the only sentence in which China and Russia—America’s two greatest strategic adversaries—are mentioned. A glaring omission.

Ryan Hass / Foreign Policy

This is the only excerpt of the speech that directly addresses China. The lack of focus on China puts this speech in sharp contrast with the National Security Strategy, which framed China as a central threat and ideological competitor to the United States. The National Security Strategy asserted that the United States was entering a period of great power rivalry. This speech, by comparison, omits discussion of great power rivalry and instead uses China as a justification for raising defense spending. The lack of emphasis on China and the argumentation around it (defense budgets) will add to growing anxieties among friends and allies in the Asia-Pacific region that the president lacks consistency and conviction on China, and instead pursues a situation-dependent approach to Beijing based on his needs of the moment. Countries confronting China’s rise will not take comfort in the lack of consistency in this administration’s public presentations on China. They will, in turn, continue to hedge by pursuing closer relations with Beijing to guard against Trump’s unpredictability.

Joshua Gotbaum / Economic Studies

Neither the one mention of Russia nor the several mentions of China recognized their most effective form of threat: cyberattacks. The various Russian interventions in U.S. elections, via hacking and social media, have been reported by the intelligence community and are well known; less well known is the fact that they are continuing both in the U.S. and in attempts to destabilize other countries as well. Less well publicized is cyber-espionage to gather business information and intellectual property. Although the president might, for political reasons, have chosen to ignore Russian cyber-political efforts, there’s no reason for him to ignore Chinese commercial espionage. At a minimum, he might have said that the effort will be part of his proposed expansion of defense spending. Instead he focusing on nuclear modernization, a debate more appropriate to the 1970s than the 21st century.

Mara Karlin / Foreign Policy

Directly in line with the new National Defense Strategy, but only possible with additional resources. Will Congress deliver?

Torrey Taussig / Foreign Policy

This speech accurately highlights Russia and China as rival nations to the United States. However, the Trump administration must distinguish between the challenges that Russia and China pose to U.S. interests and to those of our allies. Placing Russia and China in the same “rivals” category without any nuance is unhelpful conceptually and strategically to U.S. foreign policy. The National Security Strategy made a similar omission. Russia and China see themselves as challengers to the liberal international order. Yet their conceptions of an alternative order, and their role in that order, differ significantly. Each seeks a distinct relationship with the U.S. and with the West. Finally, the U.S. must compete with Russia and China using different strategies and tools.

x In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.
Torrey Taussig / Foreign Policy

First, the president should state that America’s “unmatched power” lies not only in our military and economic capabilities. America’s allies are essential pillars of U.S. power in the world. They remain critical components of U.S. strategy toward Russia and China. Second, U.S. power must incorporate capabilities in the cyber, information, and influence domains. Russia and China operate in “the gray zone” of hybrid warfare. They are increasingly challenging western powers through asymmetric and non-conventional tools. To deter their use, the U.S. must make clear that their actions come with repercussions, including the possibility of offensive counter-measures.

x For this reason, I am asking the Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.
Molly E. Reynolds / Governance Studies

President Trump spent little time talking about big picture fiscal issues like the deficit and the national debt, but this single line near the end of the speech touches on a major fight currently playing out on Capitol Hill. Since 2011, both the defense and non-defense sides of the discretionary federal budget have been subject to spending caps. Congress has repeatedly chosen to increase those limits. Doing so requires overcoming the threat of a filibuster in the Senate, so Democrats have maintained leverage on the issue and have insisted on treating the non-defense and defense sides of the budget the same. A lack of agreement on whether, and by how much, to lift the spending caps is one reason that Congress has yet to finish its spending bills for the current fiscal year—a task that’s gotten tied up with passing an immigration measure. Most of the conflict involves the non-defense side of the ledger, but frustration from Republican defense hawks has led some to threaten to withhold support from short-term bills to keep the government open.

x Last year, I also pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth. One year later, I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.
Daniel L. Byman / Foreign Policy

The anti-ISIS campaign is something the Trump administration should take pride in. Sure, he built on the Obama administration’s efforts, but progress continued under his watch. As the president pointed out, ISIS’ territorial control is vanishing. In addition, it is losing recruits and money and is far less inspiring, and potent, than at its peak in 2015. Trump’s willingness to emphasize the role of allies is also commendable for a president who has often expressed skepticism concern America’s many friends. Local fighters did much of the heavy lifting against ISIS, and maintaining a regional coalition is vital. Finally, his note of caution that the job is not done is also fitting. ISIS can still inspire attacks worldwide and is trying to directly conduct terrorist strikes, especially in the region. This isn’t the end of the group, but we can hope it’s the beginning of the end.

Scott R. Anderson / Governance Studies

President Trump’s desire to put forward the defeat of ISIS as a major victory for his administration is in tension with legal positions put forward by U.S. officials in recent weeks, a fact evident here. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently announced that the United States intends to maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria to engage in stabilization operations and prevent a resurgence of ISIS, among other objectives. Subsequent statements by senior U.S. officials confirmed that the anticipated legal justification for this continued presence would be the same as for current counter-ISIS operations in Syria, namely the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) as a matter of U.S. domestic law and individual and collective self-defense against ISIS as a matter of international law. Both justifications, however, are premised on the assertion that ISIS remains present and threatening enough to warrant the U.S. operations being pursued. Statements by President Trump that exaggerate the degree to which ISIS has been defeated thus run counter to these legal justifications and may weaken both their legal persuasiveness and the resulting level of support for U.S. operations. Alternately, if and when ISIS has been thoroughly defeated, the United States will no longer be able to rely on these legal justifications in good faith, requiring a new legal basis for the Trump administration’s proposed activities.

x But we must be clear: Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants. And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.
Scott R. Anderson / Governance Studies

President Trump’s use of the phrase “unlawful enemy combatants” is an apparent allusion to the George W. Bush administration’s counter-terrorism policies. Specifically, this phrase is commonly associated with the argument that captured members of al-Qaida and the Taliban are not entitled to protections provided by the Geneva Conventions, a position that the Supreme Court rejected in its 2006 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Due to these associations, the Obama administration stopped using this phrase and instead described such individuals as “unprivileged enemy belligerents” in line with the laws of armed conflict. Congress similarly implemented this new terminology when reforming the military commission system in 2009. While President Trump could be using this phrase to signal a change in position on what protections should be provided to captured terrorists, this is unlikely. Many of the legal questions surrounding detention policy are now well-settled, including standards of treatment for captured terrorists. Further, the Obama administration successfully implemented broad detention authorities in a manner that has withstood legal scrutiny. Hence, the Trump administration has little to gain from reopening these debates. Instead, President Trump is likely using this phrase to underscore his rejection of the Obama administration’s perceived weakness on terrorism, in line with his standard rhetoric on counter-terrorism issues.

x I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay. I am also asking the Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al-Qa’ida, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists — wherever we chase them down.
Scott R. Anderson / Governance Studies

The newly signed Executive Order that President Trump refers to here is largely symbolic. While it revokes President Obama’s earlier directive to close the Guantánamo Bay facility, that directive was never successfully implemented due to opposition from Congress. Aside from this, the new Executive Order simply affirms that the United States may transfer additional individuals to the Guantánamo Bay facility where “lawful and necessary”—an assertion that is largely undisputed as a legal matter—and directs that detention operations should “continue to be conducted consistent with all applicable United States and international law[.]” The Executive Order does direct the secretary of defense to develop policy recommendations regarding “the disposition of individuals captured in connection with an armed conflict” within 90 days, which may result in the new detention legislation that President Trump references in his remarks. That said, the current U.S. position is that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) already gives the executive branch extensive detention authority in relation to al-Qaida and ISIS (though the latter position is more controversial). And the Trump administration has thus opposed proposals for a new AUMF on the grounds that the 2001 AUMF provides adequate authority. Hence, it is unclear what new legislation President Trump may be seeking here, or whether this reflects a change in the Trump administration’s position on a possible new AUMF.

Ted Piccone / Foreign Policy

The new Executive Order President Trump signed this week officially closes the door on the Obama administration’s valiant efforts to contain the damage from the Bush administration’s aggressive GITMO detention policies. But it does not on its face proclaim a return to the controversial open-ended detention approach of the past. In fact, the EO contains language that carefully prescribes detention tactics in accordance with the law and explicitly preserves the attorney general’s authority to prosecute terrorist defendants in the U.S. criminal justice system, an approach that has proven to be successful. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, having run GITMO from his last post as commander of U.S. Southern Command, has made sure that all options are preserved when it comes to keeping terrorists off the battlefield.

x Our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.
Mara Karlin / Foreign Policy

Directly in line with the new National Defense Strategy, but only possible with additional resources. Will Congress deliver?

x Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the Senate just months before: I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this recognition.
Raj M. Desai / Global Economy and Development

In March 2003, France and Russia indicated that they would not support a new UN Security Council resolution sanctioning the Iraq war. As a result, the U.S., the UK, and Spain withdrew their draft, and went to war without specific UN backing. In response, then Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that countries that had opposed the U.S. would face “consequences,” including the reduction in foreign aid. By May, however, recognizing that the U.S. needed those countries’ support in the reconstruction of Iraq, to cooperate on lifting UN sanctions, as well as on trade, investment, counterterrorism, and peacekeeping in other parts of the world, the U.S. relented. This illustrates how awkward it can be for a country with a massive portfolio of global interests such as the U.S. to withhold foreign aid as retribution. If Trump is demanding that aid flows be stopped to countries that voted against the American position on Jerusalem at the UN, it could be even trickier.

James Kirchick / Foreign Policy

Regardless of what one thinks about the president’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, it is a bad precedent to have such a sovereign decision become the subject of a vote at the United Nations General Assembly.

Shibley Telhami / Foreign Policy

How successful was this touted move? The answer is found in what’s missing in the speech: Any mention of “the Deal of the Century” for Middle East peace, featured early on presidential priorities–rendered dead in its tracks.

x That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends.
Raj M. Desai / Global Economy and Development

These two goals—foreign aid only in the national interest, no foreign aid to enemies—are often at odds in donor aid policies. First, U.S. aid has often been used strategically to fund “rivals of rivals,” which is the situation the U.S. now finds itself in with respect to Iran’s chief Sunni adversaries in the Middle East and North Africa—all of which voted against the U.S. at the UN. Second, severing aid—to Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, etc.—could backfire given that U.S. (military) aid is usually the main financier of counter-terrorism efforts in recipient countries. Moreover, where the U.S. does fund “enemies” it typically receives tangible and intangible benefits in return in the form of airspace rights, access to military bases or government property, or access to natural resources. Third, in a global aid landscape in which new bilateral donors (esp. China) and private aid now match or exceed official aid, a U.S. threat to cut off aid is a much weaker punishment. If the U.S. hopes to use foreign assistance as a more effective tool of foreign policy, Congress should first enact a number of reforms to deliver aid both to more productive targets and through more reliable channels.

Ted Piccone / Foreign Policy

This is probably one of the most foolhardy statements in Trump’s otherwise conventional SOTU speech. Drawing black and white lines for conditioning U.S. foreign assistance, which Trump’s first budget proposed cutting drastically, around what is “always” in American “interests” and who are America’s “friends,” is a hopeless exercise. Even more so now that China is offering billions of dollars in assistance to our partners with few strings attached. But we should continue to impose certain targeted conditions on U.S. aid, especially on human rights and anti-corruption terms like in the Magnitsky Act and its accompanying Executive Order signed in December. This line, on the other hand, is nothing more than political bait for those factions of Trump’s pro-Israel base who support the Jerusalem embassy decision.

Anthony F. Pipa / Global Economy and Development

American foreign assistance serves American interests by ending extreme poverty and hunger, improving health and education, and stimulating economic opportunity for the world’s poorest. It is a key component of our national security and a basis for long-term economic relationships: nearly all of the U.S.’s top trading partners were once recipients of U.S. aid. At its core, it is an expression of the highest American ideals: the dignity of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The proposal to turn our foreign assistance into a transactional quid pro quo for UN votes reinforces the worst stereotypes of the U.S.: crass, materialistic, and overvaluing the importance of money. China is already building significant influence with developing countries by outracing the U.S. through investments in its massive One Belt, One Road initiative, and this policy would open the door that much wider for them. Only seven out of 192 countries voted in favor of the ill-fated UN resolution on Jerusalem, a decision controversial even in the U.S., so it’s an odd choice to retaliate with such a damaging proposal. The Beatles had it right: “Money can’t buy me love.” It’s unclear why the president thinks it will become a winning strategy now.

x As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries.
Tarun Chhabra / Foreign Policy

Trump’s recently issued National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Defense Strategy (NDS) promise to redress his recent predecessors’ strategic “complacency” and “atrophy” by refocusing U.S. foreign policy on competition with China and Russia, which are argued to collectively “challenge American power, influence and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.” It is therefore striking that this speech makes only a fleeting reference to China and Russia. Trump instead dwelled on Iran and North Korea, and reserved the balance of his foreign affairs time for ISIS, Afghanistan, and keeping open the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay—despite the NDS’ categorical statement that “interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern of U.S. national security.” The absence of talk about China in particular also undercuts an argument some in the administration have offered in support of the NSS’ aggressive public rhetoric vis-à-vis Beijing: that such a tone is necessary to persuade the American people to spend more on defense and also absorb potential costs arising from trade enforcement or related measures against China. These officials could be right, but Trump doesn’t seem to agree.

x I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.
Daniel L. Byman / Foreign Policy

This is a derogation of presidential responsibility. I’m a supporter of the Iran deal, but if the president thinks it is not in America’s interest he should have a plan for ending it and an alternative policy in hand. He has neither, and handing it off to Congress indicates that he doesn’t want to lead on this but just distance himself politically.

x My Administration has also imposed tough sanctions on the communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.
Ted Piccone / Foreign Policy

It’s worth noting how the sanctions on these two countries are so misaligned with other U.S. priorities. Cuba, a small Caribbean island that poses no serious security threat to us, faces one of the most comprehensive and punitive unilateral embargoes, which Trump made even worse by decisions that hurt the burgeoning Cuban private sector and ordinary Cubans. The embargo has utterly failed to achieve its objectives for over five decades. Venezuela, which potentially poses a greater risk to our security, appropriately faces more targeted sanctions. But it is too soon to know whether they will put enough pressure on the Maduro regime to back off from its disastrous policies. So far, it looks like they are making a bad situation worse by rushing to elections this spring.

x Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position.
Shibley Telhami / Foreign Policy

Trump warned against “complacency” in facing North Korea’s nuclear program. But despite his tough tone toward the country and its leader, he offered no specific moves. That’s not necessarily bad, as options are limited, and specific warnings could backfire. Still, there is concern that this warning against “complacency” may hint that the White House may be considering some “military options.” As my colleague Michael O’Hanlon shows, all possible military options range from risky to unthinkable. But Trump faces other challenges: credibility and public opinion. Results from recent University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll public opinion polls that we carried out with Japanese partners, The Genron NPO, and released at Brookings, are troubling. While the Japanese identify North Korea as the top threat to world peace, and need to cooperate with the United States over this threat, they also identify the United States as a close second in threatening world peace. In fact, the Japanese identify Donald Trump as the single most threatening world leader, ahead of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Even in the United States, Trump statistically ties Russia’s Vladimir Putin in second place, after Kim Jong-un, as most threatening. This credibility deficit is exacerbated by a prevalent sentiment among the U.S. public (and the Japanese public) that military action and even stricter sanctions are unlikely to work. This leaves little but diplomacy, at a time when global credibility is low and with an undermined Department of State.

Jung H. Pak / Foreign Policy

This statement reflects Trump’s desire to “solve” the North Korea problem once and for all, where other presidents have failed. He and senior U.S. officials have consistently pointed to the failures of past negotiations with North Korea and emphasized the futility of any potential future negotiations, therefore heavily weighting the importance of military options over diplomacy. The prominence of North Korea in the State of the Union speech suggests that the Trump administration continues to see North Korea as a top national security threat.

x We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.
Jung H. Pak / Foreign Policy

Overall, the North Korea portion of the speech is consistent with Trump’s speech to the South Korean National Assembly in early November. It calls out the brutality of the Kim Jong-un regime and highlights Pyongyang’s record of human rights violations. The State of the Union speech also reflects Trump’s comments on last month’s National Security Strategy document in its portrayal of North Korea as the ultimate outlier, an evil regime trying to threaten the United States, Americans, and their values. Consequently, the speech seems to argue, North Korea must be stopped now because we would face more dire consequences in the future, like the terrible fate that Otto Warmbier and Ji Seong-ho met.

x Finally, we are joined by one more witness to the ominous nature of this regime. His name is Mr. Ji Seong-ho.
Célia Belin / Foreign Policy

A large portion of this very long State of the Union speech was dedicated to honoring everyday Americans who have behaved heroically or have faced tragic personal circumstances, following the tradition initiated in 1982 by President Reagan with plane crash hero Lenny Skutnik. It allowed the president to underline some of his domestic priorities–fighting crime and drug abuse, rebuilding the military and veteran affairs, etc.–and one of his top foreign priorities, North Korea. However at times, President Trump seemed to over-rely on this tool. These incredible stories of bravery and raw suffering risked becoming a distraction from the underlying policy message: For example, was President Trump denouncing North Korean nuclear proliferation, or its human rights abuses? It wasn’t always clear.

x Seong-ho traveled thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom.
Jessica Brandt / Foreign Policy

Seong-ho’s was a journey to refuge, and indeed a powerful story worth noting. It’s also worth noting that President Trump has taken up a broad effort to restrict the admission of refugees to the United States, especially those from countries it deems “high risk,” among them North Korea. Since the start of the fiscal year, the United States has admitted fewer than 6,500 refugees. At this pace, the total number of refugees it admits this year will be less than half the shameful 45,000 limit President Trump set last fall.

x Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom. It was that same yearning for freedom that nearly 250 years ago gave birth to a special place called America. It was a small cluster of colonies caught between a great ocean and a vast wilderness. But it was home to an incredible people with a revolutionary idea: that they could rule themselves. That they could chart their own destiny. And that, together, they could light up the world.
Jung H. Pak / Foreign Policy

Mr. Ji’s story is an inspirational one and Trump is sympathetic to Ji. But I would note that the Presidential Proclamation of September 24, 2017 would prohibit Ji’s entry into the U.S. (obviously, exceptions were made, given his attendance at the SOTU): “The entry into the United States of nationals of North Korea as immigrants and nonimmigrants is hereby suspended.”