The president also honored the Holocaust survivor who also survived the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, in a speech that saw him continue to vow to build a border wall, a source of a deep partisan divide.
Trump devoted a number of passages to issues related to Israel and the Middle East. He stated that his administration’s approach “is based on principled realism, not discredited theories that have failed for decades to yield progress.”
>> FULL TEXT: Donald Trump's State of the Union address
“For this reason, my administration recognized the true capital of Israel and proudly opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem,” he added.
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Trump also attacked Iran, stating: “We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ and threatens genocide against the Jewish people. We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed. With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”
At one point, Trump introduced Judah Samet, the 81-year-old Holocaust survivor who also survived the Pittsburgh massacre last year. Samet attended the speech on the eve of his birthday, and when his name was mentioned, hundreds of lawmakers from both parties sang “Happy Birthday to You.”
He followed that by introducing a second Holocaust survivor, Joshua Kaufman, who survived the Dachau concentration camp when it was liberated by U.S. soldiers in 1945. “He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks. ‘To me,’ Joshua recalls, ‘the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky,’” Trump said.
Kaufman, aged around 90, was seated alongside Herman Zeitchik, one of the American soldiers who helped liberate Dachau.
Trump also recognized Timothy Matson, a Pittsburgh police officer who responded to the shooting and was injured in the gunfight with the assailant who committed the attack, Robert Bowers. “Timothy has just had his 12th surgery, but he made the trip to be here with us tonight. Officer Matson: We are forever grateful for your courage in the face of evil,” Trump said.
The more partisan parts of the president’s speech enjoyed a less positive reaction from some lawmakers in the chamber. Trump vowed to build a border wall and said Democratic attempts at “ridiculous partisan investigations” could damage U.S. prosperity.
He called illegal immigration “an urgent national crisis,” but stopped short of declaring a border emergency that would allow him to bypass Congress for wall funding. Instead, he urged Democrats and Republicans to find a compromise by the February 15 deadline.
“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall, but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built,” Trump said in the House of Representatives chamber, with his main Democratic adversary, new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, watching on over his shoulder.
Democrats call the wall a waste of money and ineffective. Pelosi, who frequently sat stone-faced through Trump’s address, has shown no sign of budging from her opposition to Trump’s wall-funding demand.
Many Democratic women lawmakers wore white to celebrate 100 years of women having gained the right to vote. Republicans cheered on the president, while Democrats grimaced or shook their heads but held their fire and applauded at nonpartisan moments, such as when the two Holocaust survivors were recognized.
Trump also spoke about his wider foreign policy and said that last year his administration had accelerated negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan with groups including the Taliban, and, as they make progress, would be able to reduce the U.S. troop presence there.
“As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counterterrorism. And we will indeed focus on counterterrorism,” Trump said.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America called out Trump’s speech, saying that “at a time when our country is in need of unity and leadership, President Trump delivered a divisive message characterized by fear and empty words.”
Democratic Majority for Israel, a new pro-Israel group within the Democratic Party, said Trump “paid tribute to some of the best of America’s legacy and descended to the worst, deliberately divisive rhetoric.”
The group said that though it appreciated “the honor paid to combating anti-Semitism, the Holocaust victims who survive, and the American troops who opened the camps, as well as the courageous police officer who stopped the Tree of Life tragedy ... this president abused his platform to boast” about policies that “endanger the future our country’s future.”