WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump outlined major legislative proposals concerning immigration and infrastructure in his first State of the Union on Tuesday night.
In an 80-minute speech, the third-longest State of the Union in 50 years, Trump asked lawmakers for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package to address the United States’ faltering roads, bridges and waterways. The president lauded America’s legacy as a nation of builders and said it was time the nation rebuild its crumbling infrastructure.
“We built the Empire State Building in just one year,” Trump said. “Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?”
America’s infrastructure received a “D+” grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in its 2017 report, identifying Colorado as one of the many states with fraught infrastructure.
The ASCE found that nearly 6 percent of Colorado bridges were structurally deficient. The report also shows that 21 percent of roads across the state are in poor condition.
The brief plan outlined by Trump said that every federal dollar should be leveraged with spending from state and local governments. He also said that private-public partnerships are important in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.
Trump also said he wants the project permitting and approval process required to build new infrastructure streamlined.
“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,” Trump said.
The plan Trump discussed Tuesday differs from a six-page plan the White House released last week that asked for a $1 trillion investment. That plan said the federal government would provide $200 billion in federal grants.
The framework proposed by Trump and the White House didn’t include any details on how the government would pay for an infrastructure bill.
The final details of the plan are still being discussed between Congress and the administration.
“We are going to have ongoing conversations with the administration because he’d originally talked about having public private partnership and state buy-ins,” Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) said.
Another top priority for Tipton, the expansion of rural Internet broadband, was not mentioned explicitly by Trump in the speech, but Tipton described the issue as an “essential” part of any infrastructure deal.
“This is critical for rural Colorado and for rural America to be able to get that connectivity,” Tipton said. “I would fully suspect the administration’s going to be receptive to it.”
The president also outlaid four White House priorities to an immigration plan as Congress stares down a March 3 deadline to protect the status of Dreamers, shielded from deportation under the President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, which Trump rescinded in September.
Of the approximate 800,000 DACA recipients in the United States, 17,300 live and work in Colorado.
The president said he supports a 12-year path to citizenship for the more than 1.8 million immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, almost three times the number of Dreamers protected by DACA.
But any immigration deal must also include border security, he said, including the $25 billion for a border wall the White House asked for last week.
The president also said he wants Congress to end the diversity lottery program for a merit-based system.
“(We need a system) that emits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society,” Trump said. “And who will love and respect our country.”
He called for the end of “chain migration” as his final pillar, 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,” Trump said.
Tipton said the president took an important step in negotiating a DACA deal, extending an “olive branch” to Democrats by granting a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for increased border security.
Colorado’s two senators, Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, have played an active role in the ongoing immigration discussion. Both were part of a Gang of Six in the Senate negotiating an immigration deal before the government shutdown.
They have also both cosponsored the bipartisan DREAM Act, which creates a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as minors, who meet certain education requirements and maintain no criminal record.
As Congress faces important deadlines in coming weeks to fund the government and tackle immigration, Trump’s tone shifted away from the “American carnage” inaugural address given just a year ago and instead called for unity between the two parties and the nation.
“I applaud the President’s call for unity tonight,” Gardner said in a news release. “It’s time that we come together as a country, and for Democrats and Republicans to work together on issues to achieve a compromise for Dreamers and make needed investments to our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
Bennet said in a news release that the president’s tone is divisive and wants to move on from the State of the Union to work on the issues.
“I want nothing more than to move forward to pass comprehensive immigration reform, lower drug prices, combat the opioid crisis, and make investments in infrastructure,” Bennet said. “The President’s tone and lack of results make it difficult to believe his speech is anything more than hollow rhetoric.”
Andrew Eversden is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.