President Trump used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to seek unity after a divisive first year, while Colorado’s undocumented immigrants and highway builders listened closely.
He upped his promise of $1 trillion for infrastructure to $1.5 trillion by promising to leverage local and state dollars and private investment. He called for a bill that would get the regulatory process down to two years or less.
The president didn’t say who would pay, but Colorado leaders say they won’t have the money, most likely, and if the federal plan takes money out of existing allocations, the state could find itself worse off not better off.
Trump’s speech was short on details.
“I’m asking both parties to come together to give us safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve,” Trump said.
Trump’s position on immigration – specifically young immigrants’ shielded from deportation by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – was unclear from his speech and still evolving in the Washington spin cycle.
Trump pointed to his proposal last week to extend a pathway to citizenship over a 12-year period for the so-called Dreamers in exchange for $25 billion for a wall along the U.S. 2,000-mile border with Mexico. He said his proposal ends “catch-and-release” immigration enforcement and ends the visa lottery for green cards, chain migration for extended families, while moving immigration policy toward a merit-based immigration system.
He called it a “down-the-middle compromise” and one that will be a safe, modern and lawful immigration system.”
If DACA expires without a congressional solution, more than 17,000 DACA members in Colorado could be deported among more than 1.8 million nationally.
Trump said open borders hurt American families and American jobs, as well as letting drugs and gangs into the U.S.
“Tragically they have caused the loss of many innocent American lives,” he said.
He pointed to members in the audience who had lost family members to Latino gang members.
The president said that America is a compassionate nation, but his concern is for “America’s children, America’s struggling workers and America’s forgotten communities.”
He added, “Americans are dreamers, too.”
The president veered into hot-button political issues well-known to Colorado.
“We have ended the war on American energy,” Trump boasted. “And we have ended the war of beautiful, clean coal. We are now, very proudly, an exporter of energy to the world.”
He said one of his greatest priorities for the coming year is to reduce the price of prescription drugs, and waved his palms upward to coax Democrats to stand. They didn’t.
“And prices will come down substantially: watch,” Trump said.
He said he would continue to push for trade deals that are “fair, and more importantly reciprocal.”
And Trump urged Congress to help working families by supporting paid family leave, something his party have resisted nationally and at the statehouse in Denver. He said his administration would see to reform prisons to help inmates get “a second chance at life.”
Trump called for unity.
“Let us set aside our differences to seek out common ground summon the unity we need to deliver for the people,” said the president. “This is key. These are the people we were elected to serve.”
Republicans rose in applause. Democrats sat, and their leader, Nancy Pelosi, shifted in her seat and adjusted her jaw.
Trump said America shared “the same home, the same heart, the same destiny and the same great American flag,” bringing up one of his squabbles, one with NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police abuse against minorities.
Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner applauded the president’s call for unity.
“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,” he said in a statement.
He was happy the president cited the tax cuts.
“Many of the goals outlined tonight will serve as a blueprint for what Congress can achieve for the American people in the coming year, and I hope Democrats and Republicans will work together to move our country forward,” Gardner said.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Denver saw it differently.
“Only this president could make a call for unity sound so divisive,” he said in a statement. “He continues to promise results for Coloradans, but delivers partisan soundbites and ideology. 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.
“The president’s tone and lack of results make it difficult to believe his speech is anything more than hollow rhetoric.”
Sandra Hagen Solin, spokesperson for Fix Colorado Roads, a coalition of business interests urging the state legislature to better fund transportation, seemed equally displeased.
“Today, Colorado is ill-prepared to take advantage of any federal funds that will come available,” Solin said. “We don’t have available cash in our transportation budget to meet the expected state and local match requirement.”
She urged the legislature to support Senate Bill 1 this session, The Republican bill would preserve $300 million a year in the state budget along with other money from growth in tax revenue from the economy and the GOP tax bill.
“Let’s not be left behind.” Solin said.
The president touted the strong economy, including the creation of more than 2 million jobs, low unemployment, a roaring stock market and a new tax law passed by Republicans in December, Trump’s signature work for 2017. He also unwound President Obama’s environmental regulations and put Denver’s Judge Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court.
He claimed African-American unemployment was at “the lowest rate ever recorded,” which economists note is the lowest in decades.
He said his administration is defending gun rights and religious liberty. Trump also spoke of America’s response to natural disasters and mass shootings.
“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,” said Trump, who weathered criticism for the administration’s response to hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico. “Each test has forged new American heroes to remind us who we are and show us what we can be.”
Trump spoke against a backdrop of incessantly bad news coverage – including Russian meddling in the election and allegations of an affair with a porn star – with low public popularity, including in Colorado and among Republicans.
He hasn’t yet delivered yet on major campaign promises, including repealing and replacing of the Affordable Care Act, locking up Hillary Clinton or building a border wall with Mexico.
Trump faces a chilly political climate among Coloradans and nationally, one that has Republicans running for a number of offices spooked.
A Trump ally, Tom Tancredo dropped out of the governor’s race citing difficulty fundraising this year. Arapahoe County-areas District Attorney George Brauchler, another magnet for Trump-type voters, dropped out of the governor’s race in November to run for attorney general. He also had fundraising problems as a gubernatorial candidate, but he’s unopposed in the GOP primary for attorney general.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who Democrats love to show shouting “Go Trump” at the victory party in 2016, is having trouble getting her campaign for governor off the ground, as well.
In a University of Colorado survey released last week, Trump’s job approval rating in Colorado was just 34 percent when questions were asked of 800 Coloradans in November. President Obama left office with a 57 percent approval rating among Coloradans.
In the 2016 election, Trump got 43 percent of the Colorado vote, losing by 5 points to Hillary Clinton.
A Gallup Poll released this week indicated that nationally Trump’s job approval rating, 38.4 percent, was at least 10 percentage points below any of the former president’s first year since 1945.
The next lowest was President Clinton at 49.3 percent, according to Gallup.
Colorado Democratic operatives are working hard to make Trump and Colorado Republicans the same in voters’ eyes. Eric Walker, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, alleged that “extreme Republican candidates are still racing to the right to embrace Trump and his agenda.”
“There are simply no moderates anymore in the Colorado GOP,” he said in a statement.
Tuesday Trump’s campaign sent out a fundraising email asking for $1 donations to show the media how big the Trump nation really is. The note from Trump forecast his speech for campaign supporters.
“They will learn about an America where we believe securing our borders is common sense, where our police officers are respected, where life is protected and faith is honored, where we are optimistic about our economy, and where we once again believe in the promise of America,” Trump wrote.
“And they will get to see just how many Americans are dedicated to our movement.”