WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump commended the country’s economic growth under his administration in the State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The speech was the first time Trump addressed House Democrats face to face since the vote to impeach him Dec. 18 in the same chamber.
Trump also addressed the U.S. senators who will vote Wednesday on whether to remove him from office.
Rashawan Ray, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said during a panel discussion Tuesday morning before the State of the Union that Trump would frame himself as “drastically different from the Democratic Party” during the speech.
Trump mentioned his criminal justice reform legislation, which links incarcerated people with vocational training. Ray said Democrats have struggled with producing good legislation on criminal justice reform since the 1990s.
Other policy victories Trump touched upon included the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, which restored export stability to Colorado farmers.
“Unfair trade is the single biggest reason I decided to run for president,” Trump said. “I keep my promises; we did our job.”
Despite the ongoing impeachment trial, a new Gallup poll shows Trump’s job approval rating at 49%, the highest since he’s been in office. And the unemployment rate is at 3.5%, the lowest it’s been in 50 years.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said after the speech in a telephone interview with The Durango Herald, that unemployment in Colorado is at 2.6%, even lower than the national average.
Tipton said the speech outlined the accomplishments of the past year, but more work is needed to keep the economy moving forward outside of urban areas.
One area of growth Tipton commended the president for mentioning is rural broadband deployment. Tipton recently rolled out legislation to streamline deployment and lessen regulatory hurdles to installment.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in a news release that Trump’s speech left out the fact that farm bankruptcies are at an eight-year high as a result of Trump’s tax policies.
“Everywhere I go in Colorado, people tell me they can’t afford some combination of housing, health care or higher education – in other words, a middle-class life,” Bennet said.
Trump said 7 million Americans have come off food stamps under his administration, but Ray said this is because of legislation like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which enforces specific work requirements for food-stamp recipients.
Jon Valant, a fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, said the Trump administration has polarized legislation around bipartisan issues like education in a way that it hasn’t been before.
Trump promoted school choice legislation during the State of the Union, which provides families with alternatives to the publicly provided schools students are assigned to based on the location or district of their home. The legislation reflects a larger policy goal in the Trump administration of privatizing America’s schools.
The mixed reactions in Congress to Trump’s speech “shows some of the real partisan divide,” Tipton said.
“Personally, I can say I did stand and applaud for Obama,” Tipton said, referencing House Democrats who did not stand and clap for some of Trump’s remarks.
In a news release after the speech, Sen. Cory Gardner, D.-Colo., also noted the partisan divide in Congress.
“I hope that our nation’s elected leaders can rise to meet this moment to work in a bipartisan fashion to solve the most challenging issues facing the American people,” Gardner said.
Emily Hayes is a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.