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Did the State of the Union help or hurt Trump’s immigration plan?

What does President Trump's 2018 State of the Union address tell us about his agenda this year? Yamiche Alcindor and Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post join Judy Woodruff to dissect the president's words.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn back now to last night's State of the Union address, and what it can tell us about President Trump's agenda for the coming year.

    Here to dissect the president's words, some of them, are reporter Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, and our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    And welcome to both of you.

    So, the president spoke for an hour and 20 minutes. There were a lot of words said. But there were some specific messages. It seemed that he spent most of the time either talking about the economy or immigration.

    And I want to focus specifically on immigration reform. He plugged his plan as a kind of ideal, middle ground.

    And here is just a part of what he said, and then we're going to talk about it.

  • President Donald Trump:

    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.


  • President Donald Trump:

    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.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, a lot of reaction to what the president said there. Who was he appealing to?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He was appealing to Republicans, the Republican base and Republican lawmakers who are getting ready to make the case that immigration and hard-line stances need to be followed.

    He really handed a rallying cry to Republicans when he said Americans are dreamers too. You can just see that slogan on T-shirts and on hats, because he was really trying to hammer home the fact that Democrats are trying to pit American citizens against immigrants and that Democrats are choosing immigrants.

    And he hammered that home also with the guests that he chose. He brought families that were impacted by immigrants, arguing that immigrants were committing crimes in the communities and hurting people.

    And that is — that was his message, and that is — I think, even though it was an hour and 20 minutes, that was the most memorable part of the speech to me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Karen, how did you see it and how effective do you think it was?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, all sides are under a very, very tight deadline to come up with some way to deal with all of these young people, young immigrants who were brought to this country illegally by their parents.

    The president's plan, in the White House's view, has sweeteners for both sides. It has enhanced border security. It has restrictions on legal immigration for the right. And it has a very, much more expansive protection for these so-called dreamers, for liberals, for the Democrats.

    The fact is, though, the hardest, the hardest audience, the toughest part of this whole process is going be getting it through the House. So that is why he was making this appeal to essentially bring his own party on board his proposal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there a sense that he may have helped himself or caused problems?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It seems as though he probably caused some problems. The reaction from Democrats has been very much a backlash.

    The CBC is using saying that he used racist rhetoric, the Congressional Black Caucus, that is. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is saying that he was disparaging immigrants.

    And all this is happening as another shutdown is looming. Even though we just got out of one shutdown, on February 8, they have to vote again to fund the government. And you can already see that immigration is going to be at the center of that. And it's going to be a lot of the same arguments that we had before.

    There is going to be either one side Democrats saying that DACA needs to be fixed immediately. Republicans are going to be saying, we have a whole 'nother month. Why are you holding up Americans for immigrants?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Karen, I want to ask — bring up something else, and this is foreign policy.

    He touched on a few areas, not — it wasn't the bulk of the speech, but one of the points he made had to do with the nuclear arsenal of the United States.

    Let's listen to that.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.

    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.


  • President Donald Trump:

    Perhaps someday 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.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Karen, he is saying maybe a magical moment in the future, but we're not there.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    And this is a reference to — he wasn't very specific. But the fact is, I think everyone in the room knew that the backdrop is the president's plan to revamp the nuclear arsenal.

    And specifically what they are talking about is adding smaller nuclear weapons, what they call low-yield nuclear weapons, this idea that you can essentially have small nuclear strikes. That concerns a lot of people, because a lot of experts say this is going to expand the circumstances under which nuclear weapons might be considered a real option, including as, for instance, retaliation for cyber-attacks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is interesting, Yamiche. The president, as Karen just said, wasn't detailed. He put out a thought and an intention, but we don't know much about it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We don't know much about it.

    And what is really — what is also important about this fight is that this was the only time in an hour and 20 minutes that he mentioned the word Russia. And it was, one, surprising that he said the word Russia in front of all these people, but, two, the fact that he chose to use the word Russia while also casting it as a challenger by saying they are challenging our American economy.

    The important thing is, though, that Russia continues to loom over this White House as a large cloud. Russia has yet — the president has yet to really explain whether or not he thinks that Russia can influence our elections.

    There is a lot of talk about the midterms and what Democrats are going to do, what Republicans are going to do. But what is Russia going to do? The social media companies have not really figured out how Russia impacted the last election. So it's pretty understandable that Russia could influence the midterms.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Good point, but, of course, it leaves the program in another aspect. We continue to cover it every day.

    One of the thing that I want to bring up is the number of personal stories. It was striking to me. There were so many, maybe half-a-dozen or more, instances of these heart-wrenching accounts of what people have lived through.

    Here is one where the president introduces a young police officer from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

  • President Donald Trump:

    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.

    Then, he went home to tell his wife, Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Karen, a very emotional moment last night.

    What does the president accomplish, what does he do by things like this, stories like this?

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Well, to me, one of the most striking contrasts of this speech from just about everything else we have ever heard from this president — and I'm not going to call it a pivot, because we have so often seen the president go in one direction and change directions immediately.

    But he was — he kept telling these stories of average Americans. Generally, when Donald Trump speaks, it is very self-referential. He points to himself. As he said at the convention, "I alone can fix it."

    In this speech, he actually said it is the people who make this country great.

    And I think that that in many ways is what a lot of Republicans would hope would be the kind of message that he might take forward on the campaign going forward.

    This president, as we know, can change course very quickly, and he may be back on the old Twitter pretty quickly and attacking people and being thin-skinned about attacks on him. But that was, I think, a good message for Republicans that he was delivering last night.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And as Karen points out, Yamiche, it is as we launch a midterm election year, which everybody is — the White House and everybody who was sitting there in the House chamber is very mindful of.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:


    And the opioid crisis is also something that Republicans and Democrats seem to think that they can work together on, that it's much like infrastructure. People understand that there is a problem there, that they want to come up with some sort of solution.

    The important thing, though, is that while they were talking about baby Hope, the mother of Hope, at least according to reporting, is that she is still struggling with addiction. And today the Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren and Patty Murray, they actually filed paperwork to have an investigation into whether or not Donald Trump is handling the opioid crisis effectively.

    He said that there was going to be this public health crisis, that he was declaring it a public health crisis in October. But since then, we haven't really heard a lot from the White House about what they are actually doing and what resources they are devoting to that.

    So Democrats are already using that today to throw back at the president and say, well, what are you actually going to do about it?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it is an issue he raised, and so we're going to see how it plays out in that way.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Karen Tumulty, thank you both.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    Thank you.

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