(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump cast his fight against illegal migration to the U.S. as a moral struggle, and charged in his second State of the Union address that “partisan investigations” threaten economic progress under his administration.
“We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens,” Trump said in an 83-minute speech. “No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration.
“Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards,” he said.
Trump’s address comes with a second partial government shutdown looming in just 10 days if the president and congressional Democrats can’t resolve their differences over funding his proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. His speech was delayed by a week because of the shutdown, which ended Jan. 25 after Trump capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who refused to consider money for the wall while the government was closed.
“I will get it built,” Trump vowed, without offering Democrats any reason to vote for his top campaign promise.
While White House aides said in advance of Trump’s speech that he would attempt to strike a bipartisan tone, he derided his opponents and attacked unspecified investigations of his administration without mentioning Special Counsel Robert Mueller by name.
He boasted of “an economic miracle” taking place under his leadership and said, “the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”
Those remarks were met with cheers on the Republican side of the chamber and audible groans on the Democratic side. Pelosi’s office responded with a tweet.
Trump’s attempt to cast his immigration position in moral terms rebuts critics including Pelosi and Pope Francis. She has called Trump’s proposed wall “immoral,” and the pope has said of the president’s immigration policies that “a person who only thinks of building walls, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Pelosi sat on the dais in the House chamber, watching over his shoulder as Trump delivered his speech. She had little visible reaction to his immigration remarks. The divisions between the two parties were stark, as many female lawmakers on the Democratic side of the chamber plan wore suffragette white. The Republican side was dominated by men in dark suits.
A rare moment of comity broke out after Trump celebrated job gains by women. Democratic women stood, applauding and cheering.
“You weren’t supposed to do that,” Trump said, smiling. “Don’t sit yet, you’re going to like this.” He then noted that a record number of women are serving in Congress, leading the Democratic women stand again and chant, “USA! USA!” Republicans across the room smiled and some clapped.
“That’s great,” Trump said.
But he later attacked Democrats again for movements in state legislatures to loosen restrictions on abortion and allow the procedure late in pregnancy in cases when the mother’s health is at risk.
“Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth,” Trump said. He claimed falsely that the embattled governor of Virgina, Ralph Northam, had “stated he would execute a baby after birth” and called on Congress “to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”
Republicans uniformly stood and applauded; almost all Democrats sat quietly.
“Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life,” he said, turning after the line to glance at Vice President Mike Pence, a prominent abortion opponent.
Trump challenged Democrats, who are preparing to conduct oversight of many aspects of his administration, to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution -- and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and common good.
“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” Trump said -- just months after he campaigned for Republicans in midterm elections by demonizing Democrats in a zealous and unapologetic appeal to his base supporters.
Rising Democratic star and former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams planned to argue in the party’s televised response that Trump and Republicans have left the nation’s middle class behind by abandoning the values of fairness and equality.
“In Georgia and around the country, people are striving for a middle class where a salary truly equals economic security,” Abrams said. “But instead, families’ hopes are being crushed by Republican leadership that ignores real life or just doesn’t understand it.”
Hours before the speech, the Republican-controlled Senate rebuked Trump for his Syria and Afghanistan policies, a rare step for the body. A measure that passed 77-23 included a provision authored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that urges Trump not to exit military conflicts in the two countries.
But Trump defended his efforts to get the U.S. out of long-running conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.
“As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach,” Trump said. “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
Trump vowed in December to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria “now,” though he and his aides have since tempered the promise saying the move would be gradual.
In Afghanistan, Trump wants to bring home 14,000 American troops without plunging the country into chaos. After losing more than 2,300 U.S. soldiers and spending more than $900 billion in Afghanistan since 2001, critics say the U.S. risks losing hard-won gains in what has become America’s longest war.
His administration is seeking an agreement with the Taliban that would include a commitment to prevent terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State from continuing to use Afghanistan as a base of operations.
Trump concluded his speech with an attack on anti-Semitism. He recognized a survivor of an attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh who is also a Holocaust survivor, Judah Samet. After mentioning that it was Samet’s 81st birthday, the House chamber broke into a spontaneous rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
The president waved his fingers like an orchestra conductor. “They wouldn’t do that for me, Judah,” Trump said.
(Updates with Holocaust survivor in final paragraphs.)
--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs.
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