Donald Trump claimed “incredible results” in boosting the US economy in a State of the Union address to Congress that highlighted the president’s bet that resilient job growth and a pair of trade deals can propel him to re-election in November.
Speaking to lawmakers on the floor of the House of Representatives where he was impeached less than two months ago, Mr Trump said the US was “thriving and highly respected again”, with booming employment and declining poverty.
“We have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Trump delivered his speech with approval ratings that were higher than when he addressed Congress a year ago but remained in negative territory. According to a polling average compiled by RealClearPolitics, 44.9 per cent of Americans approve of his performance, while 52 per cent disapprove.
The president was also buoyed by the impending conclusion of the impeachment proceedings against him. In a vote in the US Senate on Wednesday, Mr Trump was widely expected to be acquitted of the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress levelled by House Democrats over his actions towards Ukraine.
Although the US president faced he biggest foreign policy crisis of his term a month ago when military tensions rose with Iran, senior Trump administration officials set the stage for the speech by saying he would focus heavily on the economy.
With a US unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent, the lowest since 1969, the president is taking credit for what he calls a “blue-collar boom” that has helped lift up lower-income Americans left behind in earlier stages of the country’s decade-old expansion.
Mr Trump also recently secured two milestones on trade, reaching a “phase one” deal with China to pause the nearly two-year-old trade war with Beijing, and gaining the approval of Congress for USMCA, the revision of Nafta negotiated with Canada and Mexico.
“Many politicians came and went, pledging to change or replace Nafta — only to do absolutely nothing. But unlike so many who came before me, I keep my promises,” he said.
Democrats have attacked Mr Trump for failing to live up to his promise to rejuvenate working America, claiming that his sweeping 2017 tax cuts had mainly benefited the wealthy, his vows to rejuvenate industrial America had fallen flat and his trade policies had mainly backfired. In several Midwest states that will be pivotal in the November election, manufacturing employment declined over the course of last year.
“It doesn’t matter what the president says about the stock market,” Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan, said in the text of her party’s response to the president’s speech. “American workers are hurting . . . Wages have stagnated, while CEO pay has skyrocketed.”
Democrats are sensing that Mr Trump’s main vulnerability is on healthcare, and senior lawmakers, including Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, attacked the president for threatening to cut access to medical care and failing to address soaring drug prices. Some Democrats, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the leftwing Democratic lawmaker from New York, decided to boycott the speech altogether.
“After much deliberation, I have decided that I will not use my presence at a state ceremony to normalise Trump’s lawless conduct & subversion of the Constitution. None of this is normal, and I will not legitimise it,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.