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Donald Trump

Trump slams ‘depraved’ North Korea in his first State of the Union address

US President says rivals including China and Russia should be met with ‘unmatched power’, pledges an end to the green card visa lottery, and orders that the Guantanamo Bay prison remain open

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 9:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2018, 3:22am

Welcome to the South China Morning Post’s live blog of US President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address.

In the speech to a joint sitting of Congress on Tuesday night, Trump preached unity, but also included plenty of shots at his opponents at home and abroad. 

“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people,” he said at the top of his speech. “This is really the key: these are the people we were elected to serve.”

Fact-checking Donald Trump’s State of the Union address

He also launched a prolonged attack on “depraved” North Korea, branded China and Russia rivals of the US that should be met with “unmatched power”, and said he had ordered that the Guantanamo Bay prison be kept open.

Trump also said he wanted the green card visa lottery system to be abolished as part of immigration reforms.

WATCH: Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address in full

10.32pm Eastern time (11.32am HK time): And that’s it for the SCMP’s live coverage of Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address. Look out for continuing coverage and analysis.

10.31pm Eastern time (11.31am HK time):  Trump wraps things up with another MAGA intonation. “Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery. And they forever remind us of what we should never forget: The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it is the people who are making America great again.”

10.28pm Eastern time (11.28am HK time):  And now chants of “USA! USA!” as Trump says “freedom stands tall over one more monument: this one. This Capitol. This living monument to the American people.”

10.27pm Eastern time (11.27am HK time): And another guest to underscore Trump’s attack on North Korea, Ji Seong-ho, who fled on crutches after eating dirt with his family and having his legs crushed by a train. He has a new prosthetic leg now, but he waves his old crutches as he is cheered by lawmakers.

10.24pm Eastern time (11.25am HK time): Trump continues his extended riff on North Korea, welcoming the family of US student Otto Warmbier, who died after being jailed by Pyongyang. 

10.20pm Eastern time (11.20am HK time): Trump seems to have saved the tough stuff for last … he now moves directly to “the cruel dictatorship” of “depraved” North Korea. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening.

Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”

10.16pm Eastern time (11.16am HK time): Some big news here … Trump says he has just ordered Defence Secretary Jim Mattis “to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.”

10.09pm Eastern time (11.09am HK time): The first explicit mention of China, which Trump lumps with Russia as rivals “that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defence.” He uses this as a way to press Congress to “end the dangerous defence sequester and fully fund our great military.”

And is North Korea perhaps on his mind here? “As part of our defence, we must modernise and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression.”

10.07pm Eastern time (11.07am HK time): Praise and applause for Ryan and Rebecca Holets, in the audience, who agreed to adopt an opioid addict’s unborn child. “You embody the goodness of our Nation. Thank you, and congratulations.”

10pm Eastern time (11am HK time): Some meat here, and likely controversy, on immigration reform, which Trump says should have four pillars: a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamer immigrants, the much-discussed southern border wall, an end to the green card visa lottery, and ending “chain migration”.

Boos as Trump claims “a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children. This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security, and our future.”

He then blames immigration woes for terrorist incidents: “In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration. In the age of terrorism, these programmes present risks we can no longer afford.”

9.56pm Eastern time (10.56am HK time): He botches a shout-out to an ICE agent, CJ Martinez, initially calling him “DJ” before correcting himself. “He goes by either” (which seems unlikely). 

9.53pm Eastern time (10.53am HK time): And now a shot at the recent efforts to help “Dreamer” immigrants who arrived undocumented as children. “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.”

9.50pm Eastern time (10.50am HK time): Trump starts with a soft sell on prison reform, then draw big groans when he segues into crime and illegal immigration and gang links to “unaccompanied alien minors”.

“For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.”

He introduces relatives of victims of gang crime. Lengthy applause, but muted by the context.

9.47pm Eastern time (10.47am HK time): A huge ask on infrastructure. “Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need.”

9.44pm Eastern time (10.44am HK time): He turns to the place of the US in the competitive global economy, declaring “the era of economic surrender is over”. 

Is he referring to China? Nafta, maybe? 

“From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal. We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones, but they’ll be good ones, and fair. And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.

9.38pm Eastern time (10.38am HK time): Trump loves coal. It’s beautiful and clean. “We have ended the war on American Energy – and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal. We are now, very proudly, an exporter of energy to the world.” And car companies are coming back to the US, he says, because “they wanna be where the action is”.

9.33pm Eastern time (10.33am HK time): Unity? Meh. He takes an obvious dig now at the NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem. “We salute our flag … put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance … proudly stand for the national anthem”.

9.30pm Eastern time (10.30am HK time): Here’s the much-touted call for unity, then a big nod to conservatives and traditionalists. He hails the flag, god and the police.

“All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family. We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag … In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the centre of the American life. Our motto is “in God we trust.”

Trump says the police and military “deserve our total and unwavering support.”

9.28pm Eastern time (10.28am HK time): “This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream.

So to every citizen watching at home tonight – no matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything.”

9.25pm Eastern time (10.25am HK time): Trump declares “the individual mandate is now GONE”, referring to the most contentious part of Obamacare, to wild applause from Republican lawmakers.

9.22pm Eastern time (10.22am HK time): Trump hails job gains and in particular black unemployment and Hispanic unemployment which he says are at “the lowest levels in history”. Small business confidence is at an all-time high, he says, and the stock market is going great guns. “We enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history” … and another long-standing ovation ensues.

9.18pm Eastern time (10.18am HK time):  There it is. “The state of our union is strong, because our people are strong.”

9.17pm Eastern time (10.17am HK time):   Shoutouts from Trump to Hurricane Harvey survivors and wildfire firefighters. And then he hails congressman Steve Scalise (not Scalia, as Trump mispronounces) who was shot in June as he practised with the congressional baseball team in Virginia.

9.12pm Eastern time (10.12am HK time):   Trump hails a “new tide of optimism … a righteous mission” to “Make America Great Again, and receives his first standing ovation, seconds into the speech.

9.10pm Eastern time (10.10am HK time):   The gavel falls, and Paul Ryan introduces Trump. 

9.06pm Eastern time (10.06am HK time):   And here he is. Trump makes his way down the aisle, glad-handing all the way.

9.03pm Eastern time (10.03am HK time):   The designated survivor has been revealed … no, not Kiefer Sutherland, it’s the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue who is watching on from a secret and secure location. He’ll become president in the event of some catastrophe at the Capitol (touch wood).

9pm Eastern time (10am HK time):   And here’s Melania Trump, in an ivory pantsuit.  

8.58pm Eastern time (9.58am HK time):  The justices of the Supreme Court take their seats

8.50pm Eastern time (9.50am HK time): Trump’s speech has arrived at the Capitol before the man himself; here it is at the podium awaiting his arrival.

8.45pm Eastern time (9.45am HK time): We’re live, and Donald Trump has emerged from the White House for the short drive to the Capitol building in Washington. He’s swapped his trademark red tie for electric blue. But where’s Melania? The First Lady is not travelling with Trump, having already gone to the Capitol ahead of her husband. Her presence became an issue after it was reported that she was “blindsided” by recent reports of a payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels, who reportedly had an affair with Trump.