Analysis: Focusing on border wall at the expense of other threats puts America in danger
A commander I served with on a base outside of Tikrit, Iraq, was fond of saying: “You can be so focused on the problem that you miss the threat.”
Trump’s overemphasis during his remarks tonight on the threat of illegal immigration at our southern border has so far come at the expense of almost every other major national security threat. His own intelligence chiefs didn’t rank illegal immigration as a top priority last week.
Overlooking more malevolent national security issues puts our country in greater danger.
Trump captured so well in this one speech the recklessness of his myopic approach to serving as our nation's commander in chief. Instead of consuming expert intelligence, he concentrates on extreme innuendo. Instead of prioritizing safety, he politicizes serious issues. Instead of sending our troops on a mission to protect America’s vital interests, he sends them on a self-interested mission to the border.
Brett Bruen is a former U.S. diplomat and former White House director of global engagement.
Wrapping up the State of the Union: The highlights
Thank you for joining us for our coverage of President Donald Trump's second State of the Union address. If you didn't follow the speech, here's what you missed:
- Trump took a swipe at "partisan investigations" in his speech, an apparent reference to special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, a frequent target. The president said the only things that can stop economic progress are "foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. ... If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation."
- Some of Trump's fiercest opponents cheered when he highlighted how more women are serving in Congress than ever before.
- The president didn't call for a national emergency to build the wall, but he called on Congress to reach an agreement on border security before the government runs out of money again in just over a week.
- Trump also went off-script and said he wants more legal immigrants than ever before — directly contradicting policy positions that his administration has pursued.
- "America will never be a socialist country," Trump said.
- There were a whole heck of a lot of fact checks.
- Trump's speech was the third-longest State of the Union in history.
- Everyone sang happy birthday to one of Trump's guests — an 81-year-old survivor of the Holocaust and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting last year.
- In her response, former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams hit Trump on immigration, the wall and gun violence, as well as on the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
- Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said she will be announcing her decision on running for president in 2020 this Sunday.
- Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she thought Trump seemed "unprepared." "I don't think that he did his homework," she said.
Trump says 'politics of revenge' must be rejected. But polls show his tone frequently misses the mark
"We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good," Trump said Tuesday evening.
While a message of comity may be appealing to many Americans, a majority of the public consistently gives poor marks to Trump for his tone and demeanor.
In a January NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 58 percent of Americans gave Trump poor marks for "having high personal and ethical standards." In the same poll, only 28 percent said that they were "extremely" or "quite" confident that Trump has the right set of personal characteristics to be president.
Long before he ran for president, Trump highlighted his tendency to hit back at his foes as “a way of life.”
“When someone attacks me, I always attack back ... except 100x more," he tweeted in November 2012. "This has nothing to do with a tirade but rather, a way of life!”
Fact check: Trump says he's added 5.3 million jobs
"We have created 5.3 million new jobs," Trump said during his State of the Union address.
Trump is taking credit for the job gains in the final months of his predecessor's administration, starting the clock on job gains from his election — not his inauguration.
Since Trump has been in office, total nonfarm employment has grown by nearly 4.9 million. The 5.3 million data point includes gains in between his election on Nov. 8, 2016 and his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.
Fact check: Trump says 'countless Americans' are murdered by 'criminal illegal aliens'
In his address, Trump claimed that "countless Americans" are murdered by "criminal illegal aliens."
There isn’t good data on homicides specifically in the United States, but there's no evidence that immigrants commit more crimes than American-born residents.
Previous empirical research shows that "immigrants do not increase local crime rates, are less likely to cause crime than their native-born peers, and are less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans," according to the Libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.
Trump has previously circulated a claim backed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that 63,000 Americans have been killed by undocumented immigrants since 9/11, but that number has since been debunked.
PolitiFact has extrapolated from existing data sources that the number of homicides committed by undocumented immigrants may be between 450-600 per year. But again, those are guesses, not based on national data sources.
Analysis: The contrast between Trump's speech and Abrams'
Trump was fast and furious with the facts in his speech. He spent a good chunk of his time discussing the sanctity of life. However, the Trump administration's disregard for children’s safety at the border demonstrates how his commitment to the most vulnerable is vacuous. In fact, the United Nations has declared the atrocity at the border to be a violation of children’s universal rights.
By contrast, Stacy Abrams laid out American values and the need for being fair and compassionate. She mentioned caged children. She asked for the president to speak truth, but most importantly, she reminded us of what makes our democracy thrive: the voting booth.
Voting — access to the voting booth — is one of the few issues that cuts through political stripes. Americans, regardless if they’re Republican or Democrats, believe in fair access to the vote.
Maria Teresa Kumar is the CEO of the civic media group Voto Latino.
Analysis: A ritual of state lacking in credibility
If you had just arrived from Mars and had no idea who is president, Trump's State of the Union would have sounded like an OK speech. While pedestrian in delivery, it expressed some unifying sentiments about D-Day, criminal justice reform, women's suffrage, cancer survivors, the need to reduce drug prices and protect patients with pre-existing conditions. Even his celebrating of drug dealers released from prison just before claiming that drug dealers are flooding the borders sounded fine. The problem is that we haven't just arrived from Mars, but have been living with Trump for two years — long enough to know his credibility is lacking, whether on his proposals or even his platitudes.
So what is the effect of a speech like this? Will he convince the American public that if he "had not been elected president of the United States, we would now be in a major war with North Korea"? Will he be able to use events in Venezuela to rally the American public against socialism? Will he convince even his own intelligence chiefs that the Iran nuclear deal is "disastrous"? Not likely. Last year, just one day after Trump's State of the Union, he attacked special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as a "disgrace, shameful." You can bet that the same thing will happen by the end of the week. We know this president, and we know he will not change. That makes this ritual of state all but meaningless.
Jonathan Alter is an author, presidential historian and columnist for The Daily Beast.
Ocasio-Cortez says Trump seemed 'unprepared' for address
Freshman Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on MSNBC following Trump's State of the Union address that she thought he seemed "unprepared" for the major speech.
"I don't think that he did his homework," she said. "There was no plan."
Ocasio-Cortez said the president did not outline any plan to deal with the opioid crisis, health care or increasing wages.
When asked about Trump tying her policy proposals to Venezuela, a socialist country, the New York lawmaker said Trump did so because "he feels himself losing on the issues."
"Every single policy proposal that we've adopted and presented to the American public has been overwhelmingly popular," she said, adding that some Republicans approve of what some Democrats are proposing, such as increased taxes on the ultra-wealthy.
Reaction to Trump and Abram run the gamut
On Trump's speech...
No mention of Puerto Rico.
Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan and frequent Trump critic, called the president out in a tweet for not mentioning the U.S. territory, which is still rebuilding after 2017's hurricane.
"Not one word, not one word about Puerto Rico," she said.
But, he got praise for highlighting veterans.
"Thank you @realdonaldtrump for recognizing the more than 52,000 veterans who have been severely wounded since 9/11 and the work your administration has done to help our great veterans," tweeted Sarah Verardo, the CEO of The Independence Fund, a nonprofit that helps veterans.
On Abrams' response...
"Stacey Abrams should run for president," tweeted former Obama adviser Dan Pfieffer after her speech.
Abrams also got 'props' for her pithiness.
Professor and author Daniel W. Drezner: "Props to Stacey Abrams: that was short, sharp speech that stuck the landing."
Fact check: Trump says border fencing made El Paso safer
"The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation's most dangerous cities," Trump claimed in his address, according to the advance transcript. “Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”
In fact, El Paso's crime rate had been dropping for years when construction on border fence began in 2008. However, the crime rate actually rose during construction and in the year after completion of a fence, according to an analysis of FBI crime data by The El Paso Times.
The city's sheriff, Richard Wiles, a Democrat, disputed Trump's characterization as "falsehoods" used to "justify the building of a 2,000 mile wall."
“The facts are clear. While it is true that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation, it has never been ... considered one of our nation's most dangerous cities," Wiles said in a statement provided to NBC News. "And, El Paso was a safe city long before any wall was built. President Trump continues to give a false narrative about a great city that truly represents what this great nation is all about."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar says she'll unveil 2020 decision on Sunday
Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar Tuesday night said she will announce whether she is running for president in 2020 during an event this coming Sunday.
In an interview with MSNBC after President Trump delivered the State of the Union address, Klobuchar invited supporters to Minneapolis to hear her decision.
"Sunday, come to Boom Island in Minneapolis" and "you'll find out my decision," Klobuchar said.
"Here you go, that's the moment."
Klobuchar answered the question after being pressed by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, who pointed to a recent Politico report that she's traveling to Iowa later this month and to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune report that a former aide had filed a permit for a large event at Boom Island Park in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota senator would be the first major candidate in the race from the midwest. She'd also be the fourth woman in the Senate to seek the Democratic nomination, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren expected to formally announce her bid on Saturday.
Fact check: Trump says U.S. has 'more women in the workforce than ever before'
It's true that there is a greater number of women in the workforce than ever before, but that's the continuation of a long-term trend.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated in January that there were about 74.9 million women in the workforce. But that number has long been trending upward, and the overall growth of the U.S. population means that the raw number of women in the workforce has increased nearly every year since at least the early 1980s — except for in years during which the country experienced a recession.
Perhaps another metric to measure women’s participation in the workforce would be the women’s unemployment rate. The unemployment rate for women over 16 stood at 3.9 percent in January. That was up slightly from a low of 3.6 percent in May and September of last year. But, as with unemployment overall, women’s unemployment has been falling since the end of the recession.