CSAC Bulletin Article

State of the Union Address: What It Means for California

February 1, 2018

President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress this past Tuesday, striking a conciliatory tone throughout much of the nearly 80-minute speech and signaling his willingness to work with members of both parties in the interest of advancing an agenda that protects American citizens of every background.

As expected, President Trump used the occasion to tout, among other things, enactment of the recent tax reform bill and repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate as key legislative achievements during his first year in office.  Likewise, the president highlighted his administration’s ongoing regulatory reform efforts, as well as his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, as the fulfillment of two major campaign promises.

While much of Tuesday’s address provided a look back at 2017, the president also laid out his vision for 2018 and beyond.  In the near term, he urged Congress to take action on an immigration reform package.  According to the president, such legislation should include the following “four pillars”: establishment of a pathway to citizenship for individuals brought to the country illegally as children; construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border; ending the U.S. visa lottery system; and, limiting family immigration sponsorships to spouses and minor children.

The president also urged both parties to come together on legislation that would rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.  Specifically, Mr. Trump called on Congress to produce a bill that would generate at least $1.5 trillion in spending (a notable $500 billion increase over the president’s previous call for a $1 trillion public works package).  It should be noted that the White House is expected to deliver to lawmakers a detailed infrastructure proposal within the next week or two.

Providing his party’s response to the president’s address was Democratic Representative Joe Kennedy (MA).  Kennedy, a third-term House member and the grandson of former attorney general and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, sought to draw a sharp contrast between the Trump administration’s agenda and the vision of the Democratic Party.  During his remarks, Kennedy was blunt in his assessment of the White House’s policies on the environment, civil rights, and other issues, weaving populist themes throughout a speech in which he emphasized the need to ensure that all individuals have the right to pursue the American dream.

In other developments, House and Senate Republicans headed to West Virginia on Wednesday for their annual policy retreat.  Members are expected to discuss a bevy of topics during their three-day hiatus, including many of the issues raised by the president during his State of the Union address.  While immigration reform was conspicuously absent from Republican leaders’ official pre-retreat agenda, the issue will undoubtedly remain a focal point for the party, particularly in light of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) promise to hold a vote on a bill that would provide legal protection for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

For their part, House Democrats are slated to hold their own retreat in Cambridge, MD February 7-9.  Given that the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on February 8, there is talk that the event may have to be rescheduled – or canceled – if lawmakers fail to reach a bipartisan deal to keep the government open.

As of this writing, it appears as though Republicans will try to push yet another stopgap spending bill through Congress in order to provide appropriators with additional time to hammer out a long-term spending deal.  As was the case last month, efforts to advance a new CR may be complicated by other issues, including the same disputes over immigration that led to the previous three-day government shutdown. 

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