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FACT CHECK: Trump delivers State of the Union to tense, partisan Congress

The speech was punctuated by made-for-TV moments.

  • NPR
President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.

 Susan Walsh / AP Photo

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.

(Washington) — President Trump delivered his third State of the Union address Tuesday night, the day before his Senate impeachment trial is scheduled to wrap.

It was a highly partisan event. Trump touted his own accomplishments on issues like the economy and paid family leave, lowering the cost of health care, immigration and national security. It was punctuated by made-for-TV moments, including a surprise appearance by a soldier as his family was recognized for their sacrifice. Republicans present gave Trump repeated, resounding applause. Democrats, meanwhile, weren’t having any of it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even ripped up a copy of Trump’s speech at the end of his remarks.

NPR reporters from across the newsroom added analysis and fact-checking live, below.

We annotated the Democratic response here.

Madame Speaker, the President of the United States! [Applause]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and dozens of House Democratic women wore white to Tuesday’s State of the Union address because they said they wanted to show solidarity with the women’s equality movement.

The coordinated effort also highlighted a dynamic in the House that Pelosi regularly likes to tout — a record number of women were elected to Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. Many freshmen female Democrats also donned white outfits when they were sworn in on Jan. 3, 2019. Pelosi is also the first female speaker of the House and the first person in more than 60 years to reclaim the speaker’s gavel after an earlier term.

Pelosi tweeted a picture of a large group before the president’s speech, noting, “we #WearWhite to show support for the ongoing fight to achieve equality for women across the country.”

Members of Congress, the President of the United States! [Applause]

(chants of four more years!)

Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, the First Lady of the United States [applause], and my fellow citizens, three years ago, we launched the great American comeback. Tonight I stand before you to share the incredible results. Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging, and our country is thriving and highly respected again. [Applause]

In the 38 months since the 2016 election, the U.S. economy has added 7.3 million jobs — an impressive feat, but certainly not unprecedented. In the 38 months before the 2016 election, the U.S. economy added 8.4 million jobs. The job market has performed better than many forecasters had expected at a time when unemployment is already very low. However, the pace of job growth has slowed. Employers added an average of 176,000 jobs a month in 2019, compared with an average of 233,000 the year before.

America’s enemies are on the run. America’s fortunes are on the rise. And America’s future is blazing bright. The years of economic decay are over. [Applause].

The days of our country being used, taken advantage of, and even scorned by other nations are long behind us. Gone, too, are the broken promises, jobless recoveries, tired platitudes and constant excuses for the depletion of American wealth, power and prestige.

In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline, and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We have totally rejected the downsizing.

We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never, ever going back. [Applause].

The U.S. economy grew 2.3% last year, matching the average annual rate over the last 10 years but well short of the 3% growth target set by President Trump and his advisers. Growth briefly accelerated to 2.9% in 2018 after passage of the GOP tax cut, but that now appears to have been a short-lived “sugar high.” Although backers of the tax cut said it would encourage more business investment, leading to a decade of 3% annual growth, business investment actually slumped for most of last year. That was partly a result of slumping global demand as well as uncertainty stemming from the president’s trade war.

I am thrilled to report to you tonight that our economy is the best it has ever been. Our military is completely rebuilt, with its power being unmatched anywhere in the world, and it’s not even close. Our borders are secure. Our families are flourishing. Our values are renewed. Our pride is restored. And for all of these reasons, I say to the people of our great country and to the members of Congress, the state of our union is stronger than ever before. [Applause].

The White House said the theme of the speech is “the great American comeback” — a theme Trump used in his address to global business leaders last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he declared that “America is thriving, America is flourishing and, yes, America is winning again like never before.”

The vision I will lay out this evening demonstrates how we are building the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society, one where every citizen can join in America’s unparalleled success, and where every community can take part in America’s extraordinary rise. From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the U.S. economy, slashing a record number of job killing regulations, enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts and fighting for fair and reciprocal trade agreements. [Applause].

Since the Great Recession, the economy has been growing at a steady, moderate pace, rising at an annual rate of between 1.6% and 2.9%. In 2018, after President Trump signed into law the tax cuts passed by Congress, the growth rate rose to 2.9%. That is pretty good, but not great — it matched the growth rate in 2016. But growth soon subsided and last year fell back to 2.3%. Trump has blamed the decline in the growth rate on the Federal Reserve, which raised interest rates eight times between Trump’s election and last December. It has since lowered rates three times.

Our agenda is relentlessly pro-worker, pro-family, pro-growth, and most of all, pro-American. [Applause].

We are advancing with unbridled optimism and lifting our citizens of every race, color, religion and creed very, very high. Since my election, we have created 7 million new jobs, 5 million more than government experts projected during the previous administration. [Applause].

The unemployment rate is the lowest in over half a century. And very incredibly, the average unemployment rate under my administration is lower than any administration in the history of our country. [Applause].

The unemployment rate in December was 3.5%, matching the lowest rate in 50 years. The jobless rate has fallen by 1.2 percentage points since President Trump took office. Unemployment spiked as high as 10% during the Great Recession and declined to 4.7% by January 2017.

If we hadn’t reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration, the world would not now be witnessing this great economic success. [Applause].

The unemployment rate for African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans has reached the lowest levels in history. [Applause].

Trump often talks about record-low unemployment for blacks, but those numbers have not translated into strong political support for him from African Americans. Only 8% of African Americans voted for Trump in 2016. A recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that 8 in 10 black Americans say they believe Trump is a racist and 9 in 10 disapprove of his job performance.

African-American youth unemployment has reached an all-time low. [Applause]

African-American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded. [Applause]

The unemployment rate for women reached the lowest level in almost 70 years, and last year women filled 72 percent of all new jobs added. [Applause].

The veterans’ unemployment rate dropped to a record low. [Applause]

The unemployment rate for disabled Americans has reached an all-time low. [Applause].

Workers without a high school diploma have achieved the lowest unemployment rate recorded in U.S. history. [Applause].

A record number of young Americans are now employed. [Applause].

Under the last administration, more than 10 million people were added to the food stamp rolls.

Under my administration, 7 million Americans have come off food stamps and 10 million people have been lifted off of welfare. [Cheers and applause].

As of October 2019, 36.3 million Americans were on food stamps (formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). That’s down from a peak of 47.6 million in 2013 and from about 44 million the year before President Trump took office. The number of people on food stamps grew sharply during the recession and has slowly declined since then. That’s partly thanks to an improving economy. The Trump administration has also encouraged states to add work requirements, making it more difficult for able-bodied adults to qualify for food stamps.

In eight years under the last administration, over 300,000 working age people dropped out of the workforce. In just three years of my administration, 3.5 million people, working age people, have joined the workforce. [Applause].

Trump here is mixing apples and oranges, comparing the labor force participation rate under President Barack Obama with the number of jobs created under his own administration. But they are different numbers. It’s true the participation rate fell from 65.7% to 62.9% during Obama’s two terms in office, partly because the population was aging. It has since rebounded this year to 63.2%. But the economy also added 11.6 million jobs during Obama’s two terms, and job creation has increased at a slightly slower rate under Trump.

The strong job market has drawn millions of people who had been on the sidelines into the workforce. That has helped sustain the economic boom, but it has also kept a lid on wage increases. The share of people over age 16 who are in the workforce has increased from a low of 62.4% in 2014 to 63.2% today. That’s still below the participation rate during the boom years of the late 1990s, however, and below the rate in many other developed countries.

Part of the story is demographic, because an aging population includes more retirees. Among people in their prime working years, ages 25 to 54, more than 80% are now employed. That rate fell sharply during the Great Recession, bottoming out around 75%. It has been steadily increasing since 2012.

Since my election, the net worth of the bottom half of wage earners has increased by 47 percent, three times faster than the increase for the top 1 percent. [Applause].

After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast, and wonderfully, they are rising fastest for low income workers, who have seen a 16 percent pay increase since my election. [Applause].

Average wages have been rising faster than inflation, boosting workers’ real purchasing power. However, wage gains have moderated in recent months. In the 12 months ending in December, average wages rose 2.9%, compared with 3.4% earlier in the year. The deceleration in wage gains is surprising given the very low unemployment rate. One encouraging sign is that wages for people at the bottom of the income ladder have been rising faster than wages for those at the top. Although the federal minimum wage hasn’t increased in a decade, many states have raised their own minimums, which is one factor driving bigger paychecks for low-wage workers.

This is a blue-collar boom. [Cheers and applause].

Real median household income is now at the highest level ever recorded. [Applause]. Since my election, U.S. stock markets have soared 70 percent, adding more than $12 trillion to our nation’s wealth, transcending anything anyone believed was possible. This is a record. It is something that every country in the world is looking up to, they admire. [Applause].

It’s in the nature of the stock market to climb over time, which is why people invest in it (although there have also been long periods when it remained flat or even fell). The stock market fell sharply during the Great Recession of December 2007 to June 2009, and began to climb steadily after that. By 2013, it was again hitting records and has been doing so repeatedly ever since. In 2018, stocks finished lower but they rebounded impressively the following year.

The stock market has enjoyed big gains since the 2016 election. The S&P 500 index has risen 54%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has climbed 57%. According to a 2019 Gallup survey, 55% of Americans own stock, either directly or through mutual funds and retirement accounts. However, stock ownership is highly concentrated at the top of the income ladder. According to a 2017 study by New York University economist Edward N. Wolff, 84% of stock market wealth is held by the top 10% of earners, while the bottom 80% of earners own less than 7%.

Consumer confidence has just reached amazing new highs. All of those millions of people with 401(K)s and pensions are doing far better than they have ever done before with increases of 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100 percent and even more. Jobs and investments are pouring into 9,000 previously neglected neighborhoods, thanks to opportunity zones, a plan spearheaded by Senator Tim Scott as part of our great Republican tax cuts. [Cheers and applause].

President Trump promotes “opportunity zones” as a part of his outreach to African American and Hispanic communities. This provision was passed as part of the 2017 tax cuts package. It allows investors to lower their capital gains taxes in exchange for investing in designated low-income neighborhoods. But critics have raised concerns that the incentives could lead to poor people being displaced from their neighborhoods by higher costs associated with new development. There’s also worry about how the government measures the impact of the zones, because the reporting requirements for investors are limited.

In other words, wealthy people and companies are pouring money into poor neighborhoods or areas that haven’t seen investment in many decades, creating jobs, energy and excitement. [Applause].

This is the first time that these deserving communities have seen anything like this. It’s all working. Opportunity zones are helping Americans like Army veteran Tony Rankins from Cincinnati, Ohio. After struggling with drug addiction, Tony lost his job, his house and his family. He was homeless, but then Tony found a construction company that invests in opportunity zones. He is now a top tradesman, drug-free, reunited with his family, and he is here tonight. Tony, keep up the great work, Tony. [Applause].

Our roaring economy has for the first time ever given many former prisoners the ability to get a great job and a fresh start. This second chance at life is made possible because we passed landmark criminal justice reform into law. Everybody said that criminal justice reform couldn’t be done, but I got it done, and the people in this room got it done.

President Trump signed the First Step Act in late 2018. The law, which had bipartisan support, reduced sentences for some federal drug offenses and provided incentives for prisoners to participate in training programs. According to the Justice Department, as of Jan. 15, more than 5,500 prisoners have been released in connection with the programs outlined in the legislation.

Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world, by far. [Applause].

The Trump administration has rolled back dozens of regulations, with the aim of boosting fossil fuel production. But the U.S energy boom started more than a decade ago, driven by market forces and advanced technology such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. became the world’s leading producer of natural gas in 2009. More recently it surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia in crude oil production. That was helped in part after President Obama signed a bill to lift a 40-year ban on most oil exports.

One thing President Trump has not been able to turn around, despite repeated promises and even public pressure, is the declining coal market. U.S. coal consumption has fallen to its lowest point in four decades as it faces competition from cheaper wind and solar power.

With the tremendous progress we have made over the past three years, America is now energy independent and energy jobs, like so many other elements of our country, are at a record high.

It’s not really possible for any country to be “energy independent” since all oil and gas produced is part of the global market. But the decade-old energy boom has certainly made the U.S. less dependent on importing resources from foreign countries. In fact, this year the United States is expected to export more energy overall than it imports. The number of energy jobs has been on the rise. The federal government projects some of the fastest growth will be in solar and wind, though they are still a small share of the energy field overall.

We are doing numbers that no one would have thought possible just three years ago. Likewise we are restoring our nation’s manufacturing might, even though predictions were, as you all know, that this could never, ever be done. After losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, America has now gained 12,000 new factories under my administration, with thousands upon thousands of plants and factories being planned or being built. [Applause].

The U.S. has added 487,000 manufacturing jobs since President Trump took office. But after a strong year in 2018, factories were in a slump for much of last year, partly as a result of the president’s trade war, which disrupted supply chains and raised costs. In 2019, the nation added only 29,000 factory jobs. Manufacturing plays a smaller role in the U.S. economy than it used to, employing just 8.4% of the total workforce. But manufacturing is a major employer in a number of key swing states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

Companies are not leaving, they are coming back to the USA. [Applause].

The fact is that everybody wants to be where the action is, and the United States of America is indeed the place where the action is. [Applause].

One of the biggest promises I made to the American people was to replace the disastrous NAFTA trade deal. In fact, unfair trade is perhaps the single biggest reason that I decided to run for president. Following NAFTA’s adoption, our nation lost one in four manufacturing jobs. Many politicians came and went, pledging to change or replace NAFTA, only to do so and then absolutely nothing happened. But unlike so many who came before me, I keep my promises. We did our job. [Applause].

Six days ago I replaced NAFTA and signed a brand new U.S. Mexico Canada agreement into law. The USMCA will create nearly 100,000 new high-paying American auto jobs and massively boost exports for our farmers, ranchers and factory workers.

The president’s new trade deal with Mexico and Canada passed the House and Senate with remarkably broad bipartisan support. The agreement updates NAFTA, covering things such as digital commerce, which barely existed when the original deal was signed a quarter-century ago. But despite the president’s claims, USMCA is mostly a cosmetic refreshing of NAFTA, not a wholesale replacement. 

The biggest changes affect automakers. They’ll have to include more North American parts in order to sell cars and trucks duty free. And a new minimum wage requirement could shift some auto production from Mexico to the United States. The agreement also includes stronger labor and environmental protections, which House Democrats insisted on. USMCA also offers U.S. dairy farmers slightly more access to the Canadian market. On the whole, the USMCA’s economic effects are expected to be modest. The main benefit of the deal is that it avoids the disruption that would have come had Trump made good on his threat to scrap NAFTA with no replacement.

It will also bring trade with Mexico and Canada to a much higher level, but also to be a much greater degree of fairness and reciprocity. We will have that: fairness and reciprocity. And I say that finally, because it’s been many, many years that we were treated fairly on trade. [Applause].

This is the first major trade deal in many years to earn the strong backing of America’s labor unions. [Applause].

Support for USMCA among labor unions was mixed. While the AFL-CIO backed the agreement, others did not. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the United Auto Workers all expressed disappointment over the deal.

I also promised our citizens that I would impose tariffs to confront China’s massive theft of America’s jobs. Our strategy has worked. Days ago we signed the groundbreaking new agreement with China that will defend our workers, protect our intellectual property, brings billions and billions of dollars into our Treasury, and open vast new markets for products made and grown right here in the USA. [Applause].

President Trump’s “Phase One” trade deal with China amounts to a partial cease-fire — not a permanent armistice — in the U.S. trade war with Beijing. The Phase One deal relaxes some tariffs on Chinese imports and lifts others. But hundreds of billions of dollars in goods the U.S. buys from China are still subject to steep import taxes, averaging 19.3%. In exchange for the limited tariff relief, China has promised to substantially increase its purchase of U.S. goods and services, while also offering stronger protections for American companies’ intellectual property. The deal does not address some of the major structural complaints about China, including its government subsidies for state-owned businesses. But it does offer somewhat more certainty about U.S. trade policy toward China in the coming year.

For decades, China has taken advantage of the United States. Now we have changed that. But at the same time, we have perhaps the best relationship we’ve ever had with China, including with President Xi. They respect what we’ve done because, quite frankly, they could never really believe that they were able to get away with what they were doing year after year, decade after decade, without someone in our country stepping up and saying, “that’s enough.” [Applause].

Now we want to rebuild our country, and that’s exactly what we are doing. We are rebuilding our country. As we restore American leadership throughout the world, we are once again standing up for freedom in our hemisphere. [Applause].

That’s why my administration reversed the failing policies of the previous administration on Cuba. [Applause].

We are supporting the hopes of Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans. To restore Democracy, the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. [Applause].

Maduro is an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalizes his people, but Maduro’s grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken. Here this evening is a very brave man who carries with him the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all Venezuelans. Joining us in the gallery is the true and legitimate president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. Mr. President, please take this message back to your people. [Cheers and applause]

Juan Guaidó’s attendance at the State of the Union address comes after a rare trip outside Venezuela in which he visited world leaders in Europe and Canada, part of an effort to revive momentum in his U.S.-supported effort to unseat Venezuela’s authoritarian government. Nicolás Maduro remains in power more than a year after Guaidó, the Venezuelan National Assembly leader, declared himself the legitimate president.

Thank you, Mr. President. Great honor. Thank you very much.

Please take this message back that all Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom. Thank you very much, Mr. President. [Applause].

President Trump stoked a rare bipartisan standing ovation when he called out Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Support for Guaidó and his efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela is one of the few administration policy priorities that has received bipartisan support.

Thank you very much.

Socialism destroys nations, but always remember, freedom unifies the soul. To safeguard American liberty, we have invested a record-breaking $2.2 trillion in the United States military. [Applause]

After declining during President Obama’s second term, the military budget has been going up each year under Trump. It’s about $738 billion this year. The U.S. military budget is far larger than that of any other country and is roughly the same as those of the next seven countries combined: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Great Britain and Germany.

We have purchased the finest planes, missiles, rockets, ships, and every other form of military equipment, and it’s all made right here in the USA. [Applause]

We are also getting our allies, finally, to help pay their fair share. [Applause].

I have raised contributions from other NATO members by more than $400 billion and the number of allies meeting their minimum obligations has more than doubled. And just weeks ago, for the first time since President Truman established the Air Force, more than 70 years earlier, we created a brand new branch of the armed forces, it’s called the Space Force. Very important. [Applause].

The Space Force, which officially came into existence on Dec. 20, is eventually expected to be 16,000 strong, and most of its members are expected to come from the Air Force. It’s expected to operate under the umbrella of the Air Force, the way the Marines are part of the Navy.

In the gallery tonight we have a young gentleman, and what he wants so badly, 13 years old, Iain Lanphier, he’s an eighth grader from Arizona. Iain, please stand up. Iain has always dreamed of going to space. He was the first in his class and among the youngest at an aviation academy. He aspires to go to the Air Force Academy and then he has his eye on the Space Force. As Iain says, most people look up at space, I want to look down on the world. [Applause].

But sitting behind Iain tonight is his greatest hero of them all, Charles McGee, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, one century ago. Charles is one of the last surviving Tuskegee airmen, the first black fighter pilots, and he also happens to be Iain’s great-grandfather. [Cheers and applause].

Incredible story.

After more than 130 combat missions in World War II, he came back home to a country still struggling for civil rights and went on to serve America in Korea and Vietnam. On December 7th, Charles celebrated his 100th birthday. [Applause].

A few weeks ago, I signed a bill promoting Charles McGee to brigadier general, and earlier today I pinned the stars on his shoulders in the Oval Office. General McGee, our nation salutes you. Thank you, sir. [Cheers and applause].

From the pilgrims to the founders, from the soldiers at Valley Forge to the marchers at Selma, and from President Lincoln to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Americans have always rejected limits on our children’s future. Members of Congress, we must never forget that the only victories that matter in Washington are victories that deliver for the American people. [Applause].

The people are the heart of our country. Their dreams are the soul of our country. And their love is what powers and sustains our country. We must always remember that our job is to put America first. [Applause].

The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American dream. Yet for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools. To rescue these students, 18 states have created school choice in the form of opportunity scholarships. The programs are so popular that tens of thousands of students remain on a waiting list. One of those students is Janiyah Davis, a fourth grader from Philadelphia. Janiyah? Janiyah’s mom, Stephanie, is a single parent. She would do anything to give her daughter a better future, but last year that future was put further out of reach when Pennsylvania’s governor vetoed legislation to expand school choice to 50,000 children. Janiyah and Stephanie are in the gallery. Stephanie, thank you so much for being here with your beautiful daughter. Thank you very much. [Applause]

But Janiyah I have some good news for you, because I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over. I can proudly announce tonight that an opportunity scholarship has become available. It’s going to you. And you will soon be heading to the school of your choice. [Cheers and applause].

Now I call on Congress to give 1 million American children the same opportunity Janiyah has just received. Pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunities Act because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school. [Applause].

President Trump urged Congress to pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, a bill introduced by Alabama GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne. The bill creates tax credits to encourage individuals to contribute to scholarships to elementary and secondary schools.

But while the bill has over 100 Republican co-sponsors, it lacks any Democratic co-sponsors. Most House Democrats argue that federal education policy should help provide more resources to public school programs rather than scholarships focused on private schools. Without bipartisan support, the bill is unlikely to move through the House Education and Labor Committee, let alone get a vote by the full House.

Every young person should have a safe and secure environment in which to learn and to grow. For this reason, our magnificent First Lady has launched the Be Best initiative to advance a safe, healthy, supportive and drug-free life for the next generation, online, in school and in our communities. Thank you, Melania, for your extraordinary love and profound care for America’s children. Thank you very much. [Applause].

My administration is determined to give our citizens the opportunities they need, regardless of age or background. Through our pledge to American workers, over 400 companies will also provide new jobs and education opportunities to almost 15 million Americans. My budget also contains an exciting vision for our nation’s high schools. Tonight, I ask Congress to support our students and back my plan to offer vocational and technical education in every single high school in America. [Applause].

To expand equal opportunity, I am also proud that we achieved record and permanent funding for our nation’s historically black colleges and universities. [Applause].

Again and again in this address, Trump has touched on policies directly aimed at appealing to black Americans, including his support for historically black colleges and school vouchers. The Trump campaign has launched Black Voices for Trump, an initiative to get more votes for Trump from African Americans. Experts say they don’t think Trump’s support is likely to go much higher than the 8% he got in 2016, but a small increase in key swing states could make a difference.

A good life for American families also requires the most affordable, innovative and high-quality health care system on earth. Before I took office, health insurance premiums had more than doubled in just five years. I moved quickly to provide affordable alternatives. Our new plans are up to 60 percent less expensive, and better. [Applause].

The cheaper plans Trump refers to are association health plans and short-term health plans that don’t have to offer the 10 essential benefits required in insurance plans by the Affordable Care Act. These “skinny” plans often do have low premiums but can cost people in other ways: For instance, you might pay only $70 a month in premiums but have a deductible that’s $12,500, so if you get really sick or get into an accident, you could be in serious financial straits.

I’ve also made an ironclad pledge to American families, we will always protect patients with preexisting conditions. [Applause].

Ensuring that people who have preexisting conditions can access health insurance is an extremely popular provision of the Affordable Care Act. Since the Trump administration is arguing in federal court that the ACA should be struck down as unconstitutional, Trump has taken pains recently to reassure people that this particular part of the law would be preserved. But he has not offered details on how he would protect that measure. His administration has not come out with a health plan that would replace the ACA if it were struck down.

And we will always protect your Medicare, and we will always protect your Social Security, always. [Applause].

The American patient should never be blindsided by medical bills. That is why I signed an executive order requiring price transparency. [Applause].

Many experts believe that transparency, which will go into full effect at the beginning of next year, will be even bigger than health care reform. [Applause].

It’s not clear where this timeline comes from — the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a rule for hospitals and a similar rule for insurers that would require them to reveal their negotiated prices to consumers in an accessible way. But hospitals have already sued to block the first rule, and the rule for insurers has not been finalized. That means no secret prices have yet been revealed to help patients shop around. New practices can take effect only after these legal hurdles have been resolved.

It will save families massive amounts of money for substantially better care, but as we work to improve Americans’ health care, there are those who want to take away your healthcare, take away your doctor, and abolish private insurance entirely.

132 lawmakers in this room have endorsed legislation to impose a socialist takeover of our healthcare system, wiping out the private health insurance plans of 180 million very happy Americans. To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know, we will never let socialism destroy American healthcare. [Cheers and applause].

“Socialism” is a favorite line of attack against Medicare for All by President Trump. But the plan supported by Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren is not actually a socialized medical system in which the government runs everything, owns hospitals and employs doctors. Instead, it envisions a universal health insurance program run by the government, one with privately employed doctors and privately run hospitals continuing to provide care. “Socialism” has been a critique lobbed at national health insurance proposals since the 1940s — see this 1945 letter to Congress from President Harry Truman, which is similar to the present-day debate.

Over 130 legislators in this chamber have endorsed legislation that would bankrupt our nation by providing free taxpayer-funded health care to millions of illegal aliens, forcing taxpayers to subsidize free care for anyone in the world who unlawfully crosses our borders. These proposals would raid the Medicare benefits of our seniors and that our seniors depend on, while acting as a powerful lure for illegal immigration. That is what is happening in California and other states. Their systems are totally out of control, costing taxpayers vast and unaffordable amounts of money. If forcing American taxpayers to provide free unlimited health care to illegal aliens sounds fair to you, then stand with the radical left, but if you believe we should defend American patients and American seniors, then stand with me and pass legislation to prohibit free government health care for illegal aliens. [Applause].

No health care is free — it costs the system one way or another. Many undocumented people are uninsured, but they still have health needs — so they often delay care and utilize emergency rooms. President Trump seems to be using this issue to take a swipe at his Democratic presidential rivals, many of whom raised their hands last June in support of health insurance access for undocumented people.

This will be a tremendous boon to our already very strongly guarded southern border, where as we speak a long, tall and very powerful wall is being built. [Applause]. We have now completed over 100 miles and have over 500 miles fully completed in a very short period of time. Early next year we will have substantially more than 500 miles completed.

The president and top administration officials talk frequently about how many miles of border wall they’re on track to build. The exact number fluctuates — sometimes it’s 400 to 450, sometimes 500 or more. These are all ambitious goals that will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. For example, most of the land that’s needed to build the wall in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas is still in private hands, and the process of acquiring it for the government will likely take months or years.

My administration is also taking on the big pharmaceutical companies. We have approved a record number of affordable generic drugs, and medicines are being approved by the FDA at a faster clip than ever before. [Applause].

The Trump administration’s Food and Drug Administration has been approving lots of new and generic drugs. However, many newly approved generics have not come to market, meaning they can’t drive prices down.

And I was pleased to announce last year that, for the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down. [Applause]. And working together, Congress can reduce drug prices substantially from current levels. I’ve been speaking to Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and others in Congress in order to get something on drug pricing done, and done quickly and properly. I’m calling for bipartisan legislation that achieves the goal of dramatically lowering prescription drug prices. Get a bill on my desk and I will sign it into law immediately. [Applause].

President Trump talks a lot about how drug prices have declined during his presidency, citing the consumer price index. Many fact-checkers have pointed out that it is an imperfect measure and that drug spending overall has continued to climb.

Voters care a lot about America’s high prescription drug costs, but Congress seems to have reached a standstill on passing legislation to help bring them down. The bipartisan effort on the Senate side that Trump mentions here has not won over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Until it does, its prospects for passage this year are not great. During this part of the speech, Democrats chanted “HR 3,” the sweeping bill on drug prices that passed the House in December but is very unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats are already making prescription drugs a political focus in the 2020 congressional elections. Ahead of the State of the Union address, the House Democrats’ campaign arm released online ads targeting vulnerable House GOP members who opposed HR 3. House Republicans argued that the bill crafted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi amounted to price fixing and have introduced their own version.

With unyielding commitment, we are curbing the opioid epidemic. Drug overdose deaths declined for the first time in nearly 30 years. [Applause].

It’s true that drug deaths (including from other drugs, not just opioids) were down in 2018, but it’s too early to know if that’s a blip or a real turnaround.

Among the states hardest hit, Ohio is down 22 percent, Pennsylvania is down 18 percent, Wisconsin is down 10 percent, and we will not quit until we have beaten the opioid epidemic once and for all. [Applause].

Protecting Americans’ health also means fighting infectious diseases. We are coordinating with the Chinese government and working closely together on the coronavirus outbreak in China. My administration will take all necessary steps to safeguard our citizens from this threat.

The administration announced a plan on Friday to temporarily ban entry into the U.S. for anyone traveling from China who is not a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or immediate family member. Also, any Americans returning from China’s Hubei province — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak — will be quarantined for 14 days. The World Health Organization, however, has warned against travel bans, in part because some public health experts have expressed concerns that they can backfire by preventing sick people from seeking help.

We have launched ambitious new initiatives to substantially improve care for Americans with kidney disease, Alzheimer’s and those struggling with mental health, and because Congress was so good as to fund my request, new cures for childhood cancer, and we will eradicate the AIDS epidemic in America by the end of this decade. [Applause].

Congress just fully funded the first year of the president’s plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 — it allocated about $291 million. Not a whole lot has happened related to that plan yet, since the funding came through only a few weeks ago. Public health experts say that the plan to end the HIV epidemic is well crafted and promising but that other actions taken by the administration — including proposing changes to Medicaid that could lead to cuts and removing a variety of LGBTQ discrimination protections — could end up undermining those efforts.

Almost every American family knows the pain when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness. Here tonight is a special man, beloved by millions of Americans, who just received a stage 4 advanced cancer diagnosis. This is not good news, but what is good news is that he is the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet. Rush Limbaugh, thank you for your decades of tireless devotion to our country. [Applause].

And Rush, in recognition of all that you have done for our nation, the millions of people a day that you speak to and that you inspire, and all of the incredible work that you have done for charity, I am proud to announce tonight that you will be receiving our country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. [Applause].

I will now ask the First Lady of the United States to present you with the honor. Please. [Applause].

In an unusual step, Trump awarded conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, during his address. An emotional Limbaugh stood and rubbed his eyes as first lady Melania Trump fixed the medal around his neck. Limbaugh this week announced that he has been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

Rush and Kathryn, congratulations. Thank you, Kathryn.

As we pray for all who are sick, we know that America is constantly achieving new medical breakthroughs. In 2017, doctors at St. Luke’s hospital in Kansas City delivered one of the earliest premature babies ever to survive. Born at just 21 weeks and six days and weighing less than a pound, Ellie Schneider was a born fighter. Through the skill of her doctors and the prayers of her parents, little Ellie kept on winning the battle of life. Today Ellie is a strong, healthy two-year-old girl, sitting with her amazing mother Robin in the gallery. Ellie and Robin, we are glad to have you with us tonight. [Applause].

Ellie reminds us that every child is a miracle of life, and thanks to modern medical wonders, 50 percent of very premature babies delivered at the hospital where Ellie was born now survive. Just an incredible thing. Thank you very much.

Both abortion-rights advocates and opponents agree that Trump has done more than any president in history to restrict access to abortion. He was recently the first sitting president to address the March for Life, an annual event organized in response to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Our goal should be to ensure that every baby has the best chance to thrive and grow just like Ellie. That is why I’m asking Congress to provide an additional $50 million to fund neonatal research for America’s youngest patients. [Applause].

That is why I’m also calling upon members of Congress here tonight to pass legislation finally banning the late-term abortion of babies. [Applause].

Whether we are Republican, Democrat or independent, surely we must all agree that every human life is a sacred gift from God. As we support America’s moms and dads, I was recently proud to sign the law providing new parents in the federal workforce paid family leave, serving as a model for the rest of the country. [Applause].

Now I call on Congress to pass the bipartisan Advancing Support for Working Families Act, extending family leave to mothers and fathers all across our nation. [Applause].

40 million American families have an average $2,200 extra thanks to our child tax credit. [Applause].

I’ve also overseen historic funding increases for high-quality child care, enabling 17 states to help more children, many of which have reduced or eliminated their waitlists altogether. And I sent Congress a plan with a vision to further expand access to high-quality child care and urge you to act immediately. [Applause].

To protect the environment, days ago I announced that the United States will join the 1 trillion trees initiative, an ambitious effort to bring together government and private sector to plant new trees in America and all around the world. [Applause].

Trump’s recent support for planting trees comes as polls show even many Republicans want the government to do more to address climate change. Scientists say planting trees alone would not bring down carbon emissions enough to avoid catastrophic impacts from global warming. And critics point out that Trump wants to expand logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America. Trump has also repeatedly denied climate science and attacked activists like teenager Greta Thunberg, saying last month that people should “reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of apocalypse.”

We must also rebuild America’s infrastructure. [Applause].

President Trump has touted infrastructure, since he was elected, as a top issue on which he believes he could work across party lines. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also say they want to work with Trump on boosting the nation’s roads, bridges and telecommunications networks. But there has been a philosophical divide on how to craft a program that lawmakers from both parties could support.

Democrats prefer a massive federal grant program — something that then-President Barack Obama backed in his stimulus program. Republicans prefer public-private partnerships that leverage some federal investment.

Top congressional leaders met with the president to discuss the issue last spring, but the meeting took place as the House was engaged in multiple oversight investigations of the Trump administration. The conference ended abruptly when the president expressed his frustration over what he called “phony investigations.”

The Trump administration regularly resurfaces plans to move infrastructure proposals. And efforts to push the issue have moved separately in the House and Senate — but there have been few serious bipartisan negotiations on a significant package.

I ask you to pass Senator John Barrasso’s highway bill to invest in new roads, bridges and tunnels all across our land. I’m also committed to ensuring that every citizen can have access to high-speed internet, including and especially in rural America. [Applause].

A better tomorrow for all Americans also requires us to keep America safe. That means supporting the men and women of law enforcement at every level, including our nation’s heroic ICE officers. [Applause].

Last year our brave ICE officers arrested more than 120,000 criminal aliens charged with nearly 10,000 burglaries, 5,000 sexual assaults, 45,000 violent assaults, and 2,000 murders. Tragically, there are many cities in America where radical politicians have chosen to provide sanctuary for these criminal aliens. In sanctuary cities, local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed.

President Trump talks frequently at his rallies about the danger posed by “sanctuary cities” that limit cooperation with immigration authorities. Local mayors and police say these policies actually protect public safety by encouraging immigrant communities to cooperate with law enforcement. The president’s critics accuse the administration of cherry-picking brutal crimes to score political points — like the case of Rocky Jones, the slain California man whose brother Jody Jones was invited by the White House to attend this speech.

Just 29 days ago, a criminal alien freed by the sanctuary city of New York was charged with the brutal rape and murder of a 92-year-old woman. The killer had been previously arrested for assault, but under New York sanctuary policies, he was set free. If the city had honored ICE’s detainer request, his victim would still be alive today.

The state of California passed an outrageous law declaring their whole state to be a sanctuary for criminal illegal immigrants, a very terrible sanctuary with catastrophic results.

Here is just one tragic example. In December 2018, California police detained an illegal alien with five prior arrests, including convictions for robbery and assault. But as required by California’s sanctuary law, local authorities released him. Days later, the criminal alien went on a gruesome spree of deadly violence. He viciously shot one man going about his daily work. He approached a woman sitting in her car and shot her in the arm and in the chest. He walked into a convenience store and wildly fired his weapon. He hijacked a truck and smashed into vehicles, critically injuring innocent victims. One of the victims is a terrible, terrible situation. Died, 51-year-old American named Rocky Jones. Rocky was at a gas station when this vile criminal fired eight bullets at him from close range, murdering him in cold blood.

Rocky left behind a devoted family including his brothers, who loved him more than anything else in the world. One of his grieving brothers is here with us tonight. Jody, would you please stand? Jody, thank you. [Applause].

Jody, our hearts weep for your loss and we will not rest until you have justice. Senator Thom Tillis has introduced legislation to allow Americans like Jody to sue sanctuary cities and states when a loved one is hurt or killed as a result of these deadly practices. [Applause].

I ask Congress to pass the Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act immediately. The United States of America should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens. [Applause].

President Trump has tried before to punish sanctuary cities. The Justice Department tried to withhold law enforcement grants from some sanctuary cities, but federal courts have widely rejected those attempts. Last year, the president threatened to bus migrants from the border and then release them in sanctuary cities. But so far, his administration has not acted on those threats.

In the last three years, ICE has arrested over 5,000 wicked human traffickers and I have signed nine pieces of legislation to stamp out the menace of human trafficking domestically and all around the globe. My administration has undertaken an unprecedented effort to secure the southern border of the United States. Before I came into office, if you showed up illegally on our southern border and were arrested, you were simply released and allowed into our country, never to be seen again. My administration has ended catch and release. [Applause]

Immigration authorities say they have all but ended the practice known by its detractors as “catch and release” — allowing migrants to wait in the U.S. for their day in immigration court, sometimes for years. Instead, the administration has made sweeping changes to limit access to asylum at the southern border.

Under the policy known as Remain in Mexico, the administration has sent tens of thousands of migrants back to Mexican border towns to wait for their day in U.S. immigration courts.

The administration says this policy is one reason that the number of migrants taken into custody at the southern border has declined steeply since peaking at more than 140,000 in May. Immigrant advocates say that this policy has led to more than 800 kidnappings, rapes and other attacks on migrants who were originally fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

If you come illegally, you will now be promptly removed from our country. [Applause].

Very importantly, we entered into historic cooperation agreements with the governments of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. As a result of our unprecedented efforts, illegal crossings are down 75 percent since May, dropping eight straight months in a row. [applause].

And as the wall rapidly goes up, drug seizures rise, and the border crossings are going down, and going down very rapidly.

Last year I traveled to the border in Texas and met chief patrol agent Raul Ortiz. Over the last 24 months, Agent Ortiz and his team have seized more than 200,000 pounds of poisonous narcotics, arrested more than 3,000 human smugglers, and rescued more than 2,000 migrants. Days ago, Agent Ortiz was promoted to deputy chief of border patrol, and he joins us tonight. Chief Ortiz, please stand. [Applause].

A grateful nation thanks you and all of the heroes of Border Patrol and ICE, thank you very much. [Applause].

To build on these historic gains, we are working on legislation to replace our outdated and randomized immigration system with one based on merit, welcoming those who follow the rules, contribute to our economy, support themselves financially, and uphold our values. [Applause].

The Trump administration is not waiting for help from Congress here. It crafted regulations that allow immigration authorities to consider an immigrant’s age, education and financial situation when deciding who gets to come to the U.S. as a permanent resident. The rule would also penalize low-income immigrants who use benefits like food stamps and subsidized health insurance. The administration says it’s enforcing a long-standing policy that an immigrant should not become a “public charge.” Multiple federal judges blocked the rule, but the Supreme Court has allowed it to take effect as legal challenges play out.

With every action my administration is restoring the rule of law and reasserting the culture of American freedom. [Applause].

Working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – thank you, Mitch [applause] – and his colleagues in the Senate, we have confirmed a record number of 187 new federal judges to uphold our Constitution as written. This includes two brilliant new Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Thank you. [Applause].

And we have many in the pipeline. [Applause].

My administration is also defending religious liberty, and that includes the constitutional right to pray in public schools. [Applause].

President Trump this year reminded public schools that they risk losing federal funds if they violate their students’ rights to religious expression. Trump claims public schools often stop students from praying. But a nonprofit group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation says that there are more incidents of schools illegally promoting prayer and that Trump is blurring the line of separation between church and state.

In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers and pastors. In America, we celebrate faith. We cherish religion. We lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the glory of God. Just as we believe in the First Amendment, we also believe in another constitutional right that is under siege all across our country. So long as I am president, I will always protect your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. [Applause].

In reaffirming our heritage as a free nation, we must remember that America has always been a frontier nation. Now we must embrace the next frontier. America’s manifest destiny in the stars.

I am asking Congress to fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and the first woman on the moon will be American astronauts, using this as a launching pad to ensure that America is the first nation to plant its flag on Mars. [Applause].

My administration is also strongly defending our national security and combating radical Islamic terrorism. [Applause].

Last week I announced a groundbreaking plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Recognizing that all past attempts have failed, we must be determined and creative in order to stabilize the region and give millions of young people the chance to realize a better future.

Last week the Trump administration released a proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It was heavily weighted toward Israel’s favor, allowing it to keep large areas of the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish an independent state.

The proposed plan offers the Palestinians what the White House called a “state,” but one broken into areas surrounded by Israel. Under the proposal, Israeli troops would be able to conduct security operations there, which Palestinians say sounds like the occupation now.

Palestinians have rejected the plan, and the European Union has expressed objections. The U.S. ambassador to Israel says the U.S. would support Israel in taking the controversial step of “annexing” parts of the occupied territories, making them part of Israel.

Three years ago, the barbarians of ISIS held over 20,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. Today the ISIS territorial caliphate has been 100 percent destroyed and the founder and leader of ISIS, the bloodthirsty killer known as al-Baghdadi, is dead. [Applause].

U.S. troops and airstrikes helped local Iraqi and Syrian forces reclaim the land being held by the Islamic State. The last pockets were captured in March 2019. President Barack Obama’s administration had sent troops to fight ISIS and made progress, but the effort accelerated under Trump. In October, a U.S. raid ordered by Trump killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Today, although ISIS no longer controls significant areas of land, thousands of fighters remain operating as an underground force, and they pose a continued terrorist threat.

We are joined this evening by Carl and Marsha Mueller. After graduating from college, their beautiful daughter Kayla became a humanitarian aid worker. She once wrote, “Some people find God in church, some people find God in nature, some people find God in love. I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is. Using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.” In 2013, while caring for suffering civilians in Syria, Kayla was kidnapped, tortured and enslaved by ISIS, and kept as a prisoner of al-Baghdadi himself. After more than 500 horrifying days of captivity, al-Baghdadi murdered young, beautiful Kayla. She was just 26 years old.

On the night that U.S. Special Forces operations ended al-Baghdadi’s miserable life, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley received a call in the situation room. He was told that the brave men of the elite special forces team that so perfectly carried out the operation had given their mission a name: Task Force 814. It was a reference to a special day, August 14, Kayla’s birthday. Carl and Marsha, America’s warriors never forgot Kayla, and neither will we. Thank you. [Applause].

Every day America’s men and women in uniform demonstrate the infinite depth of love that dwells in the human heart. One of these American heroes was Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Hake. On his second deployment to Iraq in 2008, Sergeant Hake wrote a letter to his one-year-old son, Gage. “I will be with you again,” he wrote to Gage. “ I will teach you to ride your first bike, build your first sandbox, watch you play sports and see you have kids, also. I love you, son. Take care of your mother. I am always with you. Daddy.”

On Easter Sunday of 2008, Chris was out on patrol in Baghdad when his Bradley fighting vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. That night he made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Sergeant Hake now rests in eternal glory in Arlington and his wife Kelli is in the gallery tonight joined by their son, who is now a 13-year-old and doing very, very well. To Kelli and Gage, Chris will live in our hearts forever. He is looking down on you now. Thank you. [Applause].

The terrorist responsible for killing Sergeant Hake was Qassem Soleimani, who provided the deadly roadside bomb that took Chris’s life. Soleimani was the Iranian regime’s most ruthless butcher, a monster who murdered or wounded thousands of American service members in Iraq. As the world’s top terrorist, Soleimani orchestrated the death of countless men, women and children. He directed the December assault and went on to assault U.S. forces in Iraq, was actively planning new attacks, when we hit him very hard, and that’s why last month at my direction the U.S. military executed a flawless precision strike that killed Soleimani and terminated his evil reign of terror forever. [Applause].

Qassem Soleimani ran the elite Quds Force, which supported militant groups around the region and trained and equipped Iraqi fighters who killed U.S. troops. At Trump’s order, the U.S. killed Soleimani, an Iranian, in a drone strike on Jan. 3 as he got off a plane at Baghdad’s international airport. Members of Congress objected that the administration did not meet the legal threshold for showing that Soleimani was planning imminent attacks, and that members of Congress weren’t consulted in what could have been an act of war against Iran.

Iran retaliated by firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq. Trump first said there were no injuries — but the Pentagon has since acknowledged that dozens of troops suffered from traumatic brain injuries in the blasts. Iraqi politicians asked American forces to leave but they have nonetheless remained and continue anti-ISIS operations with Iraqi troops.

Our message to the terrorists is clear. You will never escape American justice. If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life. [Applause].

In recent months, we have seen proud Iranians raise their voices against their oppressive rulers. The Iranian regime must abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, stop spreading terror, death and destruction, and start working for the good of its own people. Because of our powerful sanctions, the Iranian economy is doing very, very poorly. We can help them make a very good and short time recovery. It can all go very quickly, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help. We are here. Let’s see which road they choose. It is totally up to them. [Applause].

The Trump administration has imposed a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran after pulling out of the nuclear deal concluded among a group of nations under President Barack Obama. Trump says the deal wasn’t tough enough — a year and a half ago, it reimposed economic sanctions. While experts say that has hurt Iran’s economy, shrinking it by some 10 percent, it has not forced Iran into concessions or into more peaceful behavior. Now Iran has started ramping up its nuclear program again. It has allegedly attacked oil tankers on the waters and an oil field in Saudi Arabia.

There have been large anti-government protests in Iran and the government has killed hundreds trying to quell them. There have been protests there in the past too and it’s unclear how far these will go.

As we defend American lives, we are working to end America’s wars in the Middle East. In Afghanistan, the determination and valor of our war fighters has allowed us to make tremendous progress, and peace talks are now underway. I am not looking to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan, many of them totally innocent. It is also not our function to serve other nations as law enforcement agencies. These are war fighters that we have, the best in the world, and they either want to fight to win or not fight at all. We are working to finally end America’s longest war and bring our troops back home. [Applause].

Notwithstanding Trump’s desire to shrink American commitments in the Middle East, he has been sending more troops to the region and keeping in place many of those already posted there. In October, Trump said he was taking U.S. troops out of Syria. Roughly 600 troops remain where there are still Islamic State fighters — those both moving freely and thousands more being held in Kurdish prisons. There are some 5,000 American troops in Iraq. The Iraqi government asked them to leave last month but Trump threatened to impose sanctions on Iraq if it kicked them out and they have continued operations against ISIS in Iraq. Overall, U.S. Central Command says it has about 90,000 Americans across the region.

Trump also has sent thousands more troops to the region as a hedge against a potential conflict with Iran following the U.S. killing of its top general and in the aftermath of reimposed U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. has about 12,000 troops in Afghanistan, far down from the peak of about 100,000 under President Obama a decade ago. Trump has often spoken about reducing the current force or withdrawing completely. The Pentagon wants to keep some troops to assist the Afghan government against the Taliban, which still controls large parts of the country. The war is widely seen as a stalemate, but peace talks stalled last fall. The U.S. and the Taliban have been trying to restart them in recent weeks, but there’s no indication that any of the tough issues in Afghanistan have been resolved.

War places a heavy burden on our nation’s extraordinary military families, especially spouses like Amy Williams from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and her two children, six-year-old Elliana and 3-year-old Rowan [Applause].

Amy works full time and volunteers countless hours, helping other military families. For the past seven months, she has done it all while her husband, Sgt. First Class Townsend Williams, is in Afghanistan on his fourth deployment in the Middle East.

Amy’s kids haven’t seen their father’s face in many months. Amy, your family’s sacrifice makes it possible for all of our families to live in safety and in peace, and we want to thank you. Thank you, Amy. But Amy, there is one more thing. Tonight we have a very special surprise. I am thrilled to inform you that your husband is back from deployment. He is here with us tonight, and we couldn’t keep him waiting any longer. [Cheers and applause].

[Chants of USA, USA].

Welcome home, Sergeant Williams. Thank you very much.

As the world bears witness tonight, America is a land of heroes. This is a place where greatness is born, where destinies are forged and where legends come to life. This is the home of Thomas Edison and Teddy Roosevelt, of many great generals, including Washington, Pershing, Patton and MacArthur. This is the home of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, the Wright brothers, Neil Armstrong and so many more. This is the country where children learn names like Wyatt Earp, Davy Crockett and Annie Oakley. This is the place where the pilgrims landed at Plymouth and where Texas patriots made their last stand at the Alamo. The beautiful, beautiful Alamo. The American nation was carved out of the vast frontier by the toughest, strongest, fiercest and most determined men and women ever to walk on the face of the earth.

Our ancestors braved the unknown, tamed the wilderness, settled the wild west, lifted millions from poverty, disease and hunger, vanquished tyranny and fascism, ushered the world to new heights of science and medicine, laid down the railroads, dug out the canals, raised up the skyscrapers, and ladies and gentlemen, our ancestors built the most exceptional republic ever to exist in all of human history, and we are making it greater than ever before. [Applause].

This is our glorious and magnificent inheritance. We are Americans. We are pioneers. We are the pathfinders. We settled the New World. We built the modern world. And we changed history forever by embracing the eternal truth that everyone is made equal by the hand of almighty God. [Applause].

America is the place where anything can happen. America is the place where anyone can rise. And here on this land, on this soil, on this continent, the most incredible dreams come true. This nation is our canvas, and this country is our masterpiece. We look at tomorrow and see unlimited frontiers, just waiting to be explored. Our brightest discoveries are not yet known. Our most thrilling stories are not yet told. Our grandest journeys are not yet made.

The American age, the American epic, the American adventure has only just begun. Our spirit is still young. The sun is still rising. God’s grace is still shining. And my fellow Americans, the best is yet to come. [Cheers and applause].

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you very much.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was seated behind President Trump in the House chamber, stood and tore up the pages of the speech after the president finished speaking. Republicans and guests gave the president extended applause.

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