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Republicans, Democrats View Trump's Speech Differently

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.

Not surprisingly, Republicans praised U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech as a celebration of his administration's economic achievements and foreign policy initiatives, while Democrats criticized the president as delivering a divisive address focused on appealing to his base and pandering to groups he claimed to be helping.

"I think what we were missing were more unifying notes," Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois told VOA. "I think that the high points were when he talks about the heroism of everyday Americans and people in uniform. I think the low points are when he basically divides people, picks on people, talks down on immigrants, and I just don't think that's the way to go."

Congressman Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, called Trump's address Tuesday night "the most divisive speech" a president had ever given in the House chamber.

"He not only didn't build any bridges to find common ground, he actually was taking out the hatchet and destroying what bridges exist. He doubled down on the divisive issues like immigration, like healthcare, like tax policy. He exploited people tonight for political purpose."

Republicans who spoke to VOA saw the speech differently and said it was Democrats who were not willing to reach out to the other side of the aisle.

"He talked about inclusive successes and he gave example after example of them," Congressman Dan Bishop of North Carolina said. "I think Democrats have to be willing to join him on a crusade of success."

Congressman Jody Hice of Georgia said if any speech were to bring unity to the United States, the one Trump gave would be it.

WATCH: Richard Green's video report

US Political Divide on Display During State of the Union Address
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"Unity is based on people having shared values, shared beliefs that they coalesce around, and everything from the economy to our military being rebuilt, one thing after another after another, bringing home our military from war, stopping endless wars, and the Democrats just sat there uninterested," he said.

It is common during State of the Union speeches for members of the president's party to repeatedly cheer and give standing ovations to parts of their address, while members of the opposition party remain seated. A few moments typically bring bipartisan support, such as recognizing a member of the military the president has invited and highlighted.

A particular source of division was Trump's mentions of immigration policy.

Senator Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, said he thought the president tried to share the message that legal immigration is good.

"I think there's a lot of people out there that want to hear the difference between illegal immigration and legal immigration, and I think he tried to lay that out this evening as well," he said.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas objected to Trump's repeated references to immigrants who committed crimes.

"I think he did make himself feel better by condemning and tearing to shreds immigrants and not speaking of the fact that the nation was built on immigrants and laws," she said. "We all are against criminal activity, but to have that as the only reference to people of diversity was sad."

One item not in Tuesday's speech was any mention of the president's ongoing impeachment on the eve of a Senate vote in his trial.

Republicans told VOA that was the correct strategy for Trump.

Women members of Congress dressed in white sit behind Republican members applauding President Donald Trump as he delivers the State of the Union address in Washington, U.S. February 4, 2020.
Women members of Congress dressed in white sit behind Republican members applauding President Donald Trump as he delivers the State of the Union address in Washington, U.S. February 4, 2020.

"I think it was wise for both President Clinton and President Trump not to mention impeachment," said Congressman Steve Chabot of Ohio. "It's something that just divides us. This one in particular never should have happened and it's going to be over tomorrow, so let's not dwell on it."

Congressman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma said impeachment is not a topic on the minds of his constituents.

"People are talking about healthcare and jobs and the economy and how do I grow my wages. They stopped talking about impeachment last November," he said.

Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas said he had expected Trump to make some mention of the impeachment process, which has involved months of congressional investigations and a two-week trial on charges the president abused his power and obstructed Congress.

"I wanted to hear some contrition," Veasey said. "I wanted to hear something along the lines of, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, American public, I want to apologize for trying to sell America's foreign policy over to a foreign nation and ask them to investigate a potential political rival.'"

Among Trump's guests was Juan Guaido, whom the United States recognizes as the interim president of Venezuela.

Krishnamoorthi said it was "special for him to be present," but expressed caution about Trump's approach to Venezuela and President Nicolas Maduro.

"We have to pursue a strategy and partnership with our allies and partners to bring about positive change in Venezuela," he said. "We cannot have any kind of armed takeover or armed incursion into Venezuela which is sometimes what I think he's going to do."

Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida said she was glad Guaido was in the House chamber, but that if it was "window dressing" without concrete steps from Trump to help Venezuelans, "then it rings pretty hollow."

"If he was going to announce something significant, it should have been that he was granting temporary protected status to Venezuelans here in this country. That's what they need," she said. "To leave the threat of deportation over Venezuelans who have fled Maduro's regime, where he's starving his own people, and suggest that it's okay to deport them back to a country we're sanctioning and declaring undemocratic is appalling."