As he delivered his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump attempted to suspend the polarizing realities of his presidency and stick to a script – at least for one night.
But as the Russia investigation grips Washington and contentious impasses over spending and immigration threaten to undercut Trump’s legislative agenda and his party’s electoral future in 2018, any unity Trump hoped to inject with his speech was quickly shattered.
Trump’s bipartisan overtures on infrastructure and foreign policy were met rapidly with reality: Republicans and Democrats are bitterly divided in Washington over everything from immigration to health care to budget negotiations. And there’s little that Trump can say to undo the partisan rancor.
“It was long on platitudes and short on particulars,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire who said she was particularly disappointed with the President’s comments on opioids, which she said didn’t even address the financial cost of solving the problem.
Trump’s address – which ran well over an hour – was well received by his side of the aisle.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after the speech concluded.
“He nailed it,” Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota said. “He stayed on target. He stayed on message.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn quipped that he thought it was “a great speech” even if “it was a little long for me.”
And, Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, told reporters Trump was “very presidential.”
Trump’s address, Republicans concluded, was tamer than the early morning Twitter president they’ve reckoned with, more subdued than the Trump they sometimes find or read about in closed-door meetings. Instead, Republicans – fighting to preserve their majorities in both the House and Senate this year – viewed the State of the Union as at the very least constructing a positive vision of what a Republican majority could accomplish in the months ahead.
“I think this was one of the best speeches I’ve seen him give,” Deputy House Whip Patrick McHenry told CNN. “He hit at the heart of a great legislative agenda for the year around infrastructure, fixing the broken immigration system and helping communities who’ve been left behind.”
On no issue were Trump’s comments more controversial than on immigration, the topic that befalls Congress and is dividing not only Republicans and Democrats but factions within each party.
Trump tried to walk a line between delivering for his base as he addressed gang violence of MS-13 and delivering for some Republican immigration negotiators on Capitol Hill.
But Democrats rebuffed some Trump’s comments, which they viewed as divisive. As Trump discussed so-called “chain migration,” or changes to the family-based immigration rules, Democrats could be heard groaning. And after the speech, the Democrats’ Whip Sen. Dick Durbin called Trump’s references to MS-13 “inflammatory.”
“No one in the world defends them,” Durbin said. “We are talking about DACA and the dreamers for goodness sake’s. It’s two different worlds and he just seems to conflate both.”
Trump also reiterated his immigration framework the White House unveiled last week, which included a path to citizenship for 1.8 million people. But, Trump didn’t signal openness to narrowing a plan to protect recipients of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Instead, Trump doubled down on his insistence that any DACA deal also include changes to the legal immigration system, something Democrats have warned could be a nonstarter.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he observed “tepid” response from some of his Republican colleagues when Trump began to talk about his framework and he described Trump’s proposals as a “totally untenable approach.”
“I mean, basically, it’s our way or the highway. You know, here’s the compromise, do it our way,” Blumenthal said.
Cornyn defended Trump’s talk on immigration “it’s a compromise. I don’t think he should back off on it.”
Not everyone on the Democratic side of the aisle, however, was disappointed with Trump’s address.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia who is running in a ruby red state this fall, said he wished his Democratic colleagues would have shown a bit more deference to the President during the State of the Union.
“It’s not the way I was raised,” he told CNN when asked if Democrats showed respect by not applauding during much of Trump’s speech. “I show civility and respect.”
Michigan GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga described the mood in the chamber during the speech as partisan.
He said on the Democratic side there was “lots of hissing, frankly immature at times.” He said that he thought the President did try to include a lot of “olive branches extended” in the speech.
And, independent Maine Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, said he believed Trump invoked a “presidential” tone.
“He was very measured … I was pleased that it was relatively non-partisan,” King said. “I wouldn’t call it exactly non-partisan, but I thought it was less partisan then it might help otherwise been.”
King added he was also pleased with discussion on trade and on infrastructure even as he added “the details were not really there” on the latter.
But overall, Democrats weren’t willing to give Trump the tile of unifier-in-chief Tuesday night despite Trump’s attempts.
“It was another example of why the American public frankly has so much distrust and cynicism about government and its leaders because the American public deserves to hear truth, and that was not reflected in the speech tonight,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California.
CNN’s Deirdre Walsh, Manu Raju and Katherine Sullivan contributed to this report.