On eve of expected acquittal, Trump scorns Democrats, touts economic gains

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US President Donald Trump, emerging from the shadow of impeachment, faced Democratic lawmakers who seek to toss him from office on Tuesday at a State of the Union speech he used to belittle his opponents and tout the US economy.

Trump avoided the subject of his impeachment in the early portion of his speech, but the scars from the battle were evident with fellow Republicans giving him standing ovations while rival Democrats for the most part remained seated.

The Republican-led Senate was expected to acquit him on Wednesday of charges he abused his powers and obstructed Congress.

Trump presented himself as a big improvement on Democratic President Barack Obama, whom he succeeded three years ago.

“In just three short years we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny,” he said. The House impeachment managers, who are acting as prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial, were seated together at the front of the Democrats’ section.

Many House Democratic women wore white for a second year in a row, a sign of the suffragist movement that won women the right to vote 100 years ago. Several Democratic lawmakers refused to attend the annual speech to protest Trump.

Trump on Soleimani’s killing

After coming close to a broad conflict with Iran after he ordered the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, Trump said “we are working to end America’s wars in the Middle East.”

Trump mentioned the US strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander.
Trump described Soleimani “as a world’s top terrorist” who he was actively planning new attacks when the US “hit him very hard.”

He was the Iranian regime’s “most ruthless butcher, a monster who murdered or wounded thousands of American service members in Iraq,” the US president said during his speech.

Soleimani orchestrated the deaths of countless men, women and children, according to Trump.

At the direction of Trump in December, the US military executed a precision strike that killed Soleimani upon his arrival in Iraq’s capital Baghdad.

Trump said the US “terminated [Soleimani’s] evil reign of terror forever.”

“Our message to the terrorists is clear, you will never escape American justice. If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life,” Trump added.

Iran must abandon nuclear weapons pursuit

Trump said the Iranian regime must abandon their pursuit of nuclear weapons, and “stop spreading terror, death and destruction.”
He said the regime should start working for the good of its own people.

The US president also said the Iranian economy is doing “very poorly” due to US sanctions, however, the US can help it recover in a short period of time.

“Perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help,” said Trump. “We are here. Let’s see which road they choose. It is totally up to them.”

Trump lays out vision for second presidency term

Seeing US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the first time since she stormed out of a White House meeting four months ago, he declined to shake her outstretched hand as he gave her a copy of the speech.

Pelosi appeared to be taken aback. She and Trump have not spoken since their October meeting, both sides said.

Pelosi, who dropped her opposition to impeachment and allowed Democratic lawmakers to seek impeachment charges against him, sat stoically and grim-faced behind Trump and paged through a written copy of his speech.

Trump, using the speech to lay out his vision for a second four-year term, attacked some of the healthcare proposals being debated among his Democratic rivals on the campaign trail.

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed healthcare plans that would be entirely run by the government, a sharp departure from the current, private system in which millions of Americans get medical insurance from their employers.

While Trump has likened their plans to socialism, his lack of a healthcare plan has left him open to criticism that he has not put enough work into finding a way to reduce rising insurance costs that burden middle-class Americans.

“We will never let socialism destroy American healthcare!” Trump said.

Trump offered an upbeat portrayal of his presidency in hopes of persuading Americans to give him another four-year term in the November 3 election.

“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American Decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back!” Trump said.

Aides said Trump wanted to keep the speech upbeat despite his anger at being impeached by the House. He was expected to address the controversy after his almost certain acquittal in the Senate.

Trump also revived his arguments that migrants should be stopped from crossing the southern US border and that so-called “sanctuary cities” where migrants are protected are wrong.

In the audience, Republicans from both houses of Congress chanted “four more years” as he stood at the lectern in the chamber of the House with a presidential election almost exactly nine months away.

Democrats sat silently and some could be seen shaking their heads as Trump declared, “The state of our union is stronger than ever before.”

Pelosi, who dropped her opposition to impeachment and allowed Democratic lawmakers to seek impeachment charges against him, sat stoically and grim-faced behind Trump and paged through a written copy of his speech.

- With Reuters