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Trump vows to build border wall, warns Democrats against investigations
Wednesday,  2/6/2019, 12:52 

Trump vows to build border wall, warns Democrats against investigations

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 5, 2019 – PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump vowed in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to build a border wall that is a source of a deep partisan divide and said Democratic attempts at "ridiculous partisan investigations" could damage U.S. prosperity.

Trump spoke in the chamber of the House of Representatives facing political discord over his demands that Democrats end their opposition to funding for a border wall he says is needed to stem illegal immigration and smuggled drugs.

He called illegal immigration "an urgent national crisis," but stopped short of declaring a border emergency that would allow him to bypass Congress for wall funding. Instead, he urged Democrats and Republicans to find a compromise by a Feb. 15 deadline.

"In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall, but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built," Trump said in the highly anticipated speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, with his main Democratic adversary, new House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, watching over his shoulder.

Democrats call the wall a waste of money and ineffective.

At the same time, Trump warned that Democratic efforts to investigate his administration, along with the possibility of U.S. involvement in wars abroad, would endanger the U.S. economy.

"An economic miracle is taking place in the United States and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations," he said.

His remarks came as Democrats who now control the House planned a series of probes into the Trump administration and a special prosecutor investigates Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Russia denies meddling and Trump has said there was no collusion.

Apart from lauding economic accomplishments - unemployment near a five-decade low and manufacturing job growth among them - Trump's speech was light on new initiatives to further stoke growth in an economy seen as losing momentum as it began 2019. A Reuters poll last month forecast economic growth would slow to 2.1% this year after likely averaging around 3% in 2018.

Two sides at odds

Pelosi, who wore white like many Democratic lawmakers to celebrate the 100th anniversary of American women gaining the right to vote, applauded half-heartedly at times and frequently sat stony-faced through Trump's address.

She has shown no sign of budging from her opposition to Trump's wall-funding demand. That has led Trump to contemplate declaring a national emergency, which he says would let him reallocate funding from elsewhere without congressional action.

Some of Trump's fellow conservatives have urged him not to declare an emergency. Such a move would "upend" the balance of powers between the White House and Congress, Republican Senator Susan Collins told reporters on Tuesday.

Trump used part of his speech to offer a spirit of compromise, particularly in areas such as lowering the price of prescription drugs and funding a US$1 trillion upgrade in U.S. roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

But whether Trump and his opponents would follow through was far from clear, with both sides entrenched in long-held positions and girding for 2020 elections, reluctant to give the other side a political victory.

The Republican president appeared in the House chamber just weeks after his demand for US$5.7 billion in funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall triggered a historic 35-day partial government shutdown that more than half of Americans blamed him for, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

The nationally televised address gave Trump his biggest opportunity to date to explain why he believes a barrier is needed on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The speech was delayed for a week because of the shutdown, which ended on Jan. 25.

"Simply put, walls work and walls save lives. So let's work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe," Trump said.

Trump also called attention to his efforts to rewrite trade deals with China and other nations to make the terms more favorable to the United States.

As his economic advisers work to complete a trade deal with China, Trump said any agreement "must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs."

He also called out Iran for threats against Israel.

"We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants Death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people," he will say.

Trump also addressed foreign policy, including support for an effort to coax Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro into leaving power and declaring the Islamic State militant group all but defeated.

Trump plans to meet North Korea's Kim in Vietnam Feb. 27-28

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he would hold his second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam on Feb. 27 and 28, while giving himself credit for avoiding a major war on the Korean Peninsula.

In his annual State of the Union address to Congress, Trump said much work remained to be done in the push for peace with North Korea, but cited the halt in Pyongyang's nuclear testing and no new missile launches in 15 months as signs of progress.

"If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea," Trump said in his address.

His relationship with Kim, he noted, "is a good one."

Trump met Kim on June 12 in Singapore in the first summit between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. Trump has been eager to hold a second summit in spite of a lack of concrete progress in persuading North Korea to give up a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States.

Vietnam, which has good relations with both the United States and North Korea, had been widely touted as the most likely venue for the meeting. Trump did not say which Vietnamese city would host the two leaders, but both the capital, Hanoi, and Danang have been considered possibilities.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Vietnam in July and urged North Korea to follow its example, saying Trump believed Pyongyang could replicate Hanoi's path to normal relations with Washington and prosperity after its own war with the United States.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun was due to hold talks in Pyongyang this week to map out what he called "a set of concrete deliverables" for the second meeting.

The Singapore summit yielded a vague commitment from Kim to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, where U.S. troops have been stationed since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

In the U.S. view, Pyongyang has yet to take concrete steps to give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea has complained that Washington has done little to reciprocate its freezing of nuclear and missile testing and dismantling of some nuclear facilities.

Pyongyang has repeatedly urged a lifting of punishing U.S.-led sanctions, a formal end to the war, and security guarantees.

Trump has hailed "tremendous progress" in his dealings with North Korea. But on the eve of Biegun's trip, a confidential report by U.N. sanctions monitors seen by Reuters cast further doubt on North Korea's intentions.

It said the country's nuclear and ballistic missile programs remained intact and that North Korea was working to make sure those capabilities could not be destroyed by any military strikes.

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