State of the Union 2019: The public policy implications of Trump’s promises

Annie Maley, BIPP Intern

President Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union Address on Feb. 5 to a Congressional chamber filled to the brim with a diverse audience of astronauts, congresswomen emulating suffragettes, ICE agents, and Holocaust survivors. While incorporating the classic messages of unity and patriotism typical of State of the Union addresses, Trump also made several unique points that were indicators of what policy coming out of the Trump Administration might look like in 2019.


What appeared to be the centerpiece of Trump’s speech was his discussion of illegal immigration and the pressing need for increased border security. While this issue has been a major policy concern of the President since his 2016 campaign–ultimately being a sticking point that caused the longest government shutdown in history–it is not a very popular one among the American public. According to a January survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Americans oppose a border wall expansion. Furthermore, another January 2019 survey by Pew showed that only 29 percent of Americans feel very confident that Trump can make wise decisions about immigration policy. Given the lack of public support for Trump’s current policy actions on immigration, it is no surprise that he tried to improve public opinion about his border wall project by emphasizing the dangers of illegal immigration, including gang violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. The amount of time dedicated to the border wall in Trump’s State of the Union Address suggests it will continue to be a focal point of his policy efforts in 2019. However, the lack of Congressional and public support are likely to hinder the extent to which Trump’s wall comes into fruition.


In addition to border security, Trump also made a distinct effort to recognize women’s issues, specifically in terms of economic empowerment. Towards the beginning of his speech, Trump applauded the increase of women in the workplace in 2018, highlighting a successful economy that allowed for the creation of new jobs, 58 percent of which were filled by women. Furthermore, he announced a new initiative to invest in economic opportunities for women in developing countries to improve the status of women not only in the United States but also worldwide. Trump went on to emphasize the importance of paid family leave, announcing a plan to include it in his new budget. All of these points suggest that this year could bring an increase in public policy from the Trump Administration aimed at benefiting women’s financial standing.


However, it is important to note that only seconds after praising women in the workplace, Trump criticized pro-choice legislation passed in New York that would protect a woman’s right to choose even if Roe v. Wade was overturned. While Trump may appear to want to push pro-women legislation this year, his claim that the New York law would result in babies being “ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth” is highly problematic. The statement suggests that he may not have as deep an understanding of women’s issues as he would like the American public to believe.


Another portion of the speech where Trump lacked consistency was when he spoke about healthcare, coming out in favor of protections for patients with pre-existing conditions. It is easy to see why Trump would publicly support safeguards for individuals with pre-existing conditions, as it was one of the most popular features of the Affordable Care Act. However, in practice, his administration has not shown any commitment to this issue. In fact, according to the “New York Times,” in June the Trump Administration claimed in federal court that key parts of the Affordable Care Act were unconstitutional. The provisions criticized by the Trump Administration included ones that protected patients with pre-existing conditions. Therefore, it is difficult to believe that Trump truly wants to keep large (and conveniently very popular) swaths of the Affordable Care Act in place, when he has previously taken steps to dismantle those same protections.


Overall, it will be extremely interesting to see if the Trump Administration can live up to some of the promises that the President made in this year’s State of the Union Address. Some policies, such as the border wall, have created such gridlock that it is difficult to see an end where either side wins. Where Trump came out in support of issues that he has typically been seen as less than advocate for, such as affordable healthcare and women’s equality, the biggest test will be to see if he can fulfill the promises he announced. It is possible that many of these more moderate stances were simply campaign tactics for 2020.

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