President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, focusing on many of the nation’s top political issues, but also some that ring closer to home for Alaska.
Here’s what the president had to say on some topics of especial interest to Alaska:
When it comes to caring for the nation’s veterans, President Trump lauded the VA Accountability Act, saying his administration has removed more than 1,500 VA employees who did not meet expectations.
“I will not stop until our veterans are properly taken care of, which has been my promise to them from the very beginning of this great journey,” Trump said, before calling on Congress to empower Cabinet secretaries to reward good workers, and to remove Federal employees who, “Undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”
The president said his administration has eliminated more regulations in the first year than any administration in history.
Though barriers to exploration in Alaska’s federal lands and waters have come down in recent weeks, and an Alaska-sponsored gas line deal has been struck with Chinese investors, Trump’s statements on Energy were brief: “We have ended the war on American Energy – and we have ended the war on beautiful clean coal. We are now, very proudly, an exporter of energy to the world,” he said, in part.
Trump also reiterated his commitment to infrastructure: “As we rebuild our industries, it is also time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure,” he said. The president remarked that the Empire State Building was built in just one year, but now it can take 10 years to get a permit approved for a single road.
“I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve,” Trump said. He called on Congress to pass a bill that would generate at least $1.5 trillion for new infrastructure investment. He said that should be done by balancing federal dollars with state and local governments, and even private sector investment, to fix the infrastructure deficit.
Military and Defense
The President asked Congress to eliminate the defense sequester to fully fund the military, and said the U.S. must modernize and rebuild its nuclear arsenal, “hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression,” Trump said.
Despite recent tension with North Korea, the president spoke first about the battle with ISIS, and the success the military has had in that fight in Iraq and Syria, saying there is still, “much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.”
Trump said he just directed Defense Secretary James Mattis to reexamine the country’s military defense policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.
He also talked about American soldiers’ new rules of engagement in Afghanistan, saying, “Our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.”
On North Korea, Trump spoke of the threat the regime poses to the U.S.: “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” he said. “We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening. Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position,” he continued.
Opioid and drug addiction
Trump said that the country lost 64,000 people to drug overdoses: 174 each day.
“My Administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. The struggle will be long and difficult,” he said, “but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.”
Paid Family Leave
Paid Family leave got a brief mention in the President’s speech, along with workforce development and job training. “Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential. And let us support working families by supporting paid family leave,” the President said.
President Trump also said one of his greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs, vowing that “Prices will come down.”
Alaska’s Delegation responded to Trump’s speech positively. Sen. Dan Sullivan gave the speech a good review in an interview with NBC. Though he did say he wished the president talked more about Energy, Sullivan said the president’s actions in energy development have meant good news for Alaska:
“You know, I wish he would’ve spent a little more time on energy, but the president in other speeches has been spending a lot of time on energy, a lot of time talking about ANWR, the historic achievement we had here in the Congress in December, that he signed, which is going to be very, very important for Alaska, and important for the country. But he did talk about how, look, we have this renaissance, we’re now exporting energy. It’s an enormous opportunity, not just for Alaska, but for the country,” Sullivan said.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski lauded the emphasis on infrastructure, and the president’s honoring of everyday American heroes. Her main takeaway from the speech, she said, was the subject of unity in a divided nation and congress. “I think we recognize that it’s been a tough year in the congress. We’ve been divided over issues like health care. We came together as republicans on tax reform, but that is still an issue,” Murkowski said.
“Those things that we can find agreement on, such as rebuilding our failing and old, or in many cases in Alaska, infrastructure that we lack in the first place, we can all come together on that,” she said, “Let’s find these areas where we can find that level of consensus.”
Rep. Don Young issued a statement late Tuesday evening that said in part ” “Now, it’s up to Congress to act on many of the issues the President discussed tonight. Infrastructure, for example, is going to be a big project for us. I believe this was good news for Alaskans and we have many positive projects to look forward to.”
Alaska Democrats predict a voter backlash in the November elections. “We still have a lot of time before then,” said Jay Parmley, Executive Director of the Alaska Democratic Party, “but I can promise you this. The midterm elections for 2018 are shaping up very differently.” Parmley added “This has been a very difficult year for most Americans. I mean, the president is saying one thing, but the reality is very different.”
Meanwhile, Democrats blasted Trump’s omissions Social Security or Medicare, wealth inequality, and climate change among them.