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In Warmongering First State of the Union, Trump Doubles Down on Gitmo & Escalates Nuclear War Threat

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President Trump delivered his first State of the Union Tuesday night. During the lengthy address, Trump announced he’d signed an executive order keeping the Guantánamo Bay military prison open, and escalated his warmongering rhetoric against North Korea, calling the North Korean government “depraved” and warning it poses a nuclear risk to the United States. For more, we speak with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, America’s oldest weekly magazine.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump delivered his first State of the Union Tuesday, claiming this is, quote, “our new American moment.” He focused heavily on immigration, renewing his call for a border wall, while linking immigration to terrorism.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration. In the age of terrorism, these programs present risks we can just no longer afford. It’s time to reform these outdated immigration rules and finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump never mentioned the words “climate change” or “global warming,” but he did acknowledge the recent deadly hurricanes and wildfires that devastated parts of the country.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands—everywhere—we are with you, we love you, and we always will pull through together. Always.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Trump’s only reference to Puerto Rico, where today FEMA is ending shipments of food and water, even though about a third of the island still has no electricity, over four months after Hurricane Maria struck.

On the foreign policy front, Trump threatened North Korea again, suggested he’ll start sending more prisoners to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo in Cuba, where no new prisoner has been sent in almost a decade.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I just signed, prior to walking in, an order directing Secretary Mattis, who is doing a great job—thank you—to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities in Guantánamo Bay. I am asking Congress to ensure that in the fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And in many cases, for them, it will now be Guantánamo Bay.

AMY GOODMAN: The prison population at Guantánamo is currently 41, down from a high of 684 in 2003. President Trump also used the State of the Union to issue a veiled threat to federal workers.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So, tonight I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we spend the hour looking at what President Trump said and didn’t say during his State of the Union. We begin with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, America’s oldest weekly magazine.

Overall, your response to what you saw last night?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, in July, last July, Amy, at a rally in Youngstown, President Trump said, “One speech isn’t going to make me presidential. Takes a lot more than that.” We heard platitudes and promises. We heard warmongering. We heard a lot about scams.

And I think—let me step back. You just were talking about Guantánamo. I think one of the ugliest moments was when the president cheered on his move to move the capital of—the embassy to Jerusalem, along with reopening Gitmo for business. And you had a Republican Party—let’s not forget Trump is the head of a Republican Party—a radically extreme Republican Party, cheering on defiance of international law and human rights. And I think that was a telltale moment, because that is what this administration is about on the foreign policy front.

He is a false populist. He ran as an ethno-reactionary populist, but a populist. And last night was littered with broken promises, even as he promised more. I’m not going to hold my breath for lower medical—for lower drug prices, which he spoke of. I’m not going to hold my breath for more treatment of an opioid crisis, which, as you probably know, in 2016 there were more opioid overdoses than combat deaths in Vietnam. And he has scammed the American people with a tax cut I know you’ve talked a lot about on this program, which was essentially a handout to the very rich and the big corporations and to his own family. And last night he tried to boast that this was a tax cut for the American people.

It is looting our future, what this tax cut does. It fails to invest in a future, which, if the Democrats were wise, they would put out a bold, bold plan in the next few days about what they would do specifically on these issues of jobs, of infrastructure—not a privatized infrastructure plan—of real healthcare, Medicare for all, of tuition-free higher ed, and get real specific about what they are going to do for working people in this country—and working people, by the way, of all colors, because there’s too often pitting class versus identity, when, in fact, the working class is brown, black, yellow, white.

AMY GOODMAN: When you talk about pitting, there was direct references to immigrants taking poor Americans’ jobs. But I want to go—


AMY GOODMAN: —to that issue in a moment, but first to the foreign policy front—


AMY GOODMAN: —where President Trump said he would beef up the U.S. nuclear arsenal, dismissing global efforts to ban nuclear weapons.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else. Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet, sadly.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Trump in his first official State of the Union address. Katrina vanden Heuvel?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: So, before the nuclear issue, don’t forget he also said he wanted to break the spending caps, this defense sequester, the parity between defense and non-defense spending, which is a major issue because so much already goes into defense, not making us more secure. Our Pentagon budget is at a historic high, rife with waste and abuse. We do not need more.

With the modernization of nukes, I think it makes us less secure. And it is a continuation, sadly, of President Obama’s plan to modernize the nuclear arsenal. He was going to throw a trillion dollars, I think, over three decades. This is folly. What we should be doing is building down, de-escalating.

What is striking, Amy, is that Trump, as president, has elevated the nuclear issue and the North Korea peril to a new high, because people are concerned about his, quote, “finger on the nuclear button.” But we need to be concerned about the security architecture of a nuclear arsenal that is rife with possible accidents, false alerts, as we saw in Hawaii a few weeks ago. And I think, at a minimum, we need to begin to take them off of hair-trigger alert, the nuclear arsenal, and end first use. There is legislation in Congress, as you may know, from Ted Lieu and Senator Markey, to ensure that there be some congressional involvement in any use.

But President Trump probably doesn’t know someone—I don’t know how he feels about him, I know how you do. You know, Henry Kissinger, General Shalikashvili, Senator Nunn—former Senator Nunn, former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry have all come out for the abolition of nuclear weapons, as have the majority of countries in the world, through the General Assembly at the United Nations last year putting through a treaty, 151 nations, I believe, to seek the build-down and end of nuclear weapons.

That is true security, not a president who talks and rattles his thumbs and his fingers and his Twitter feed against the leader of North Korea, nor is a president who tries to decertify the Iran agreement, which is in our security interest, and, if it’s broken, will lead to more nuclear proliferation and less security. This president is clueless when it comes to what real security is.

And he’s out of step with a majority of Americans, who listened to him on the campaign trail when he spoke of the waste of $6 trillion in the Middle East, which could rebuild this country. Do you know, Amy, that counties where they’ve lost so many sons and daughters to endless war voted for Trump, because they believed he might end endless war? This country is not antiwar, but it is against endless war and seeks realism and restraint.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Katrina vanden Heuvel, our guest, editor and publisher of The Nation, America’s oldest weekly magazine. We’ll also be joined by state Representative Ilhan Omar. She is the first Somali-American Muslim legislator in the United States. She was in Washington, D.C., from Minnesota, to participate in one of the alternative State of the Union events. We’ll also be speaking with a woman who was inside Congress last night, who was a guest of a senator. We’ll be speaking with Maru Mora Villalpando, who herself faces deportation, an undocumented immigrant, just yards from President Trump. In addition, we’ll be talking to Bill McKibben. The words “global warming” or “climate change,” “climate chaos” were not mentioned by President Trump, though he talked about “beautiful” coal. And we’ll speak with a journalist, Daniel Denvir, who has written an article for The Washington Post, among others, saying that U.S. deportation policies were responsible for gangs like MS-13. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Rufus Wainwright, singing Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” to the video of protests around the country. He was singing at an alternative State of the Union, a People’s State of the Union, held at Town Hall in New York on Monday night.

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Ilhan Omar, First Somali-American State Lawmaker: Trump’s SOTU was “Disgusting” & “Fascist”

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