President Trump chose his guests wisely on Tuesday night when he delivered his first State of the Union address as president in front of Congress.
Each of Trump’s plus-ones represented a major political stance or goal of his administration, such as stronger immigration or fighting the opioid crisis. Each of them, of course, also played on the emotions of his audience — the millions of Americans watching from home.
While Trump mainly stayed on script for the night, he eventually turned to pushing his hardline immigration stance. Before diving in, Trump introduced the families, who stood up with tears in their eyes, of two teenagers, 15-year-old Nisa Mickens and 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas, killed on Long Island in gang-related violence. More than a dozen MS-13 members were arrested in connection to the murders. That’s when Trump made his move.
“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as illegal unaccompanied alien minors — and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school,” Trump said. “Tonight I am calling on Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country.
The president later added that his administration had kicked “thousands and thousands and thousands” of MS-13 gang members out of the U.S.”
Trump made a similar play with his stance on the opioid crisis. In prefacing how he planned to tackle the steadily increasing number of overdoses in the country, Trump told the story of New Mexico police officer Ryan Holets, who decided to adopt the unborn child of a homeless heroin user while on duty. He, his wife, and their adopted infant looked on as Trump told their story.
“She told him she didn't know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby,” Trump said. “In that moment, Ryan said he felt God speak to him: ‘You will do it — because you can.’ He took out a picture of his wife, and their four kids. Then, he went home to tell his wife Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope.”
Both stories tied into illegal immigration, which Trump made sure to mention, without factual evidence, “allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities.”
Moving on with his speech, Trump made a request to Congress to remove budget caps on defense spending. Just afterward, he told the story of Army Staff Sgt. Justin Peck, a Bronze Star medal recipient who saved the life of fellow service member badly wounded by an ISIS explosion.
The audience immediately stood up and applauded the sergeant in the audience.
Spurred by the positive reaction, Trump didn’t sway from the strategy on one of his final policy points: how to deal with “rogue regimes.”
Following his vow to impose sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela and “maximum pressure” on North Korea, Trump highlighted the heartbreaking stories of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died last year after being in captivity, and Ji Sung-Ho, a North Korean defector who was starved and tortured before fleeing.
Despite the crowd's reaction, many Democrats stayed silent. Some didn’t even clap or stand when Trump told his tales. They had their own guests the president failed to mention: the Dreamers and the undocumented workers.
Cover image: Evelyn Rodriguez, mother of Kayla Cuevas, 16, who was brutally slain in 2016 allegedly by members of the MS-13 street gang, weeps after stopping to talk members of the press gathered outside U.S. District Court in Central Islip, N.Y., Thursday, March 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)