It's probably too late to say that President Donald Trump can get a fresh start with tonight's State of the Union speech — too much water has flowed under the bridge during his first year in office for that to happen.
But the president, if he were so inclined, could do some good in pushing the nation forward in a couple of key areas. And so we have been intrigued by suggestions that his speech might focus on a couple of those areas, immigration and infrastructure.
Whether Trump can gain any momentum on those areas in the weeks to come will be determined, in large measure, by whether he can manage to stay out of his own way. To put it mildly, the president's record in this area during his first year has been mixed.
As we've noted in previous editorials, Trump may be unusually well-positioned to help move the dial in a significant way on the immigration issue. In fact, immigration reform could be Trump's "China moment," a reference to how President Richard Nixon, a Cold War hardliner, opened a new era in U.S. diplomacy by traveling to that country.
Depending on the day, Trump seems open to striking a deal on immigration that could help the country move forward on the goals we think are essential:
• Revamping our system for dealing with guest workers so it connects better with the employers who need those workers.
• Offering legal immigrants clearly designated and relatively straightforward paths to citizenship. (This now includes those 800,000 or so young immigrants who have been protected under the terms of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the so-called "Dreamers.")
• Crafting humane and rational policies to deal with refugees.
• And, yes, developing more effective strategies to guard the border. Trump conceivably could strike a deal with Congress that would allocate a good sum of money for a physical wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but there are better (and more cost-effective ways) to improve border security.
Trump has ratified immigration deals that would move the country forward on at least some of these points, only to back away from them. If he's serious about moving forward on immigration policy, he's still in the best position to do that — but he needs to clearly say what he favors. Articulating a clear position on immigration tonight potentially could be a big step forward.
Which brings us to infrastructure.
As a candidate, Trump promised to generate at least $1 trillion in spending to help repair the nation's crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Now, a trillion bucks would go a long way toward shoring up infrastructure, but the administration actually isn't planning for the federal government to pay for all of that: Instead, the administration's plan is to spend just $200 billion over 10 years, according to a report from The Associated Press. States, local governments and other partners (including, possibly, some private entities) would be asked to pony up the rest.
If Trump were interested in improving the nation's infrastructure, he might consider reaching out to some unlikely allies: U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio from Oregon, for example, has been sounding the alarm on this topic for years. And DeFazio actually has worked up three specific proposals that would generate cash for the work. DeFazio's a Democrat, of course, but he tells us that he's got Republican backing for some of those proposals.
If Trump isn't interested in striking bipartisan deals, it seems unlikely that the federal government will be able to move past its current gridlock. But if the president were inclined to reach across the aisle — and if he is willing, as he said recently, to "take the heat" — he might have some real accomplishments to tout in next year's State of the Union address. (mm)