WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump made a major announcement during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, saying the prison at Guantanamo Bay will stay open, adding to an increasingly divisive administrative agenda amid his calls for unity and bipartisanship.
Trump announced the signing of the executive order during his speech. Its purpose, he explained, would be to relieve the U.S. from some of its national security concerns.
“Given that some of the current detainee population represent the most difficult and dangerous cases from among those historically detained at the facility, there is significant reason for concern regarding their reengagement in hostilities should they have the opportunity,” the executive order states.
American Civil Liberties Union director Hina Shamsi issued a statement condemning the decision.
“Trump is making a big mistake by doubling down on the national security and human rights disaster that is Guantanamo,” Shamsi said. “For more than a decade, Presidents Bush and Obama tried to transfer people out responsibly, but Trump is reversing course. In trying to give new life to a prison that symbolizes America’s descent into torture and unlawful indefinite detention, Trump will not make this country any safer.”
Shamsi added that there were also financial costs to consider.
“The notion that Guantanamo is worthwhile would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic,” Shamsi said. “In addition to the incalculable human suffering, it costs taxpayers more than $445 million a year to detain the 41 men now there. Congress should prevent President Trump from continuing unlawful detention and unconstitutional military commissions. And we all must pledge — not one person more in Guantanamo, not in our names.”
This development can be added to other roiling political divisions already in progress in Washington. Currently, it is the closely guarded memo both parties have doggedly fought over for days which undercuts calls for teamwork in Congress.
The secret House Intelligence Committee memo, according to those who have seen it, summarizes some of the intelligence methods used to support a federal request to surveil Carter Page, a former Trump campaign associate.
In order to get the warrant, the onus relied on both the FBI and Justice Department to prove probable cause to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
In that process, the government allegedly failed to disclose information in its application – namely, research paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Republicans who have seen it say it confirms the president’s claims that the Russia probe is a “witch hunt.”
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats who have read it say Republicans are being selective with the information presented and have a right to be since the memo was written by committee staff who are effectively overseen by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
Nunes served on Trump’s transition team and has made multiple claims against Democrats, lamenting what he suggests is a campaign to undermine Trump’s presidency.
But to deliver his first address, the president relied on reassurances that upheaval in Washington would soon calm.
“Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have,” he said. “And what kind of nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, as one people, and one American family.”
Consensus could not be achieved on that statement either.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, fired off a tweet in the run up the address, saying “illegal aliens” who attended the night’s event “should be arrested and deported.”
Roughly 30 Democrats invited recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to the night’s address.
“Of all the places where the rule of law needs to be enforced, it should be in the hallowed halls of Congress,” Gosar said. “Any illegal aliens attempting to go through security under any pretext of invitation or otherwise should be arrested or deported.”
Bob Dane, the executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the largest immigration reform group in the U.S., echoed Gosar’s sentiments.
“By granting VIP access to dozens of illegal aliens who consciously and proudly violate our laws, the Democrat members of Congress who invited them have clearly revealed their contempt for the rule of law as well,” Dane said Tuesday.
Sen. Jeff Flake, another Republican lawmaker from Arizona appeared to differ from those opinions, hitting back at Gosar on Twitter Tuesday.
“This is why we can’t have nice things…” he wrote.
The D.C. Capitol Police did not immediately respond to request for comment about any enforcement actions it would or wouldn’t take in light of the lawmaker’s comments.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California invited a host of DACA recipients, or Dreamers as they are commonly known.
Pelosi’s guest, Melody Kligenfuss, came to the U.S. legally from Guatemala when she was nine years old. After her tourist visa expired, she lost legal status but stayed in the U.S.
Kligenfuss eventually obtained her Masters from the University of Southern California and now works as an advocate promoting rights for documented and undocumented immigrants.
Trump, who has sworn an end to DACA unless Democrats acquiesce to a $25 billion border wall security package, renewed promises of pathways to citizenship Tuesday night.
“Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families,” Trump said.
He also offered a promise to “extend an open hand” when working with both parties “to protect our citizens of every background, color and creed.”
With the proposed immigration package, the border “will be fully secured… finally ending the horrible and dangerous practice of catch-and-release,” Trump said Tuesday.
It would also end the visa lottery program which the president dismissed as a program which “gives no credit to the skill or safety of the American people.”
Before the address, aides to the president reportedly spent months receiving one-offs or “tidbits” from Trump on lines he wished to use in the speech. National Security advisor H.R. McMaster and economy adviser Gary Cohn reportedly helped the president craft the message, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The president’s message also centered on the administration’s economic accomplishments, namely trending low unemployment figures, a record-breaking Dow Industrial Average and a tax reform package which Republicans have billed as the administration’s most significant accomplishment so far.
“Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.”
While the Congressional Budget Office has challenged the rosy estimates provided by the White House, the administration says the reform bill increases annual salaries “in the long run and on average” by $4,000.
Trump heralded other aspects of the tax bill: the standard deduction will nearly double too with the first $24,000 salary earned by a married couple considered tax free.
Additionally, the Child Tax credit will increase to $2,000 for every child under 17.
“This is our New American Moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream,” Trump said.
Part of that new moment will also focus on infrastructure investment. Before asking for Congress to fork over $1.5 trillion, Trump vowed to “permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”
“And we can do it,” he said to applause echoing through the chamber.
The $1.5 trillion request aligns with a campaign promise Trump made while on the trail in 2016.
Lamenting bureaucratic red tape, Trump opined: “Isn’t it a disgrace it can take 10 years to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?”
Democrats remained largely motionless during the hearing, a stark contrast to Republicans across the aisle who stood for applause repeatedly or sent up whoops of celebration to punctuate the president’s remarks on everything from immigration to infrastructure to the news of Gitmo’s opening.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who sat with a grimace for much of the address, took to Twitter just minutes after the address ended, apparently seemingly unconvinced by calls for cooperation.
“#Dreamers are Americans too,” Pelosi tweeted.