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State of the Union address live: Donald Trump looks to unite a divided America

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WATCH DONALD TRUMP’S STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS HERE. THE SPEECH IS SCHEDULED TO START AT 9 P.M. ET.

President Donald Trump says uniting America after it had seen “tremendous divisiveness” would be one of his greatest achievements.

Ahead of his first State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump told reporters that he wanted to rally a deeply divided nation and was striving to bring the country together.

“I would love to be able to bring back our country into a great form of unity,” he said. “I want to see our country united. I want to bring our country back from a tremendous divisiveness.”

“Without a major event where people pull together, that’s hard to do,” Trump said, according to a White House transcript of his remarks at a private lunch. “But I’d like to do it without that major event, because usually that major event is not a good thing.”

Trump also said that in his first year he had learned that you had to lead with “heart.”

“You govern with all of the instincts of a businessperson, but you have to add much more heart and soul into your decisions than you would ever have even thought of before,” he said.

He added that issues like immigration would be “so simple” to solve if they were pure business matters, but he said he realized that “millions and millions of people” are affected by his actions.

“it’s much different, in that way, than I thought it would be,” he said.

Tuesday’s prime-time address to Congress and millions of Americans watching at home is traditionally a president’s biggest platform to speak to the nation. However, Trump has redefined presidential communications with his high-octane, filter-free Twitter account.

Trump was quiet Tuesday on Twitter, and the White House sought to focus attention on his big speech. Officials said Trump had spent months giving aides “tidbits” about lines he wanted to use in the speech and was assisted in its crafting by national security adviser H.R. McMaster and economy adviser Gary Cohn.

The economy would be the centrepiece of Trump’s address, officials said, with the president arguing that the tax overhaul he signed into law late last year had boosted business confidence and would lead companies to reinvest in the United States.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the president should thank his predecessor for the economy during Tuesday’s address, but predicted that was unlikely to happen.

“Here are two words we won’t hear President Trump say tonight about the economy: ‘Thanks, Obama,”’ Schumer said.

Considering the strength of the economy, Trump appeared before the nation in a remarkably weak position. His approval rating has hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency and at the close of 2017, just 3 in 10 Americans said the United States was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 per cent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.

It’s unlikely Trump will be able to rely on robust legislative accomplishments to reverse those numbers in 2018. Congress has struggled with the basic function of funding the government, prompting a brief federal shutdown earlier this month that was resolved only with a short-term fix that pushed the spending deadline to Feb. 8.

Against the backdrop of the spending fight, Republicans and Democrats are also wrestling with the future of some 700,000 young immigrants living in the United States illegally.

On Monday, Trump said he would use part of the speech to call for a bipartisan deal on immigration. A few days earlier, he proposed a deal that would allow “dreamers” – young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children – to be given a path to citizenship, in exchange for an increase in border-security funding and large cuts to legal immigration.

“The Republicans really don’t have the votes to get it done in any other way. So it has to be bipartisan,” the president told reporters Monday, after a swearing-in ceremony for Alex Azar as the new secretary of health and human services.

Though Democrats are eager to reach a resolution for the young immigrants, the party is hardly in the mood to compromise with Trump ahead of the midterm elections. Lawmakers see Trump’s unpopularity as a key to their success in November, and are eager to mobilize Democratic voters itching to deliver the president and his party a defeat at the ballot box.

The divisions over immigration was reflected in the gallery that overlooked the House chamber. More than 50 Democratic lawmakers  invited “dreamers” to attend as guests to dramatize their demand for legal status. In response, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, Ariz., tweeted that he had asked the Capitol Police to check all guests’ IDs, and arrest “any illegal aliens in attendance.”

In Trump’s box, he invited guests who highlighted the threat posed by MS-13, a criminal gang active in both the United States and Central America. Trump’s guests  included a federal immigration agent who has investigated the gang, and two sets of parents whose children were killed by MS-13 members.

— With files from Washington Post

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