President Donald Trump stood before Congress last week and delivered his second State of the Union address. And just like last time, the lawmakers — and the country — seemed bitterly divided.
The difference now, of course, is that Democrats control the House, and so it was incumbent upon Trump to make at least a vague appeal toward bipartisanship. He did manage that, urging Congress to set aside their differences and work together toward solutions, especially on immigration. He also took a moment to laud the election of a record number of women to Congress — gains that have been made, sadly, mainly by Democrats at the expense of the Republican Party — and to praise World War II veterans as well as Holocaust survivors.
While those moments ought to be appreciated, they were often bracketed by incendiary rhetoric on immigration and a variety of other topics. He again brought up the MS-13 gang and violent crimes committed by illegal aliens. He used the ongoing crisis in Venezuela to take a swipe at liberals in this country. And he said bipartisanship would really be possible only if the House stopped investigating his administration.
All of that meant that the address, while it has pleased his supporters and angered Democrats, probably won’t move the needle much with the public or with Congress. Certainly it’s hard to see how his speech, which he was able to give only after ending the longest shutdown in U.S. history, will lead to some sort of grand compromise emerging in Washington on immigration or anything else. The reaction in the chamber itself reflected how sadly divided the nation is these days: Democrats mostly sat on their hands, even at what would have been throw-away applause lines for most other presidents in previous years. Republicans, on the other hand, seemed all too eager to leap to their feet in applause at every possible opportunity.
The reaction by Maine’s congressional delegation was more muted and measured, for the most part. Watching the address live might have been more interesting for Mainers if we could have had live insets of all of their reactions throughout the address, rather than a few scattered glimpses here and there as the cameras panned. After the speech, Sen. Angus King issued what could be safely called a “wait and see” statement — which could be considered an apt description of his congressional career thus far. King voted for most of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, and has expressed a willingness to work with him, but hasn’t really taken any concrete steps toward doing so.
Sen. Susan Collins focused on the substantive proposals Trump presented during the address. While that approach might frustrate some of her critics, it’s important to consider that as long as they’re both in office, she has to work with him as president. It’s easy to say that someone should stand up and fight more against Trump, but at the end of the day someone has to govern. She would no doubt like to see real progress made on a variety of issues, but it’s hard to see how that happens while the country remains deadlocked over immigration and headed toward an election year.
Like Collins, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, the Democrat who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, focused on Trump’s proposals, especially on trade and infrastructure.
Golden, during the campaign and since the election, has emphasized that, like Trump, he is skeptical of the North American Free Trade Agreement — a position that also puts him in lockstep with former Rep. Mike Michaud. While Michaud was frequently successful in vital behind-the-scenes work to help his constituents who were negatively affected by international trade, he didn’t make much headway on the issue in Washington.
Golden could take a similar low-key tack on trade, or he could try to use it to raise his profile on a national level. If he takes the latter approach, Golden could show Democrats how to regain the support of voters they have lost — if he can avoid earning the ire of the party’s stridently anti-Trump base.
Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District, who said she hoped to hear more about climate change, can use the address to solidify her base at home and in Washington.
She’s been working with freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on a number of issues recently, an alliance that could be beneficial to both of them. It will be fascinating to see that partnership develop, and whether it helps Pingree continue to climb the ladder within the Democratic caucus — especially as spots begin to open up in leadership in coming years.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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