Utahns in Congress laud Trump’s State of the Union speech while Democrats at home denounce it

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Pool via AP)

After the State of the Union address Tuesday night, Utah’s federal delegation — all Republican — found spots to praise, align with and foster hope for President Donald Trump, mostly on immigration.

And one of his sharpest critics on the subject earlier this month, Rep. Mia Love, was among his strongest allies. She credited the president for his evolving support for undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers.” And she commended him for pairing it with a more secure southern border.

“It’s not just about immigration, but it’s also about protecting Americans, not just from criminals but weapons and drugs,” she said.

Two weeks ago, Love asked Trump to apologize for calling Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “s---hole countries” while he questioned why immigrants from those places are allowed into the United States.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah meets with constituents during "open office hours" at her West Jordan office, Tuesday August 1, 2017. Love met with constituents in groups no larger than ten people, her alternative to holding a town hall.

And while Trump preached unity Tuesday, Love said the president needs to incorporate that attitude when he tweets, instead of just in his speeches.

“If he would transfer that language into his Twitter [feed], that would be great,” Love said.

The state’s rookie congressman, Rep. John Curtis, said Trump did “a fine job” with the address, and he’s glad to hear a detailed plan from the president on what an immigration proposal could look like as Congress works toward a resolution.

“I think a lot of us have been waiting for that,” he said.

Elected in the November special election, this was Curtis’ first State of the Union. He says there was “quite a bit of drama” when some Democratic lawmakers declining to stand or clap for the president. One thing that caught Curtis off guard was Trump’s comment about rebuilding the United States’ nuclear arsenal, which he wants to study more before he decides whether to support.

Otherwise, he said, the speech was a “pretty thorough list of things that are important to Republicans.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has supported Trump and called him “one of the best” presidents he’s seen, praised the State of the Union address for drawing “a roadmap to success.” With plans to retire at the end of his term this year, Hatch believes lawmakers “are going to capitalize on the victories of 2017.”

(AndrŽ Chung | special to The Salt Lake Tribune) Followed by his security staff Sen. Hatch makes his way to a luncheon in Washington D.C. on December 21, 2017. Senator Orrin Hatch is the senior senator from Utah, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and President pro tempore of the United States Senate.

“I may just have one year left in the Senate, but I plan to make it my most successful yet,” he promised.

In 2017, as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the senior senator helped draft tax legislation that ultimately passed. The marshaling earned the kudos of Trump, who specifically heralded the plan Tuesday night. The president also singled out the child tax credit, which Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee fought for; in a video response, Lee said he was “thrilled” at the mention.

Hatch commended the president, too, for urging Congress to find a path forward for immigrants facing deportation with the dissolution of the Barack Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protected those who were brought to the U.S. as children.

“As he said tonight and as I’ve expressed over the last few weeks, the key to a lasting compromise is combining a path forward for the ‘Dreamer’ population with significant enhancements to border security and interior enforcement,” Hatch said in a written statement.

But while the praise piled up from the state’s federal lawmakers, Utah Democrats weren’t quick to support the speech. State Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, slammed Trump for repeating his pledge to build “a wall on the southern border” between the United States and Mexico. He urged the president to “inspire the people — don’t build the walls of fear and hate.”

Jenny Wilson, a Democrat who launched a bid for the Senate seat that Hatch will leave, said the border wall remarks were “some of the more harsh moments” in the speech. The address, she added, “was all over the map” and “didn’t seem genuine.”

“I didn’t find it that moving,” Wilson said.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski took issue with the president’s “beautiful, clean coal” remark.

“There is no such thing as clean coal,” she wrote on Twitter. “The future is green/clean energy. If we hold to the past we will never move forward.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski reflects on the past year and looks ahead during a sit down interview in her office at the Salt Lake City and County Building on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, applauded the president for advocating for a bolstered national defense. Bishop’s 1st Congressional District includes Hill Air Force Base, and he’s confident that Trump supports a “strong and adequate military.”

The address, overall, was “a very emotional one,” the congressman said. When Trump introduced Ji Seong-Ho, a man who escaped North Korea, Bishop called it “as dramatic a moment as I’ve seen in any speech.”

Trump, he added, is “very direct, and he’s very blunt. It scares some people but it assures others.” Bishop said he was among those encouraged by the president’s words.

A member of the House Intelligence Committee, GOP Rep. Chris Stewart approved of the president’s commitment to “extinguish ISIS” and defeat terrorism. And he appreciated his calls to work beyond party lines. Stewart echoed that by suggesting the State of the Union “was an honor when President Obama was the president, and it’s an honor now with this president.”

— Tribune reporter Thomas Burr contributed to this story.