WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump called on Congress to pass a law that would extend foreign assistance only to “friendly” nations, a dig at the countries that voted in the United Nations to censure the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the Senate just months before: I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said Tuesday in his State of the Union address to Congress, to a standing ovation from Republicans, as well as from his Jewish daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner.
“Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this recognition,” he said. “In 2016 American taxpayers generously send those same countries more than 20 billions of dollars in aid every year. That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to friends of America, not enemies of America.”
In the U.N. General Assembly vote last month, 128 countries voted to censure the United States, nine voted against and 35 abstained.
Among the majority were many U.S. allies, including some — like Egypt and Jordan — that the Trump administration has cultivated to combat terrorism, and which receive substantial U.S. assistance.
Trump also repeated his call on Congress to amend the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which he has reviled as one of the worst deals in history.
“When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent,” he said, referring to ongoing Iranian anti-government protests. “America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom. I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.”
Trump wants the deal, which swaps sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program, to be expanded to include restrictions on missile development, and to remove “sunset” clauses, allowing Iran to lift some restrictions on the enrichment of fissile materials in a decade or so.
Present at the State of the Union as guests of Trump were the parents and brother and sister of Otto Warmbier, a Jewish American student imprisoned by North Korea only to be returned to his family last year as he was dying.
“After a shameful trial, the dictatorship sentenced Otto to 15 years of hard labor, before returning him to America last June — horribly injured and on the verge of death. He passed away just days after his return,” Trump said.
“We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies,” he said. “Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with total American resolve.”
Applause extended by Congress to the Warmbier family was among the lengthiest of the evening.
Delivering the response was Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D- Mass., a scion of the Kennedy clan. He addressed divisions Democrats say Trump has sowed among Americans with fraught attacks on minorities and by not robustly repudiating the support of white supremacists.
“Many have spent the past year anxious, angry, afraid,” he said. “We all feel the fault lines of a fractured country.”
Among the “fault lines” he described, he listed “Hatred and supremacy proudly marching in our streets,
Bullets tearing through our classrooms, concerts, and congregations.”
Also delivering remarks was Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests when he ran last year in the Democratic primaries.
Much of Sanders’ speech was focused on income equality, but he also addressed the divisiveness that Democrats say Trump has sown.
“I want to offer a vision of where we should go as a nation which is far different than the divisiveness, dishonesty, and racism coming from the Trump Administration over the past year,” he said.