WASHINGTON — Addressing a deeply divided nation, President Donald Trump summoned the country to a "new American moment" of unity in his first State of the Union, challenging Congress to make good on long-standing promises to fix a fractured immigration system and warning darkly of evil forces seeking to undermine America's way of life.
Trump's address Tuesday night blended self-congratulation and calls for optimism amid a growing economy with ominous warnings about deadly gangs, the scourge of drugs and violent immigrants living in the United States illegally. He cast the debate over immigration — an issue that has long animated his most ardent supporters — as a battle between heroes and villains, leaning heavily on the personal stories of White House guests in the crowd. He praised a law enforcement agent who arrested more than 100 gang members, and he recognized the families of two alleged gang victims.
He also spoke forebodingly of catastrophic dangers from abroad, warning that North Korea would "very soon" threaten the United States with nuclear-tipped missiles.
"The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world," Trump said. "But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers and America's forgotten communities."
Trump addressed the nation with tensions running high on Capitol Hill. An impasse over immigration prompted a three-day government shutdown earlier this year, and lawmakers appear no closer to resolving the status of the "Dreamers" — young people living in the U.S. illegally ahead of a new Feb. 8 deadline for funding operations. The parties have also clashed this week over the plans of Republicans on the House intelligence committee to release a classified memo on the Russia investigation involving Trump's presidential campaign — a decision the White House backs but the Justice Department is fighting.
The controversies that have dogged Trump — and the ones he has created— have overshadowed strong economic gains during his first year in office. His approval ratings have hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency, and 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 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.
At times, Trump's address appeared to be aimed more at validating his first year in office than setting the course for his second. He devoted significant time to touting the tax overhaul he signed at the end of last year, promising the plan will "provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses." He also highlighted the decision made early in his first year to withdraw the U.S. from a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade pact, declaring: "The era of economic surrender is totally over."
He spoke about potential agenda items for 2018 in broad terms, including a call for $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending and partnerships with states and the private sector. He touched only briefly on issues like health care that have been at the center of the Republican Party's policy agenda for years.
Tackling the sensitive immigration debate that has roiled Washington, Trump redoubled his recent pledge to offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants — but only as part of a package that would also require increased funding for border security, including a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ending the nation's visa lottery method and revamping the current legal immigration system. Some Republicans are wary of the hardline elements of Trump's plan and it's unclear whether his blueprint could pass Congress.
"Americans are dreamers too," Trump said, in an apparent effort to reclaim the term used to describe the young immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
A former New York Democrat, the president also played to the culture wars that have long illuminated American politics, alluding to his public spat with professional athletes who led protests against racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, declaring that paying tribute to the flag is a "civic duty."
Republicans led multiple rounds of enthusiastic applause during the speech, but for the opposition party it was a more somber affair. Democrats provided a short spurt of polite applause for Trump as he entered the chamber, but offered muted reactions throughout the speech. A cluster of about two dozen Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, remained planted firmly in their seats, staring sternly at the president and withholding applause.
After devastating defeats in 2016, Democrats are hopeful that Trump's sagging popularity can help the party rebound in November's midterm elections. In a post-speech rebuttal, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, was seeking to undercut Trump's optimistic tone and remind voters of the personal insults and attacks often leveled by the president.
"Bullies may land a punch," Kennedy said. "They might leave a mark. But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future."
The arc of Trump's 80-minute speech featured the personal stories of men and women who joined first lady Melania Trump in the audience. The guests included a New Mexico policeman and his wife who adopted a baby from parents who suffered from opioid addiction, and Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea and outspoken critic of the Kim Jong-un government.
On international affairs, Trump warned of the dangers from "rogue regimes," like Iran and North Korea, terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, and "rivals" like China and Russia "that challenge our interests, our economy and our values." Calling on Congress to lift budgetary caps and boost spending on the military, Trump said that "unmatched power is the surest means of our defense."
Trump's biggest foreign policy announcement of the night concerned the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which former President Barack Obama tried but failed to close. Reversing Obama's policy, Trump said he'd signed an executive order Tuesday directing the Pentagon to keep the prison open while re-examining the military's policy on detention.
Trump said he was also asking Congress to ensure the U.S. had needed powers to detain Islamic State group members and other "terrorists wherever we chase them down," though it was unclear whether he was referring to a new war powers authorization or some other mechanism. Trump also said he wanted Congress to pass a law ensuring U.S. foreign aid goes only "to America's friends" — a reference to his frustration at U.S. aid recipients that voted at the U.N. to rebuke his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Mrs. Trump arrived at the Capitol ahead of her husband to attend a reception with guests of the White House, but she rode back to the White House with him. It was the first time she was seen publicly with the president following a report that his lawyer arranged a payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, to prevent her from talking about an alleged affair. Daniels denied the affair in a new statement released hours before the speech.
It’s no secret that Pennsylvania’s infrastructure grades aren’t great — the most recent American Society of Civil Engineers report on the Keystone state put it at a “C-“ overall.
Out of the 16 categories of infrastructure the ASCE grades, Pennsylvania’s best was freight rail, at a “B.” The state’s worst grades were, as is often discussed, in roads and bridges, the items that most people first associate with infrastructure.
But there is also another item on which Pennsylvania ranks among the worst. Wastewater infrastructure is a “D-“ in the state, according to the ASCE.
Wastewater is a peculiar infrastructure issue, as opposed to transportation. The latter has robust and largely centralized agencies, such as PennDOT in Pennsylvania, that oversee and fund its improvement and expansion, even if progress on this has been subpar in past decades.
Wastewater, on the other hand, relies on either municipal sewer networks or individual property owners’ on-lot septic systems, with arms-length oversight by state and federal regulators.
This decentralization is particularly acute in areas such as the Midstate, where wastewater infrastructure consists of dozens of small municipal sewer authorities and thousands of on-lot systems installed by homeowners and developers who aren’t close enough to a municipal sewer line to make it economically feasible to route into it.
“It really varies by area, but I’ll tell you that most of the systems that were put in in the 1960s and ‘70s have already failed and been replaced,” said Ken Peck, owner of Peck’s Septic Service.
“Now we’re into the ‘80s systems, but I would say that starting in the ‘80s there was a little better oversight as to the installation and testing which actually allowed these systems to last longer,” Peck said.
Exactly how much new wastewater infrastructure is being installed in Pennsylvania, and how long it will last before it fails, is difficult to gauge.
The main problem is a lack of data. Pennsylvania requires all new wastewater infrastructure to be certified by a local sewer enforcement officer, who is appointed at the municipal level. SEOs then register any permits they issue with the state Department of Environment Protection.
But the DEP is not tasked with putting together any overall trend data.
“My understanding is that we just keep a copy of the permits, we don’t track them in any way,” said DEP spokesman Neil Shader.
Additionally, the stress on SEOs has increased in some parts of the state, as development continues apace while fewer officers are getting into the trade.
“There is some concern that as the SEOs who are in now start to retire, if the workload were to pick up, are there going to be enough SEOs to handle the workload,” said Mark Mitman, administrator for the Pennsylvania Sewage Enforcement Officers’ Association. “More are retiring than are coming on board.”
The ASCE grade references a 2008 study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, which used DEP reports and US Census data to estimate the volume of on-lot septic systems and their repair.
In 2004, with 65 percent of the state’s municipalities reporting, the CRP found 15,918 on-lot septic permits issued, of which 20 percent were for repair. Over a fourth of these were in the 15-county south-central region, as defined by the DEP, which Cumberland County is in the center of. Out of the 4,158 permits in the region in 2004, 26 percent were for repairs.
Peck said the spike in repairs for on-lot wastewater systems was largely due to incorrect installation in previous decades. Pennsylvania does not have particularly good soil geography for gravity-drained treatment systems.
“A lot of the systems were put too deep into the soil,” Peck said, adding that most areas of the region have a relatively shallow “limiting zone” below which processed septic effluent won’t drain.
“A lot of the older systems were put into the limiting zone area, which means the water does not go down, it goes sideways,” Peck said.
Newer systems, particularly systems with sand mounds dug into the soil, avoid this problem.
But the other hurdle in this process is a matter of space. Pennsylvania’s Act 537, which requires municipalities to hire SEOs and enact sewer and septic placement plans, restricts how close systems can be to each other, as well as to water sources. Nevertheless, the state still has 205 stream-miles and 3,310 lake-acres of waterways with pollution from on-lot septic, the ASCME said, citing DEP data.
In many cases, older systems packed too tightly together created problems, often leading small municipalities to band together in the creation of municipal authorities to create public sewer access.
But sewer access is not free to build. A Sentinel analysis last year found that municipal debt across all of Cumberland County’s townships and boroughs averaged $1,487 per person, most of it associated with wastewater infrastructure.
A legislative task force report found in 2008 that Pennsylvania needs roughly $25 billion in wastewater infrastructure improvements through 2028. But the total amount of funding provided on an annual basis lags far behind that.
The major source of support for municipalities, with regard to water and wastewater funding, is the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, or PennVest, which manages a capital pool of both state and federal money.
In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the authority provided $256.8 million in financing to dozens of municipalities and municipal authorities, and it has provided over $8 billion in assistance since its inception in 1988.
But this is still below projected need, the ASCE said. The bottom line on how to fix Pennsylvania’s “D-“ sewer and septic infrastructure is that “the case for increased federal investment to assist Pennsylvania and the other states is compelling,” the ASCE wrote. “Needs are large and unprecedented; in many locations, local sources cannot be expected to meet this challenge alone.”
Keeping with tradition while thinking outside the box are qualities local residents want in the next superintendent of South Middleton School District.
About 15 residents gathered in the Boiling Springs High School auditorium Monday night to offer input into the process of selecting a new chief executive by July 1.
The school board hired Templeton Advantage of Newport to advertise the vacancy and to consult in the search for a replacement for Al Moyer, who stepped down in August.
Earlier Monday, Tom Templeton met with teachers, administrators and staff to get their input on the strengths of the district, the areas in need of change or improvement and the leadership traits they feel are needed in the next superintendent.
Templeton posed the same questions to an audience that included a retired school principal and a teacher who lives in the Boiling Springs area but works in an adjoining district.
Templeton will use the input he received Monday to help the board develop questions and assess the qualifications of applicants in the lead-up to the first round of interviews scheduled for mid-February. A second round could take place in late February or early March.
Carol Yanity is a reading teacher in Cumberland Valley School District who moved into the Boiling Springs area in 2008 with her husband and children. “As a parent, what I love about this school district is the community,” Yanity said.
She cited how the high school band plays during the community Christmas tree lighting at Children’s Lake. There is also the large percentage of graduates who return to teach in the district.
Bethanne Sellers graduated from Boiling Springs High School and returned and to raise her children in the district. “The traditions I had as a child are still continued,” she said. “It’s so important.”
“Our students are well-rounded and very empathetic,” said Sellers, adding the district creates a sense of citizenship that compels students to look outside themselves.
Denny Clepper, the retired principal of the W.G. Rice Elementary School, identified staff stability as a strength as seen in the relatively low turnover in faculty, administrators and teacher’s aides.
However, Clepper also mentioned that while protections exist for students who are classified as either gifted or in need of special education, no classification exists for students who fall between those categories.
This can create disparities in class sizes, in staffing and curriculum decisions when there really needs to be a balance, Clepper said.
Yanity said school districts across Pennsylvania are seeing more children who are living in poverty. “There needs to be more support for staff to provide services for those students,” she said.
Sellers said South Middleton School District also needs to have stronger intervention programs to help students who are struggling, especially in literacy.
A lot of time and attention Monday was focused on identifying the ideal leadership qualities of the next superintendent.
The person needs to be innovative thinker who is capable of juggling a $1.5 million deficit and the gradual loss of funding from a local hospital, Clepper said.
He was referring to the projected shortfall in the budget for 2018-19 along with the gradual step-down in revenue after UPMC Pinnacle Carlisle was designated a nonprofit by Cumberland County. The hospital was once the largest single taxpayer in the school district.
“I hope you are looking at the longevity the person had in any of the positions they held,” Clepper told Templeton. “Has the person had the opportunity to initiate some plan or action and see it carried through or are they jumping from position to position without any real track record? That concerns me very, very much.”
Clepper said proof of staff development also has to be looked at carefully especially because South Middleton is a small school district.
Whoever is brought in needs to value the traditions that make the South Middleton School District what it is, Sellers said. She added, however, tradition can be a double-edged sword if it prevents the district from changing with the times.
“We need sometimes to be pushed in a positive way to what is in the best interest of our students,” she said. She added that the person hired should also be someone who has been exposed to a variety of managerial experiences. The small size of the school district will make it necessary to wear a lot of hats, Sellers said.
“Our administrators and our teachers are interwoven into our community,” said Howard Burkett, a resident and parent. By that, he means that the staff live within the community and have children who attend the local schools.
To get someone in from outside the school district could change the dynamics and disrupt that sense of tradition and community that makes South Middleton strong, Burkett said.
“If they are outside the district, I would hope that they move into the district,” Clepper said. He said that while the board cannot make such residency a condition of employment, having the person move into South Middleton Township would definitely make a statement.
Skeletal remains found in Shippensburg Township this month have been identified as a Shippensburg man who has been missing since May.
The remains of 49-year-old Scott Shaffer were found in a wooded area near the rear of Walmart in Shippensburg Township on Jan. 21, Cumberland County Coroner Charley Hall said Tuesday in a written statement.
Shaffer was reported missing on May 14, Hall said.
Dental records were used to identify Shaffer, and no foul play is suspected, according to Hall.
A forensic anthropology team from Mercyhurt College assisted with the recovery of the remains.
State Police are investigating the case, Hall said.