Fighting AIDS, child cancer and funding infrastructure offer chance at common ground

President Donald Trump shakes hands with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Vice President Mike Pence looks on, as he arrives in the House chamber before giving his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Donald Trump shakes hands with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Vice President Mike Pence looks on, as he arrives in the House chamber before giving his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Much of the reaction in Congress to President Trump’s State of the Union speech fell along party lines. The president’s call for unity didn’t find a sympathetic audience in Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons.

“It was a slap in the face with an olive branch,” Coons said.

The address seems to have done little to end the impasse over Trump’s demand for expanding the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

However Coons and other lawmakers from the Philadelphia region are latching on to a few areas where they see common ground.

Trump’s proposal “to defeat AIDS in America” while also calling to combat childhood cancer won broad standing ovations. Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey says he thinks a divided Congress can make progress on those issues.

“Look, we got a lot done on opioids. We got a lot done on all sorts of legislation that just doesn’t make the headlines, but it’s still important stuff. I suspect the two parties will work together on those sorts of things,” Toomey said.

Still, Sen. Coons is waiting for Trump to flesh out his ideas.

“He recognized Gracie Eline, who’s been struggling with brain cancer, and challenged us to come together to combat childhood cancers, but gave no details. He talked about paid family leave, he talked about ending HIV/AIDS in a decade — inspiring and ambitious goals, but he gave absolutely no details.”,” Coons said.

Then there was the president’s renewed call for a big infrastructure bill.  Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith from central New Jersey, like the rest of his state’s delegation, is itching to get funding for the Gateway Tunnel rail project into New York City.

“These are very very old tubes that need to be fixed before we have a catastrophic — like we almost did with Hurricane Sandy,” Smith said.

Now that the speech is over, Congress and the president have less than two weeks to fund the government and avert another shutdown.

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