WASHINGTON — Jennie Taylor's emotions were mixed as she stood and applauded President Donald Trump's announcement in his State of the Union address Tuesday that he is negotiating an end to nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan.
"My husband gave his life in Afghanistan and you never want to withdraw in a way that you are going to leave a vacuum and things fall apart and you question why we were there," she said following the speech. "But I liked how he said we were going to push for peace. Nobody prays for peace more than a soldier."
Her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, was helping train Afghan forces when he was killed Nov. 3 in an insider attack at the Kabul Military Training Center.
Taylor, who would have returned early this year from his fourth tour of duty with the Utah Army National Guard, was also mayor of North Ogden and is believed to be the first Utah mayor ever deployed overseas.
Jennie Taylor, who attended the speech Tuesday as the guest of Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, was among two Utahns sitting in the House gallery to hear Trump deliver his second State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
Also attending as a guest of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was Betty Lou Workman, the mother of Blanding native and fallen Navy SEAL Jason Workman, who was among 30 Americans — including Taylorsville native Jared Williams Day — killed when a Taliban insurgent downed their Chinook helicopter on Aug. 6, 2011.
Trump, who noted nearly 7,000 American troops have died in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Tuesday that "great nations do not fight endless wars," and that he had accelerated negotiations with Afghan groups, including the Taliban, to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
"We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace," Trump said. "The other side would like to do the same thing. It's time."
Taylor was seated on a back row of the House gallery along with dozens of guests invited by representatives and senators to attend the annual speech. Members of Congress are each given one ticket to invite a guest and many of in attendance Tuesday were there to make a political point on gun violence, equal rights, immigration or the recent government shutdown, among other issues.
News releases announcing the attendance of Taylor and Workman said their invitations were to honor the sacrifices of Taylor's husband and Workman's son. Brent Taylor, 39, left behind his wife and seven children, and Workman, who was 32 when he died, was survived by a wife and child.
Taylor said she was not only awed to be in the same room as a "who's who in American leadership," but with a "who's who of Americans" recognized by Trump. They included World War II veterans, Holocaust survivors, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and two survivors of the deadly attack last year on a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh.
"At one point the president said the state of our union is strong. And I think the state of our union is strong because the American people are strong," said Taylor. "We have work to do in politics to be more bipartisan and compromise, but what makes America great is the American people."
Workman said after the speech that she "thought it was wonderful. The president is doing his best to bring us together."
In a statement issued following the speech, Romney said the president's remarks were "strong, well-delivered, and appealed to our patriotism and common values as Americans."
"He highlighted several critical policy areas where there are opportunities for both parties to work together — including lowering health care costs, reforming trade policies to better protect American workers, and strengthening border security and immigration enforcement. These are priorities that I share and will work to advance in the Senate," Romney said.
Romney also said he has been "encouraged" by the administration's efforts to support democracy in Venezuela and that the administration "deserves credit" for its efforts to cut taxes and regulations.
"While I welcome efforts by the administration to reach a political solution in Afghanistan and eliminate ISIS in Syria, I believe that — based on conditions on the ground — we must maintain a sufficient U.S. presence in both places to protect our national security interests," Romney said.
Speaking with Deseret News Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson on KSL Newsradio following the president's address, Rep. Ben McAdams said, "I think he laid out a really good agenda, where we need bipartisan work, people to come together."
However, McAdams, the Utah delegation's sole Democrat, said he believed there were "moments of divisiveness" in the speech.
"I think the one thing that maybe was disappointing to me … was some of this divisive rhetoric as it relates to immigrants again," he said.
"The state of Utah was founded by refugees … certainly we've got issues at the border … but let's also recognize that immigrants who have come here for many generations, they make our country stronger," McAdams told Matheson.
But he said, overall, he was "encouraged" by Trump's speech.
"By and large, I felt a lot of olive branches were extended, and there's something to work with there. And I hope the Democratic leadership will recognize that," McAdams said on KSL Newsradio.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, told Matheson on KSL Newsradio that he believes the speech was "a little bit of a preamble to the president's reelection campaign."
He said it appeared Trump didn't want to be "confrontational."
"I think he did a remarkable job of doing that, and frankly, I think he surprised a lot of people," Stewart said.
Stewart expressed frustration at the reactions from some Democrats in the chamber who refused to stand up during some of Trump's words, including his statement against socialism.
"What in the world are you thinking? How can you not show and express your support for this idea?" Stewart recalled thinking. "And that's something when you're there, you really get a sense for."
Stewart said he thinks the American people are "exhausted by the controversy, exhausted by the anger."
Speaking to Matheson on air, Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said, "I think what jumped out for me was that, truly, if we can work together, we can do some extraordinary things. And we've got to figure out how to get past this partisan aspect that is really hurting us."
"I think we've got to figure out infrastructure, health care, reducing costs, we should all be able to agree on that and work together on that, on national security. So I think he clicked off a number of things that we should have broadside bipartisan support on," Curtis said on KSL Newsradio.
Curtis said he believes if Trump and the Democratic party didn't have a history, "it would be hard to disagree with anything he said. But the history, of the symbolism built into the wall, and the divisiveness, I think makes it very hard for them to put that aside."
Like Stewart, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also told Matheson that he was shocked at some of Democrats' reactions to parts of the speech.
"It was nothing short of stunning that nearly every Democrat in the entire chamber sat silent with their arms locked, many of them wearing white, refusing to applaud, much less stand, when the president said something as non-controversial as, 'Let's not kill babies after they're born,'" Lee said on KSL Newsradio.
Lee called the speech "great" and added that Trump "did an outstanding job."
He said he was thrilled by Trump's mention of the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill Lee has worked on during his time in the Senate.
"It was a surreal moment, and it was very gratifying," Lee said.
Bishop, on KSL Newsradio, also praised Trump's address, calling it "one of his better speeches."
He said "even cynical members of Congress" were "moved to tears" by the people Trump introduced.
"He threw a lot of stuff out there for which people can get together and, I hope, unify," Bishop said.30 comments on this story
Bishop added that he believes the most powerful moment of the evening was when Trump said the country will not accept socialism.
"It appears that while many within the congressional audience were receptive, some remained entrenched. I hope the cooperative attitude of his speech spreads to all," Bishop said in a prepared statement.
"Like every president before, President Trump has outlined his vision for the next year. Much of which is within our grasp if we simply work together to achieve. I am ready. Thank you."
Contributing: Ashley Imlay