Trump’s first speech to Congress was surprisingly restrained. Here are the highlights.
President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night and urged the 115th Congress, which is already starkly divided on his presidency, to act quickly to replace Obamacare, reform the tax code, upgrade the country’s infrastructure, and change the immigration system.
Trump’s speech, however, did not provide some of the details that many Republicans in Congress had been hoping for. Instead, Trump either stuck to broad principles or delegated the job to Congress. On healthcare, Trump said he’s “calling on this Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time, provide better healthcare.”
While many of Trump’s past high-profile speeches have been marked by a strident tone, Trump began this one with a message of unity. He condemned the recent acts of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries and the killing of two Indian Americans in Kansas, saying that politics may divide Americans but the “country stands united on condemning hate and evil in all of its ugly forms.”
Congressional Democrats applauded those remarks but soon made their displeasure clear, sniggering when Trump repeated his “drain the swamp” campaign promise and sitting stone-faced while Republicans gave standing ovations. Several Democratic women also wore white, the color of women’s suffrage, in a silent protest of Trump.
Here are the most important parts of Trump’s speech:
Immigration and a ‘great, great wall’
Trump promised to restore the “rule of law” at America’s border with a “great, great wall along our Southern border,” a signature campaign promise but controversial now because of costs. He also said he would continue to remove undocumented immigrants that undermine Americans’ job security or pose a violent threat.
“By finally enforcing our immigration laws,” Trump said, “we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone…
To any in Congress who do not believe we should enforce our laws, I would ask you this question: What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income, or a loved one, because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?”
Such a hawkish tone on immigration stood in contrast to remarks the president made earlier Tuesday to news anchors, where he said “the time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides.”
The economy and jobs
Trump cited his own negotiations with American car companies to keep factories in the United States as the beginnings of a rebirth in the American manufacturing sector. He attributed the manufacturing industry’s collapse to poorly negotiated trade deals like NAFTA. Trump proposed that his strict enforcement of immigration laws would also help working Americans who, he claimed, have seen their wages decrease because of undocumented workers flooding the labor market.
“Lincoln was right — and it is time we heeded his words,” Trump said. “I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers be taken advantage of anymore.”
“Nations around the world like Canada, Australia, and many others have a merit-based immigration system. It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon.”
‘Imploding Obamacare disaster’
Trump called on Congress to “repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time, provide better healthcare.”
He attacked the “imploding Obamacare disaster” and said that Congress had to save the healthcare system that was “collapsing.” He outlined broad principles for an Obamacare replacement, such as maintaining protections for preexisting conditions, enabling Americans to purchase insurance across state lines, enacting healthcare tax credits, and expanding healthcare savings accounts.
“Mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for America,” Trump said. “The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we will do.”
Trump defends travel ban, Yemen operation
Trump defended his controversial executive order temporarily banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries as a necessary step to “protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism.” Past presidents have avoided using “Islamic” to describe terrorists in order to avoid casting all of the world’s billion-plus Muslims as radicals. Trump’s new national security adviser reportedly urged Trump not to use the term, but Trump has said he felt it accurately described groups like the Islamic State.
“We have seen the attacks in France, in Belgium, in Germany, and all over the world,” Trump said. “It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur. Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values.”
Trump also singled out the widow of William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL who died in the recent operation in Yemen. The crowd applauded her for nearly a full minute and most members of Congress also gave her a standing ovation. He also rebuked recent reporting by NBC News that the raid, and Owens’ death, did not bring back any significant intelligence, citing Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Here’s what Trump said about Owens:
“We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens. Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero – battling against terrorism and securing our nation.
I just spoke to General Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom – we will never forget him.”