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'America First' comes to Washington in Trump's first major address to Congress

March 01,2017 12:35

President Donald Trump took his "America First" vision to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, delivering his nationalist message in a way more palatable to the Washington, DC, crowd, successfully endearing many of the lawmakers and elites he ...


President Donald Trump took his "America First" vision to a joint
session of Congress on Tuesday night, delivering his nationalist
message in a way more palatable to the Washington, DC, crowd,
successfully endearing many of the lawmakers and elites he
vehemently fought against while seeking the White House.

Trump spent more than an hour speaking about job creation,
immigration, national security, and international trade as he
implored Americans to embrace a "renewal of the American spirit"
and work together to tackle a wide array of challenges facing the
country at home and abroad.

Upon its conclusion, NBC News anchor Brian Williams dubbed the
address "the most speech-like speech" Trump has ever given.
CNN's Dana Bash said it was the president's most "presidential"

Staying almost exclusively on his prepared text, Trump said he
was delivering a "message of unity and strength." Coming off
a shocking electoral win in November, the nation has been
bitterly divided in the early days of his presidency.

"A new chapter of American greatness is now beginning," Trump
said. "A new national pride is sweeping across our nation."

In a move that surprised some, Trump decided to open his speech
by denouncing the threats targeting Jewish
Community Centers and the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, in
addition to the shooting of two Indian men near Kansas
City, saying that the country "stands united in condemning hate
and evil in all its forms."

The president moved on to touting his early moves as
president, which included his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific
Partnership, his rescinding of regulations, the
nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and
immigration orders that sparked widespread controversy. When
he spoke of his beginning to "drain the swamp," several
Democratic members proceeded to laugh.

Additionally, the president mentioned several major companies,
such as Ford, General Motors, and Softbank, which have touted the
creation of new jobs since he took office, and he made
note of record gains in the stock market. He promoted his
direction to the Department of Defense to create a plan that will
ensure the destruction of ISIS, the terrorist organization he
said was composed of "lawless savages that have slaughtered
Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all
faiths and beliefs."

Saying that he inherited many problems domestically and overseas,
Trump began to outline what he believed needed to be addressed.

First, were the 94 million people out of the labor force —
a misleading statistic, considering it would
encompass retirees, students, and stay-at-home parents. But he
also mentioned the many millions of Americans in poverty and
called for a restarting of "the engine of the American economy."

To do so, he called for a slashing of corporate taxes and a
reevaluation of America's policies related to international trade
— two planks of his ascendancy to the White House. 

Alex Wong/Getty

Promising to return "millions of jobs," Trump discussed the taxes
American companies face overseas without a similar counterpart
for foreign companies looking to ship into America. Citing a
recent meeting with executives from Harley-Davidson, he promised
to change that.

"They weren't even asking for change," Trump said, after
mentioning the executives discussing overseas taxes. "But I am."

The president tied changes in trade policy to an overhauling
of the immigration system. Earlier in the day, multiple outlets
reported he was now open to comprehensive immigration reform,
something he chastised along the campaign trail in favor of a
more hardline stance.

"I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible,
as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and
wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to
restore respect for our laws," Trump said. "If we are guided by
the well-being of American citizens then I believe Republicans
and Democrats can work together to achieve an outcome that has
eluded our country for decades."

In his next salvo, Trump called for $1 trillion in infrastructure
spending, citing President Dwight Eisenhower's creation of the
interstate highway system as proof that such investment,
traditionally a Democratic cause, was favored by

Trump took aim at the Affordable Care Act, as well, saying that
his replacement for President Barack Obama's signature healthcare
law will ensure Americans with pre-existing conditions will have
access to coverage and expand health savings accounts and tax
credits. Several Democrats showed their disdain for his targeting
of the healthcare act.

"Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed," he said.
"Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find
healing, and hope."

Speaking about issues related to law enforcement and security,
Trump touted his budget proposal to increase defense spending and
insisted he is committed to NATO — adding the caveat that
member nations must meet requirements for defense spending. He
also painted a picture of a nation gripped by "lawless chaos," a
charge not backed up by crime data.

The president said America cannot become a "beachhead" or
"sanctuary" for terrorists. He did not discuss Russia or
the civil war in Syria.

The most powerful moment of the night came as Trump introduced Carryn Owens, the widow of Navy
SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed in the controversial raid in
Yemen last month, Trump's first military action as president.

"Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero — battling against
terrorism and securing our Nation," Trump said. "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," he continued. "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."

In visible tears, Carryn stood and clapped as the room stood for
its longest applause of the night.

Carryn Owens with Ivanka
Alex Wong/Getty

Veering from the script, Trump said Ryan was happily looking
down because he "just set a record," pointing to the
lengthy ovation.

Following the speech, Democratic CNN commentator Van Jones said Trump
"became president of the United States in that moment, period."

In closing his address, Trump spoke of the upcoming 250-year
anniversary of the country. He declared Tuesday night was "when
this new chapter of American greatness began."

"The time for small thinking is over," Trump said. "The time for
trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share
the dreams that fill our hearts. The bravery to express the hopes
that stir our souls. And the confidence to turn those hopes and
dreams to action."

"I am asking all citizens to embrace this Renewal of the American
Spirit," he concluded. "I am asking all members of Congress
to join me in dreaming big, and bold and daring things for our
country. And I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this
moment and — Believe in yourselves. Believe in your future. And
believe, once more, in America."

Afterward, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told CNN the
president's address was "another speech where Trump talks like a
populist; the way he's been governing is totally the opposite."
Newly elected DNC Chair Tom Perez told MSNBC the speech was "Steve Bannon on
steroids with a smile."

"President Trump’s speech had an air of unreality because what he
said tonight was so different than how he has governed in the
first 40 days," Schumer said in an expanded statement.

The New York senator added: "He’s proposed nothing on trade or
infrastructure, which might help working families; and his budget
seems to cut education and medical research, which he talked
about improving. The President is simply using populists rhetoric
to cloak his hard right, anti-middle class agenda. The American
people don’t want words, they want actions that help them." 

But hearkening back to Jones' comments on CNN moments before,
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave his analysis on
Trump's big night.

The Senate majority leader said of the president: "For
people who are not Republicans and already committed to the
president and his agenda, Donald Trump did indeed become
presidential tonight."

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