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President Donald Trump to Congress: Unite to ensure ‘American greatness’

President Donald Trump addresses his first joint session

President Donald Trump addresses his first joint session of Congress as Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud behind him on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. Photo Credit: Pool / AP / Jim Lo Scalzo

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump welcomed a “new chapter of American greatness” Tuesday night with his first address to a joint session of Congress, urging unity across the aisle in crafting solutions to ensure a prosperous future.

“The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us,” Trump said from the well of the House chambers. “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 those dreams to action.”

Trump asked for Democratic cooperation in realizing two top priorities for the GOP: repealing and replacing Obamacare; and immigration reform that improves jobs for Americans, secures the nation, and restores “respect for our laws.”

He also repeated promises for “historic tax reform” that includes tax cuts for business and the middle class. And he asked Congress for increased defense spending and for approval of a $1 trillion investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

Trump’s speech laid out his legislative agenda broadly, but he didn’t provide details or how they would be paid for.

The speech served as a reset of sorts after the work of his first five weeks in office was overshadowed by court battles over his executive order on travel and immigration, the ouster of his national security adviser, and investigations into his campaign’s communications with Russia.

Themed “The Renewal of the American Spirit,” the 60-minute address was more upbeat and forward-looking than his inauguration speech, in which Trump painted a dystopian portrait of the country amid “American carnage.”

At the top of his remarks, with Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) seated behind him, Trump condemned the recent waves of anti-Semitic violence — including dozens of bomb threats to Jewish community centers in Plainview and elsewhere around the country — as well as the Kansas shooting of two Indian immigrants.

“While we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its very ugly forms,” Trump said.

Earlier this month, the president’s failure to speak immediately and forcefully against anti-Semitic acts drew criticism from groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.

Trump has the benefit of a Republican-controlled Congress, but dissent from Democratic Party leaders has made it harder for him to get his Cabinet nominees confirmed and the GOP is struggling with a replacement for that Affordable Care Act that Trump and Pence promised would immediately take place.

At the mention of “repeal and replace,” many Republicans attending the speech stood to applaud while a handful of Democrats offered a thumbs-down.

In the chambers, several female House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, wore white to the speech — the color of the women’s suffrage movement and a statement to their GOP counterparts on women’s issues.

“I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster,” Trump said, though he did not lay out a specific blueprint for the lawmakers.

The president did, however, offer guiding principles including that Americans with pre-existing conditions have coverage and insurance be available for purchase across state lines.

Trump also called for secure borders and stronger enforcement of immigration laws and reiterated his call for a border wall, despite a remark earlier Tuesday to TV news anchors that indicated he was open to compromise on a path to legal status for some immigrants. “The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” he said then.

In his address, he had a message apparently directed at Democrats who might oppose his approach to illegal immigration.

“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 their loved one because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?” Trump asked in the address.

Seated in the audience with first lady Melania Trump were special guests of the president, including four people whose loved ones Trump said were killed by immigrants who were here illegally.

Several news outlets had reported that the White House on Wednesday was expected to unveil an executive order on travel and immigration, to replace the ban now in limbo amid court challenges. But the announcement was not on the president’s Wednesday schedule.

The new measure reportedly will still restrict the entry of nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries but won’t single out Syrian refugees and will exempt green-card holders and those who already have visas.

“We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists,” the president warned Tuesday. “ . . . We will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe — and to keep out those who would do us harm.”

The president also reminded Americans of what he said was the progress he has made in recent weeks. He cited the promise by General Motors, Sprint and other companies that they would keep jobs here, the country’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and his agencies’ enforcement of immigration laws to remove “gang members, drug dealers and criminals.”

In a particularly emotional moment, Trump pointed out in the crowd Carryn Owens, widow of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, who was slain during a U.S.-led raid in Yemen in January. Carryn Owens grew tearful as the chambers applauded her.

“Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity,” Trump said.

HIGHLIGHTS

Highlights of President Donald Trump’s first speech to a joint session of Congress:

  • “Tonight, I am also calling on this Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower cost and, at the same time, provide better health care.”
  • “I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”
  • “By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars and make our communities safer for everyone.”
  • “My economic team is developing historic tax reform that will reduce the tax rate on our companies so they can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone. At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class.”
  • “To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States — financed through both public and private capital — creating millions of new jobs.”

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