WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Donald Trump addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time on Tuesday night — calling for a major infrastructure program and a major hike in military spending, and asking Democrats and Republicans to work together on replacing Obamacare.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, it was a very different speech than Trump’s convention or inaugural address. It seemed to be an effort to appeal beyond Trump’s base with repeated calls for bipartisanship.
The president has been under pressure to condemn recent hate crimes and acts of anti-Semitism more forcefully. He did so right at the start.
“As we mark the occasion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s past toward civil rights and the work that still remains to be done,” he said.
Trump specifically mentioned bomb threats directed at Jewish community centers, vandalism at Jewish cemeteries, and a shooting in Kansas City that left one Indian man dead and another hurt.
“While we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united condemning hate and evil in all of its ugly forms,” Trump said.
Trump went on to say he planned to deliver a “message of unity and strength” about a “new chapter in American greatness.”
“Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead,” he said. “All the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.”
Trump Says He Has ‘Answered The Pleas Of The American People’
Trump noted that in nine years, the nation will celebrate its 250th year since the Declaration of Independence was signed, and he claimed that in recent years, the U.S. has exported jobs and wealth to other countries and financed global projects at the expense of the homeland.
But Trump said his presidency, bolstered by a strong popular movement, will mean a major change in priorities.
“Dying industries will come roaring back to life. Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need. Our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve. Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land. Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop. And our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity,” Trump said. “Above all else, we will keep our promises to the American people.”
Trump reiterated some of his achievements in the period of just over a month that he has been in office. He said his administration had saved millions in contracts, placed a hiring freeze on non-military and non-essential federal workers, placed restrictions on lobbying, and imposing a rule that for every one new regulation, two old ones must go.
Trump also noted the country’s choice to withdrawal from the “job-killing” Trans-Pacific Partnership. He further pointed to a joint effort with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help women entrepreneurs.
Trump added that he has “has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security.”
But more must be done, Trump said.
“For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great wall along our southern border,” Trump said. “It will be started ahead of schedule and, when finished, it will be a very effective weapon against drugs and crime.”
Trump took issue with anyone in Congress who does “not believe we should enforce our laws.”
“Our obligation is to serve, protect, and defend the citizens of the United States. We are also taking strong measures to protect our Nation from radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said.
Trump said Department of Justice statistics show that the majority of people convicted of terrorism-related offenses since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have come from outside the country. Thus, he said, restrictions on travel are necessary for the safety of the country.
“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 said. “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America — we cannot allow our Nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.”
Thus, Trump said his administration has been “working on improved vetting procedures,” and has directed the Department of Defense to “develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS.”
Trump Calls For New Plan For Trade
In outlining his plan for where he will take the country, Trump went through a series of statistics that took issue with past administrations – while not mentioning President Barack Obama by name.
He said 94 million Americans are out of work, more than 43 million are in poverty, and more than 43 million more are on food stamps. He said in the last eight years, the “past administration” had taken on more new debt than “nearly all other presidents combined” – among other gloomy figures.
“Solving these, and so many other pressing problems, will require us to work past the differences of party. It will require us to tap into the American spirit that has overcome every challenge throughout our long and storied history,” Trump said.
Trump began with a call for a jumpstart to the American economy – “making it easier for companies to do business in the United States, and much harder for companies to leave.”
He said his economic team is preparing a tax reform plan to reduce the tax rate on American companies and for the middle class.
Trump also took issue with the current state of trade in the country, noting that foreign countries tax goods at very high rates, but “when foreign companies ship their products into America, we charge them almost nothing.”
He spoke about a meeting with officials and workers at Harley-Davidson – where said he declined an offer to ride a motorcycle, but did hear some disappointing figures about the company’s international sales.
“They told me — without even complaining because they have been mistreated for so long that they have become used to it — that it is very hard to do business with other countries because they tax our goods at such a high rate,” Trump said. “They said that in one case another country taxed their motorcycles at 100 percent.”
While Trump said he believed in free trade, he said fair trade is necessary.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had fair trade,” Trump said.
Merit-Based Immigration, Infrastructure, And An End To Obamacare
In his specific policy proposals, Trump called for the enforcement of a merit-based immigration system, rather than the current system that he said “costs America’s taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.”
“Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits: it will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families –- including immigrant families –- enter the middle class,” Trump said.
Trump also called for a massive infrastructure program. He said the country has spent about $6 trillion in the Middle East while infrastructure is crumbling, and said that money could have rebuilt the country at least twice.
“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,” Trump said. “This effort will be guided by two core principles: Buy American, and hire American.”
Trump also called on Congress to repeal and replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He said mandating the purchase of insurance was “never the right solution,” and lowering the cost of insurance should be the solution instead.
“I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in the Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster,” Trump said.
He listed principles that he wanted to see in the effort to reform health insurance.
He said first, anyone with preexisting conditions should continue to have access to coverage, and those currently on Obamacare should be allowed a “stable transition.”
Trump added that Americans should be allowed to purchase their own coverage through the use of tax credits and expanded health savings accounts – “but it must be the plan they want, not the plan forced on them by the government.”
He said Americans should also be given the freedom to buy health care across state lines.
“Our citizens deserve this, and so much more –- so why not join forces and finally get the job done – and get it done right?” Trump said – urging Democrats and Republicans to work together to replace Obamacare.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has a new health care system that would replace Obamacare, reduce costs for consumers and give patients more choices.
Ryan didn’t provide details on the bill, other than to say it will be based off previous ideas from conservatives.
Education, Crime, And A Major Increase In Defense Spending
Trump went on to propose an education bill that funds “school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children.”
He said any family should be allowed to choose between “public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.”
Trump also said crime has spiraled under control, and said police officers and victims of crime are not receiving their due respect.
“The murder rate in 2015 experienced its largest single-year increase in nearly half a century. In Chicago, more than 4,000 people were shot last year alone –- and the murder rate so far this year has been even higher,” Trump said. “This is not acceptable in our society.”
Trump tied crime directly to immigration in noting that he had ordered the Department of Homeland Security to open an office called the “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.”
He personally acknowledged four people who were watching the speech – among them Jamiel Shaw, whose 17-year-old son he said was “viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member, who had just been released from prison.”
Trump also specifically acknowledged Susan Oliver and Jessica Davis – and Susan Oliver’s daughter, Jenna. He said Oliver and Davis’ police officer husbands were killed in the line of duty in California “by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record and two prior deportations.”
Rebuilding the military was also a major theme of Trump’s speech. He noted that his budget “calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”
Trump’s proposed budget involves a 10 percent increase in defense spending. That money will come to cuts to government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department and a large reduction in foreign aid.
Among the guests personally acknowledged by Trump was Carryn Owens, the widow of U.S. Navy Special Operator Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens who died in combat. The crowd in the room erupted in lengthy applause as Trump honored Senior Chief Owens’ memory.
“To those allies who wonder what kind of friend America will be, look no further than the heroes who wear our uniform,” he said.
Trump went on to say he strongly supported NATO, but “our partners must meet their financial obligations.”
“We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific –- to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost,” Trump said.
Trump returned to the 250th anniversary of the founding of the country as he wrapped up the speech. He noted that in 1876 for the nation’s centennial, Americans went to Philadelphia for a celebration where inventions such as the telephone, typewriter, telegraph and even an early electric light were on display.
“Imagine the wonders our country could know in America’s 250th year,” Trump said. “Think of the marvels we can achieve if we simply set free the dreams of our people.”
Before the speech, the president was welcomed with both enthusiasm and disdain. A case in point for the latter was U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)
Since 1989, Engel has been front and center at presidential speeches, saying, “It’s an honor to shake the hand of the president, no matter who it is.”
But with Trump, that no longer applied.
“I will listen to what he has to say today, but I will not greet him and I will not shake his hand,” Engel said.
Many in the crowd wore white, in an effort by Democratic women to “stand in solidarity with the women of the nation.”
As always in such speeches, there were moments when one party applauded and the other sat on its hands – as when Trump called for repealing Obamacare.
But Trump urged Congress to work through divisions.
“True love for our people requires us to find common ground, to advance the common good, and to cooperate on behalf of every American child who deserves a brighter future,” Trump said.
Former Kentucky Governor’s Rebuttal: Some Of Trump’s Remarks Are ‘Eroding Our Democracy’
Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear delivered the Democrats’ rebuttal. In particular, Beshear slammed Trump and the GOP’s plans to do away with Obamacare.
“These ideas promise access to care, but deny the importance of making care affordable and effective. They would charge families more for fewer benefits, and put the insurance companies back in control,” Beshear said. “Behind these ideas is the belief that folks at the lower end of the economic ladder just don’t deserve health care.”
Beshear also took issue with Trump’s national security policies, immigration curtailment plans, and travel ban.
“President Trump has all but declared war on refugees and immigrants,” Beshear said.
He quoted President Ronald Reagan, “In America, our origins matter less than our destination.”
Further, Beshear took Trump to task for his attacks on the intelligence community, the courts and the free press.
“President Trump also needs to understand that people may disagree with him from time to time, but that doesn’t mean they’re his enemies,” he said.
He said when Trump attacks those groups “simply because he doesn’t like what they say, he’s eroding our democracy.”
First Lady Melania Trump was joined at Trump’s Tuesday night address by several invited guests, including the Maureen McCarthy Scalia, the widow of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
New Jersey Police Officer Angel Padilla, who was injured helping to capture Chelsea bombing suspect Ahmad Rahimi during a gunbattle with five officers in September 2016, will also be in attendance.
Padilla said he was “very honored to be the congressman’s guest,” according to The Record.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)