Calling for a “renewal of the American spirit” during his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Donald Trump struck a softer tone Tuesday while remaining true to the themes the carried him to the White House.
Trump’s voice was several decibels lower than it was during many of his campaign speeches, and there were more rhetorical nods toward working with Democrats. He spoke several times of needing the help of the American people, a contrast from his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in which he said, “I alone,” can solve America’s problems.
“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.”
“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,” he said.
And Trump made effective use of the guests who watched the speech from the gallery. The widow of a Navy special operator who died in combat in Yemen got sustained applause. He referenced four members of the audience whose loved ones died at the hands of illegal immigration. And he addressed Megan Crowley, who overcame a diagnosis of Pompe Disease and a doctor’s forecast that she would not make it past her fifth birthday.
Trump then adroitly linked the anecdote to the need to speed up the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process.
Through it all, Trump cast himself as a change agent, pivoting away from decades of bipartisan failures that have imperiled the nation.
“I will not allow the mistakes of recent decades past to define the course of our future,” he said.
Here are four major takeaways from the speech:
Obamacare. After months of railing against the Affordable Care Act without offering many specifics about what would replace it, Trump laid down several markers.
He vowed to protect people with pre-existing conditions; called for tax credits and expanding health savings accounts to help Americans buy insurance; recommended greater flexibility for governors to manage the Medicaid program for the poor; called for measures to reduce drug prices; and said Americans should have the freedom to buy insurance from companies in other states.
“Mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for our country,” he said. “The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we are going to do.”
Immigration. Before the speech, the White House floated the idea of compromising on immigration, but the address mostly stuck to familiar themes. He doubled down on hard-line immigration proposals, which he suggested not only would make America safer but increase economic security, as well.
“By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone,” he said. “We want all Americans to succeed — but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders.”
Trump reiterated his promise to build a “great, great wall” along the Mexican border.
Foreign policy. Trump reaffirmed America’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, significant for a president who as a candidate publicly questioned the relevance of the Cold War alliance and complained that members were not paying their fair share to the common defense.
“We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two world wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War, and defeated communism,” he said.
Trump did not back off his insistence that alliance members meet their responsibilities — and took credit for effecting change on that front.
“And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that,” he said. “In fact, I can tell you, the money is pouring in.”
Trump called for “direct, robust, and meaningful engagement with the world” but did not shy away from identifying America’s enemy as “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Infrastructure investments. Trump pledged to spend $1 trillion — including pubic money and private partnerships — on rebuilding America’s roads, bridges, railways, and other amenities. He tied it to his general “America First” philosophy.
“This effort will be guided by two core principles: Buy American, and Hire American,” he said.
Such infrastructure spending typically is popular among Democrats. It was not the only part of the speech that could have been delivered by a Democratic president.
“My administration wants to work with members in both parties to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women’s health, and to promote clean air and clear water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure,” he said.