President Trump told a joint session to Congress on Tuesday night that “the time for trivial fights is over” as he sought to reset his presidency after a chaotic first 40 days.
“The time for small thinking is behind us,” Trump said. “We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts, the bravery to express the hopes that still fill our souls and the confidence to turn those hopes and dreams into action.
“From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations not burdened by our fears.”
Trump’s tone was a departure from the dark picture he painted during his inaugural address in January, when he said “American carnage” had overtaken the country.
The businessman, who shocked the political establishment first with his win in the GOP primaries and a second time with his November victory over Democratic nominee
Hillary Clinton, has turned Washington on its head since taking office.
Trump has feuded with the media, belittled Democrats and shown little regard for a political class he repeatedly railed against during the 2016 campaign.
His bold promises, however, have been sidetracked by fights with the press, his critics in Congress and even people from the entertainment industry — many of which have taken place over the president’s favorite social media tool, Twitter.
With his speech to a joint session, Trump signaled a desire to move past that stage of his presidency to focus instead on fulfilling some of his biggest campaign pledges.
Speaking before a Congress controlled by his party, Trump outlined his plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare while passing “historic tax reform” and a massive infrastructure bill.
The president called on lawmakers in both parties to expand access to health insurance and lower costs as part of ObamaCare replacement legislation.
“The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we will do,” he said. “ObamaCare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans.”
He began his speech by denouncing the recent vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as an apparently racially motivated shooting last week near Kansas City that left one Indian national dead and another wounded.
While the nation was divided on policies, Trump said “we are a country that stands united condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”
When Trump entered office, some thought the consummate deal maker might work with both parties to effect change, but Democrats have been under pressure from the left to resist Trump and work to block the confirmation of his Cabinet nominees.
Trump’s description of the Affordable Care Act as an “imploding disaster” and critique of the individual mandate is unlikely to win him much Democratic support on that issue.
Republicans have also been divided over how to repeal and replace President Obama’s signature law, another complication for the party.
Republicans have sought more direction on policy from the White House, but Trump’s speech was light on specifics and did not wade into some of the thorniest issues holding up those plans.
For example, Trump refused to state his position on a border-adjustment tax that is a central pillar of Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) tax code overhaul.
The president during a meeting with television anchors teased the possibility of pursuing a compromise immigration reform bill but did not delve into what that proposal would look like.
He elaborated further, endorsing a “merit-based” system focused on allowing high-skilled workers into the country. That would be a dramatic shift from the family-based system the U.S. has employed for more than four decades.
“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.
He defended his effort to ramp up deportations as necessary to protect American economic and national security interests.
“By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone,” he said.
Trump’s shift in tone was most notable as he outlined his plan to fight terrorism in the Middle East.
Speaking about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the president promised to “extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”
But he also noted the group has “slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs.”
He said the U.S. would continue to “work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world” to fight the terror network.
But he repeated his promise to protect the country from “radical Islamic terrorism,” breaking with his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who believes the phrase is unhelpful in recruiting Muslim allies in the fight.
Critics said Trump put those goals in peril by issuing an order in January that halted the U.S. refugee program and banned travel by people from seven predominantly Muslim nations — something many took as a ban on Muslims as a whole. Trump defended those policies in his speech, saying it was “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,” he said.
In the Democratic response to Trump, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ripped the president as “Wall Street’s champion” and accused him of “eroding our democracy.”
Beshear’s office released a preview of his rebuttal about an hour and a half before the president addressed lawmakers on Capitol Hill, inviting scorn from conservatives, who noted that the former Kentucky governor had no idea what Trump was going to say.