UPDATE (9:20 P.M.): In his first address to Congress, President Donald Trump defended controversial policies pushed by his administration in its first month and outlined a bold agenda highlighted by immigration reform, an expansive infrastructure program, and reform of the nation’s health care.
While the president pushed many of the hot button issues he championed during the 2016 presidential campaign, he also struck a more conciliatory tone than the bombastic new president has done since taking the oath, especially on the issue of immigration.
“I believe Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve an outcome that has eluded our country for decades,” Trump said.
In a conversation with TV anchors earlier in the day, Trump signaled a willingness to make a potentially seismic shift in his immigration policy by saying the “time is right” for a bipartisan immigration bill that could include a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes and said individuals seeking legal status would not need to leave the country first.
It was a remarkable suggestion from Trump, whose signature campaign promise was to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico and pledged to crack down on undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Trump’s supporters rallied behind his hard-line stance on immigration and hammered his Republican rivals for taking softer stances on the issue.
The administration seemed ready to act on those campaign promises last week when the Department of Homeland Security unveiled a new immigration policy that expanded the power of authorities to deport those here illegally and increased border security.
And a hastily introduced executive action restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries caused chaos and protests at some American airports before being blocked by a federal court. Trump is expected to unveil a revised executive order on the issue this week. The move, uniformly slammed by Trump’s opponents in Congress, prompted Democrats to invite dozens of accomplished immigrants to attend the speech.
Trump made a greater effort in his speech to reach out to the millions of Americans who did not vote for him than he did during his inauguration address. “A new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp. What we are witnessing today is the renewal of the American spirit. Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead,” he said.
“The time for small thinking is over, 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. From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations not burdened by our fears,” Trump added.
He also defend his budget by pointing to increases in military spending. “My budget will also increase funding for our veterans…Our veterans have delivered for this nation and now we must deliver for them,” he will say.
Trump’s budget, unveiled this week, came under fire from some Republicans for cutting State Department funding and not giving a bigger increase to the Department of Defense.
The president continued his calls on Congress to “repeal and replace” and the Affordable Care Act, though he offered few new details.
Trump also used the words “radical Islamic terror” when describing the war on ISIS, just like he did multiple times as a candidate, attacking then-President Barack Obama for not using the term.
Trump’s address comes less than 40 days into a presidency that has so-far been defined more by controversies than legislative action.
He has yet to sign any substantial bills into law, and actions taken on his biggest campaign promises have largely stalled. A hastily introduced executive action restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries was blocked by a federal court, tensions continue to grow between the U.S. and Mexico over a proposed wall on the southern border, and Republican lawmakers have been lambasted at town halls over promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
It’s led to Trump, one of the most unpopular presidential candidates ever to take the oath of office, holding a record low job approval rating for a newly inaugurated commander-in-chief. Just 44 percent of Americans say they approve of how Trump has handled his new job, while 48 percent say they disapprove.
President Donald Trump to address a joint session of Congress at 8 p.m.
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