By JULIE PACE AP White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Heralding a “new chapter of American greatness,” President Donald Trump stood before Congress for the first time Tuesday night and issued a broad call for overhauling the nation’s health care system, significantly boosting military spending and plunging $1 trillion into upgrading crumbling infrastructure.
Striking an optimistic tone, Trump declared: “The time for small thinking is over.”
Trump’s address came at a pivotal moment for a new president elected on pledges to swiftly shake up Washington and follow through on the failed promises of career politicians. His opening weeks in office have been consumed by distractions and self-inflicted wounds, including the bungled rollout of a sweeping immigration and refugee executive order that was blocked by the courts.
Trump, who typically relishes flouting political convention, embraced the pomp and tradition of a presidential address to Congress. He stuck largely to his script, made occasional overtures to Democrats and skipped the personal insults he so often hurls at his opponents.
The president was greeted by enthusiastic applause as he entered the House chamber, though it was filled with Democrats who vigorously oppose his policies and many Republicans who never expected him to be elected. Most Republican lawmakers have rallied around him since the election, hopeful that he will act on the domestic priorities they saw blocked during President Barack Obama’s eight years in office.
Topping that list is undoing Obama’s signature health care law and replacing the sweeping measure. Trump offered a basic blueprint of his priorities, including ensuring that those with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines and offering tax credits and expanded health savings accounts to help Americans purchase coverage. He suggested he would get rid of the current law’s requirement that all Americans carry insurance coverage, saying that “mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for America.”
Making a direct appeal for bipartisanship, Trump turned to Democrats and said, “Why not join forces to finally get the job done and get it done right?”
Democrats, now firmly ensconced in the minority, sat silently while Republicans stood and cheered. Some wore blue, pro-health care buttons that read “Protect our care,” and dozens of Democratic women wore white in honor of the suffrage movement.
Trump was vague in his call for tax reform, another Republican priority. He promised “massive tax relief for the middle class” and a reduction in corporate tax rates, but glossed over how he would offset the cuts.
The president also urged Congress to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure package financed through both public and private capital.
“The time has come for a new program of national rebuilding,” he said.
Trump sent unexpectedly mixed messages on immigration, one of his signature campaign issues. He pledged to vigorously target people living in the U.S. illegally who “threaten our communities and prey on our citizens.” But he told news anchors before his speech that he was open to legislation that could provide a pathway to legal status, and he told Congress he believed “real and positive immigration reform is possible.”
First lady Melania Trump sat with special guests who were on hand to amplify the president’s agenda, including the family members of people killed by immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. The widow of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia also sat alongside Mrs. Trump, a reminder of the president’s well-received nomination of federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s seat.
The majority of Trump’s address centered on the domestic, economic-focused issues that were at the center of his presidential campaign. His national security message centered largely on a call for significantly boosting military spending and taking strong but unspecified measures to protect the nation from “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Underscoring the human cost of those efforts, Trump honored Chief Special Warrant Officer William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in a raid in Yemen during his first days in office. Owens’ widow sat in the guest box with tears streaming down her face as the crowd stood and applauded at length.
Owens’ death, as well as the killing of several civilians, have raised questions about the effectiveness of the raid. Pushing back, the president said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had assured him that the operation generated “large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.”
Trump also voiced support for NATO but reiterated his call for partner countries to meet their financial obligations to the military alliance. Trump has previously called NATO “obsolete,” setting some allies on edge about his commitment to the partnership.
By ALAN FRAM and KEVIN FREKING Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear took a populist tenor in Democrats’ formal response to President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress on Tuesday, accusing him of planning to “rip affordable health insurance” from Americans and being “Wall Street’s champion.”
Beshear also criticized Trump’s verbal assaults on “the loyalty and credibility” of intelligence agencies, federal courts, the press and others. By such attacks, Beshear said in excerpts of his prepared remarks, Trump is “eroding our democracy. And that’s reckless.”
Beshear’s words and tone seemed a direct Democratic attempt to recapture the loyalties of some working-class voters who helped power
Trump’s election upset last November. His very selection by Democratic party chiefs to deliver their response seemed aimed at the same goal, since the 72-year-old is best known for expanding health care coverage in his deep red state under former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Trump used his first address to Congress as president to urge lawmakers to revamp the nation’s health care system, embracing tax credits, health savings accounts and other elements of a plan being pushed by House GOP leaders. While erasing Obama’s 2010 overhaul and replacing it is a long-time Republican goal, conservatives have rebelled against the developing GOP package and other internal disputes still simmer, though leaders say they will push ahead with legislation in March.
Beshear said emerging GOP plans would reduce health care coverage after 20 million Americans gained coverage under Obama’s law.
“You and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it,” Beshear said.
“This isn’t a game, it’s life and death for people,” Beshear said. He said those relying on Obama’s statute for coverage “aren’t aliens from a distant planet. They’re our friends and neighbors.”
The backdrop for Trump’s speech was an initial five weeks in office that have seen persistent questions about his campaign’s relationship with Russia, a mishandled order barring refugees and the firing of his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
There have been massive demonstrations against Trump’s policies in cities around the country, and GOP lawmakers have been greeted at town hall meetings by activists angry at his attempt to erase Obama’s health care statute. Trump’s popularity in public opinion polls has set record lows for new presidents.
Emboldened by the energy of their party’s voters, Democratic lawmakers were flashing their own brands of rebelliousness.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., was boycotting Trump’s speech, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., was ending his near three-decade streak of snagging an aisle seat to clasp the president’s hand as he enters the House chamber for his speech. The visitors’ galleries were stuffed with immigrants and recipients of health benefits under Obama’s law invited by congressional Democrats, and numerous female Democratic lawmakers were wearing white as a symbol of support for women’s suffrage.
Beshear said that while Trump campaigned as “a champion for people struggling to make ends meet,” he’s taken executive action as president to roll back consumer protections against giant financial institutions and has stocked his Cabinet with wealthy financial executives.
“That’s not being our champion. That’s being Wall Street’s champion,” Beshear said.
Giving the Democrats’ response in Spanish was Astrid Silva, a so-called Dreamer brought to the U.S. illegally as a 4-year-old.
In her prepared comments, Silva, now 28, said Trump is “taking us back to some of the darkest times in our history.”
She said Trump is “criminalizing anyone who is different, pitting us against each other, and sending the wrong message to the rest of the world, helping to breed anger and hate from terrorist groups to our country.”
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