WASHINGTON (CN) — Saying “the time for small thinking is over” and “the time for trivial fights is behind us,” President Donald Trump addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time Tuesday night.
“We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts,” Trump said, six weeks into an administration that could fairly be described as controversial.
Looking to quash criticism that his administration has kept mum on a recent spate of hate crimes, Trump opened his address by condemning threats against Jewish community centers, desecration of Jewish cemeteries and last week’s shooting of two Indian immigrants in Kansas.
“We may be a nation divided on policy, but we’re a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said.
Saying his speech was “deeply delivered” from his heart, Trump offered the sharply divided Congress, firmly in Republican control, a message of hope.
“A new chapter of American greatness is now beginning. A new national pride is sweeping across our nation and a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp,” he said. “We’re witnessing a renewal of the American spirit and our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead.”
Democrats remained seated for most of the address, rising from their seats or applauding only when he touched on less controversial issues such as improving the education system or rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.
But the smashing defeat of Democrats in November was never too far from the surface. Trump told Congress “the earth shifted beneath our feet” during the election.
“The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds. Families who just wanted a fair shot for their children and a fair hearing for their concerns. But then those quiet voices became a chorus … and people turned out by the tens of millions and were all united by one very simple but crucial demand: that America must put its own citizens first because only then can we truly make America great again,” he said.
Recalling a familiar line from his campaign, Trump said his administration would “drain the swamp of government corruption.”
Democrats stifled laughter and groans at the line.
Trump said he was draining the swamp by his five-year ban on lobbying by officials in the Executive Branch and imposition of a lifetime ban on lobbying for a foreign government.
Trump cited what he called some of his earliest accomplishments: rejuvenation of work on the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines, and a wave of immigration enforcement orders that he said will “raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars and make our communities safe for everyone.”
“We want all Americans to succeed, but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and rule of law at our borders,” he said.
Mention of the “great, great wall along our southern border” brought one of several standing ovations from Republicans. At mention of the wall, Democrats bristled in their seats while Republican resounded through the chamber.
“To any in Congress who do not believe we should enforce our laws, I would ask you this one question: What would you say to the American families that lose their jobs, income or loved ones because America refused to uphold its law and defend its borders?” he asked.
While Trump’s president’s controversial travel ban is still being litigated in federal courts, a Feb. 9 report from the Global Business Travel Association estimated that the immigration ban has cost the travel industry $185 million so far. That does not include the cost of defending the orders’ constitutionality.
But Trump remained steadfast, saying the nation “cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside of America or allow our country to become a sanctuary for extremists.”
The announcement that he would create a specialized immigration crime force elicited more groans from Democrats.
Trump asked Congress to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“I am calling on this Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs and at the same time provide better health care,” he said. “Mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for America. 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 his administration will kick-start a bipartisan effort to “make child care accessible and affordable” and ensure that “new parents have paid family leave.”
He also called for “investment in women’s health,” though Republican-dominated legislatures nationwide have increased efforts to defund a major provider of women’s health care, Planned Parenthood.
A plethora of female Democratic lawmakers wore all white to the address, a nod to the women’s suffrage movement, and, according to Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel, a call “to unite against any attempts by the Trump administration to roll back the incredible progress women have made in the last century.”
Trump’s mention of the late Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, the first U.S. combat death of the new administration, drew a two-minute standing ovation. Owens’ wife, Carryn, cried profusely and the chamber erupted in applause as the president said that Owens’ legacy was “etched into eternity.”
Owens’ father has refused to meet with Trump, telling him through the press: “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation” of the Jan. 29 raid in Yemen in which his son was killed.
Turning to the economy, Trump said that tax relief for the middle class and corporations is on the way.
“My economic team is developing historic tax reform that will reduce the tax rate on our companies so they can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone. At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class,” he said.
Trump reminded Congress of his belief in free trade and “buying and hiring American.”
Wrapping up the more than hour-long address, Trump made an unlikely warm and fuzzy call for a bipartisan Congress.
“Americans are not bound by the failures of the past … we’re guided by vision, not blinded by our doubts. I am asking all citizens to embrace this renewal of the American spirit and I ask all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big and bold and daring things for our country. And I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment and believe in yourselves, believe in your future and believe once more in America.”