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.
David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, described Trump’s address as “comprised of misrepresentations and simplistic platitudes.”
Meanwhile, Mark Munroe, the county’s Republican chairman, said of the address: “The Trump we saw tonight was the Trump so many of us worked for. Not the bombastic campaigner, but a chief executive, a leader and a visionary who is not ashamed to talk about the greatness of our country and the enormous potential of its citizens.”
Munroe said of the Republican president: “From protected borders, a stronger military, fair trade, sensible merit based immigration, and less federal intrusion into our lives, Trump laid out bold solutions for America based on conservative principles. Respect for our nation’s laws and for the men and women of law enforcement was a key theme as well. The overriding question is: will the Democrats who sat on their hands during the speech accept President Trump’s call for cooperation to tackle these long simmering problems? We can only hope.”
But Betras saw it differently.
“Perhaps [Trump’s] failure to grasp the complicated nature of running the most powerful nation of the world explains why his first weeks in office have been such an unmitigated failure on the international, national and local level,” he said. “The huge promises he made during his campaign ring hollow in light of all he’s failed to accomplish.”
Trump, who typically relishes flouting political convention, embraced the pomp and tradition of a presidential address to Congress. He stuck largely to his script.
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 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?”
Betras said: “He promised to make America great again, yet he just released a budget that will gut the very programs that have vastly improved the quality of life for people here in the [Mahoning] Valley and across the nation. Trump’s time in office has been characterized by one broken promise after another, one lie after another, one dangerous misstep after another and nothing he said [Tuesday] in any way created a sense that this pattern will change any time soon, if ever.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, said: “We can all agree that creating jobs and rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure should be top priorities, and it was promising to hear President Trump renew his commitments to overhauling our trade policy and using American steel to rebuild our public works. But now we need to see action.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, said, “I am optimistic that by working together we can make progress for the country, especially when it comes to creating more jobs and economic growth.”
He added: “I’m ready to work with [Trump], his administration and anyone else – Republican or Democrat – toward solutions.”
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 the operation generated “large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.”
Contributor: David Skolnick, staff and politics writer