President Trump last night (February 28th) urged Congress and Americans to unite in "dreaming big" for the country, as he delivered his first speech before a joint session of Congress. Trump was more restrained than usual as he mostly stuck to his prepared remarks, and was more optimistic in tone that he was during both his inaugural address and his Republican National Convention speeches, which had a darker outlook. But he didn't veer from the policies that have long been part of his agenda, including those focused on economic populism and the more controversial ones, including on illegal immigrants, and he talked up the things he said he's accomplished since taking office in January.
Trump began his speech by condemning the recent waves of bomb threats on Jewish community centers and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries, as well as the shooting of two Indian men last week in Kansas, one of them fatally, by a man who shouted at them, "Get out of my country!" The focus of Trump's speech was mostly on domestic matters, with the president repeating the call to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which he described as the "imploding Obamacare disaster," calling for Congress to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure package, and saying that America has been taken advantage of in trade with other nations and that he would no longer allow it.
Trump spoke again about his plans to deal with illegal immigrants, including saying that construction of a border wall will begin soon, and saying that criminal illegal immigrants are being deported. He announced the creation of an office for victims of crime carried out by illegal immigrants -- which drew some boos from the Democratic side of the aisle -- and introduced family members of people killed by illegal immigrants, who were sitting with First Lady Melania Trump. Trump also spoke about protecting the country from "radical Islamic terrorism," and pointed to Islamist-organized or -inspired attacks, saying it would be "reckless" to allow "uncontrolled entry" from places where there can't be proper vetting, a defense of his travel and refugee ban that has been blocked by the courts.
In the most emotional moment of the night, Trump honored Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, who was killed in the raid in Yemen that Trump approved days after taking office, and pointed out his widow, Carryn Owens, who was sitting with the first lady as a surprise, unannounced guest. Carryn received a sustained standing ovation as tears streamed down her face and she appeared to whisper up to her husband. Questions have been raised about the raid and its effectiveness, and Ryan Owens' father, Bill Owens, has criticized it and called for an investigation. But Trump said last night that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had told him the operation provided a lot of vital intelligence.
On JCC threats and Kansas attack: ["Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms." (Applause)]
On "rebellion" that led to his election: ["In 2016 the Earth shifted beneath our feet. 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 the quiet voices became a loud chorus as thousands of citizens now spoke out together from cities small and large all across our country. Finally the chorus became an earthquake and the people turned out by the tens of millions and they 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." (Cheers and applause)]
On illegal immigration: ["We want all Americans to succeed, but that can't happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law at our borders. (Applause ) For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border. (Cheers and applause ) As we speak tonight we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak and as I promised throughout the campaign. 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 family that loses their jobs, their income, or their loved one because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?"]
On protecting U.S. from terrorism: ["We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism. (Cheers and applause) According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country. We have seen the attacks at home from Boston to San Bernardino to the Pentagon and, yes, even the World Trade Center. We have seen the attacks in France, in Belgium, in Germany and all over the world. It is not compassion, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur."]
On trade: ["I believe strongly in free trade. But it also has to be fair trade. It's been a long time since we had fair trade. I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers be taken advantage of us any longer. They have taken advantage of our country. No longer."]
On repealing and replacing Obamacare: ["Obamacare is collapsing and we must act decisively to protect all Americans. (Applause) Action is not a choice, it is a necessity. So I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster."]
On creation of office for victims of crime by illegal immigrants: ["We must support the victims of crime. I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests. Joining us -- (Applause ) Joining us in the audience tonight are four very brave Americans whose government failed them. Their names are Jamiel Shaw, Susan Oliver, Jenna Oliver and Jessica Davis."]
On NATO: ["We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two world wars, that dethroned fascism, ended the Cold war and defeated Communism. (Applause) But our partners must meet their financial obligations, and now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that. In fact, I can tell you the money is pouring in. Very nice."]
Call for unity of Americans and Congress in "dreaming big": ["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 share our souls, and the confidence to turn those hopes and those dreams into action. From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears. Inspired by the future, not bound by failures of the past, and guided by a vision, not blinded by our doubts. I am asking all citizens to embrace this renewal of the American spirit. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big and bold and daring things for our country. I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment, believe in yourselves, believe in your future, and believe once more in America."]
The Democratic response was delivered by former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. He called on Trump to fulfill the promises he made to Americans during the election, accusing him of acting as "Wall Street's champion" and wanting to "rip affordable health insurance" from Americans."
'Wall Street's champion': ["Mr. President, as a candidate you promised to be a champion for families struggling to make ends meet, and I hope you live up to that promise. But one of your very first executive orders makes it harder for those families to even afford a mortgage. Then you started rolling back rules that provide oversight of the financial industry and safeguard us against another national economic meltdown. And you picked a Cabinet of billionaires and Wall Street insiders that want to eviscerate the protections most Americans count on and that help level the playing field. That's not being our champion. That's being Wall Street's champion."]
On the Affordable Care Act: ["You and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it. Does the Affordable Care Act need some repairs? Sure, it does. But so far every Republican idea to replace the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of Americans covered, despite your promises to the contrary. Mr. President, folks here in Kentucky expect you to keep your word, because this isn't a game, it's life and death for people."]
Accusing Trump of war on refugees and immigrants: ["President Trump has all but declared war on refugees and immigrants. Look, the president can and should enforce our immigration laws, but we can protect America without abandoning our principles and our moral obligation to help those fleeing war and terror, without tearing families apart, and without needlessly jeopardizing our military men and women fighting overseas. You know, another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, once said, 'In America, our origins matter less than our destination, and that is what democracy is all about.'"]
Critical of Trump's attacks on those who disagree with him: ["President Trump also needs to understand that people may disagree with him from time to time, but that doesn't make them his enemies. When the president attacks the loyalty and credibility of our intelligence agencies, the court system, the military, the free press, individual Americans, simply because he doesn't like what they say, he's eroding our democracy, and that's reckless."]