March 1, 2017
In his first address before Congress, President Trump toned down his dark rhetoric and instead focused on renewing the American spirit by rebuilding the country. This goal, according to President Trump, can only be attained by pivoting from the “mistakes of recent decades” towards a future defined by a strong military, a robust economy, a new infrastructure system, secure borders, safe neighborhoods, and world-class education. President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to the American people by citing a number of campaign promises that have already been fulfilled, including: creating jobs and increasing investment; reducing government spending; eliminating “job-crushing” regulations; approving construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines; withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP); and nominating a conservative Supreme Court Justice. He then discussed a series of policy reforms that will advance the protection and prosperity of American citizens, including: making America’s tax code more competitive; establishing a merit-based immigration system; launching a new program of national rebuilding; repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA); funding school choice for disadvantaged youth; and rebuilding the military. President Trump concluded his remarks by calling for unity between Republican and Democratic lawmakers in order to rebuild the country by passing comprehensive policy reforms. Overall, President Trump’s speech was well-received among those who watched his first Address to Congress. Nearly 8-in-10 watchers had a positive reaction to the speech (78%) and similarly 69% said his policies will move the country in the right direction. While the sample skewed more Republican, this is a promising take for the president as he explores his new approach on tone and rhetoric.
President Trump began his address by updating the American people on the administration’s achievements. He initially focused on the economic progress made under his leadership, praising companies that have announced new investments in the United States. He then discussed the administration’s work to renegotiate government contracts, place a hiring freeze on non-military government workers, reduce regulations, create jobs through the advancement of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and save jobs by withdrawing from the TPP.
President Trump then shifted to the administration’s work to “restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders,” focusing primarily on violent activity carried out by illegal immigrants. He also spoke of the Justice Department’s Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime as well as the impending construction of a wall along the southern border. President Trump further defined the administration’s commitment to protect Americans by improving vetting procedures to prevent Radical Islamic Terrorists from entering the United States and tasking the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS. The president concluded his commentary on the administration’s progress by recognizing Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch, calling on the Senate to quickly confirm Gorsuch to the high court.
Following President Trump’s list of fulfilled campaign promises, the president pivoted and delved into policy priories in the coming year that, if accomplished, could “renew the American spirit.” In particular, President Trump focused on three general themes: protecting the American worker, promoting American safety, and offering superior services to American citizens.
A major tenet of President Trump’s address to Congress was centered on increasing jobs and maintaining American competitiveness. After acknowledging the circumstances he “inherited” from earlier administrations, President Trump swore to “restart the engine of the American economy” and to defend and reinforce the integrity of the American workforce. The president vowed action on the following items:
President Trump argued that reducing the tax rate on American businesses would be tantamount to jumpstarting the economy. “Right now, American companies are taxed at one of the highest rates anywhere in the world,” argued President Trump. “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.” According to FTI’s recent polling around policy priorities for President Trump’s First 100 days, reducing corporate tax rates is a widely supported notion among his base zero, 88% say it is an important priority for President Trump to address in the coming weeks. Noticeably, however, President Trump did not mention the controversial border adjusted tax that has been sucking up much of the oxygen among Beltway tax wonks and the House Republicans with influence over tax policy.
Without mentioning a renegotiation of NAFTA, which was a key piece of President Trump’s campaign, the president warned that “when we ship products out of America, many other countries make us pay very high tariffs and taxes – but when foreign companies ship their products into America, we charge them almost nothing.” Citing Harley Davidson as a case study of the effects of disadvantageous international tariffs and taxes, President Trump vowed to “create a level playing field for American companies and workers.” FTI’s polling also shows this is a bipartisan issue – generating high levels of support for “expanding opportunities for American companies to keep jobs at home while still manufacturing and selling more goods on a global scale” (90% of Trump voters indicated this was important, compared to 71% of Clinton voters).
Quoting President Abraham Lincoln, President Trump warned that the “abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government [will] produce want and ruin among our people.” President Trump’s reiteration of this protectionist stance, which he carried from the campaign trail to the White House, drew applause from both parties – particularly when he indicated he would make it difficult for American companies to take jobs abroad.
Blending his protection of American workers with his immigration reform ideas, President Trump warned, “Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers.” He cited merit-based systems of immigration utilized in Canada, Australia, and other nations, arguing that adopting such a system will “save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families – including immigrant families – enter the middle class.”
Building off the idea that reforming immigration laws would protect the integrity of the American workforce, President Trump spent a significant portion of his speech arguing that immigration reform is a requirement for maintained public safety. In addition, President Trump indicated that he would take a strong stance against Radical Islamic Terrorism, take bold steps to combat ISIS, work to break the “cycle of violence” in American cities, and fortify relationships with allies abroad.
President Trump stated that two goals of his immigration reform plan would be “to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws.” Following this line of thought, President Trump echoed his campaign promises to build a wall along the southern border of the United States and to eliminate gang leaders, drug dealers, and cartels. He further previewed the expected release of his executive order on refugee vetting, declaring, “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America – we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.” To this end, President Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create a new office in order to support the victims of crime by immigrants: Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE). Again, President Trump’s base overwhelmingly wants to see immigration reform that puts Americans first, secures our borders, and curbs the flow of illegal immigrants (93% cited this as important to do in first 100 days).
President Trump urged support for law enforcement officers, a reverberating rally call often heard on the campaign trail. He called for Congress and the American public to support law enforcement officials as they promote law and order in American downtowns across the county: “We must build bridges of cooperation and trust – not drive the wedge of disunity and division.”
President Trump lauded NATO and indicated that countries were beginning to meet their financial obligations to NATO, as President Trump called for on the campaign trail and in his first few days in office. Moreover, he issued a promise to allies abroad: “To those allies who wonder what kind of friend America will be, look no further than the heroes who wear our uniform.”
Among the issues President Trump chose to speak about, several of his concerns coalesced around essential services for American citizens. President Trump’s speech touched on a number of ideas that would seek to quell the anxieties of the American public, particularly in the wake of the Republican effort to repeal the ACA. In addition to promising his administration would “work with members in both parties to make childcare accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women’s health, and to promote clean air and clear water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure,” here is what the president had to say:
President Trump gave a nod to the families of opioid addicts who traveled to Capitol Hill earlier on Tuesday afternoon to advocate for reforms that would help curtail what is widely seen as an epidemic among disenfranchised Americans. In a riff on his enunciated positions on immigration and Mexican drug cartels, the president said, “We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth – and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted.”
Citing President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s creation of the interstate highway system, President Trump lamented the “crumbling” American infrastructure, admonishing Congress that the nearly six trillion dollars spent in the Middle East could have been used to rebuilt our country’s infrastructure two times over, and three times if someone with President Trump’s negotiation prowess had been at the helm. He called for Congress to “approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States – financed through both public and private capital – creating millions of new jobs.” This is a widely held bipartisan belief that President Trump should “significantly invest in infrastructure projects to rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and waterways to put Americans back to work” (89% importance from Trump voters, 77% importance from Clinton voters). However, recent polling from Rasmussen shows a slim majority of Americans (52%) are unwilling to invest any additional tax dollars into improving America’s crumbling infrastructure.
Calling on Congress to put aside partisan inclinations and “save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster,” President Trump highlighted a number of guiding principles that Congress should use as it considers a replacement plan: ensure healthcare for Americans with preexisting conditions, facilitate a stable transition for Americans enrolled in healthcare exchanges, empower Americans to choose their own healthcare plans using tools like Health Savings Accounts and tax credits, allow governors flexibility to customize Medicaid, implement legal reforms to protect patients and doctors from costs that drive up insurance prices, bring down the prices of prescription drugs, and allow Americans to purchase healthcare across state lines.
President Trump promised his budget, when released, would include a request for more funding for veterans. “Our veterans have delivered for this Nation,” the president said, “And now we must deliver for them.”
Proclaiming that Education is “the civil rights issue of our time,” President Trump called upon Congress to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children.” The president echoed a policy platform upon which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has campaigned for much of her adult life in Michigan.