I was unable to watch President Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, but sat down to watch it on Wednesday night and also read through the transcript provided by the White House.
In all honesty this was the best speech I think I’ve seen him give. An abbreviated version of this would have made for a good inauguration address.
Some of my takeaways:
1. America First. America First. America First.
It’s no surprise as it is an administration catch phrase, and this theme came through on various occasions.
When discussing his executive orders regarding the Dakota Access and Keystone Pipelines he added, “I’ve issued a new directive that new American pipelines be made with American steel.”
This actually earned him some Democrat applause.
When he discussed immigration he stated any meaningful reforms have to put the needs of America first.
I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: To improve jobs and wages for Americans; to strengthen our nation’s security; and to restore respect for our laws.
His call for an investment to rebuild America’s infrastructure he noted that the effort will be guided by two core principles – ” buy American and hire American.”
2. A Shift to Merit-Based Immigration
Trump is calling for a change in our priorities when allowing in legal immigrants.
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 The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers. Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia and many others, have a merit-based immigration system. It’s a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon. According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs American taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.
Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, we will have so many more benefits. It will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families — including immigrant families — enter the middle class.
3. An Effective Case for Fair Trade
Trump probably made one of the best cases for how America needs to rethink its free trade agreements.
He first shared some stats:
We’ve lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was approved, and we’ve lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Our trade deficit in goods with the world last year was nearly $800 billion dollars.
He later shared a story about his meeting with representatives from Harley-Davidson that appeared to resonate in both parties:
At our meeting, I asked them, how are you doing, how is business? They said that it’s good. I asked them further, how are you doing with other countries, mainly international sales? They told me — without even complaining, because they have been so mistreated for so long that they’ve become used to it — that it’s very hard to do business with other countries because they tax our goods at such a high rate. They said that in the case of another country, they taxed their motorcycles at 100 percent. They weren’t even asking for a change. But I am.
He received bipartisan applause for that and then went on to say:
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. The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, warned that the “abandonment of the protective policy by the American government… will produce want and ruin among our people.” Lincoln was right — and it’s time we heeded his advice and his words.
4. Did Republicans Just Applaud a Stimulus Package?
So spending like what we saw with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is ok provided it is our guy who proposes it?
President Trump said:
Another Republican President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, initiated the last truly great national infrastructure program — the building of the Interstate Highway System. The time has come for a new program of national rebuilding. America has spent approximately $6 trillion in the Middle East — all the while our infrastructure at home is crumbling. With this $6 trillion, we could have rebuilt our country twice, and maybe even three times if we had people who had the ability to negotiate.
To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States — financed through both public and private capital — creating millions of new jobs. This effort will be guided by two core principles: buy American and hire American.
Isn’t this what ARRA was supposed to do? How will Trump’s plan be more effective? How much is this needed? What spending will be cut to offset the spending?
5. Principles Offered to Repeal and Replace Obamacare
President Trump placed an emphasis on repeal Obamacare, and shared what he believed should be guiding principles for Congress.
First, we should ensure that Americans with preexisting conditions have access to coverage, and that we have a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the healthcare exchanges.
Secondly, we should help Americans purchase their own coverage through the use of tax credits and expanded Health Savings Accounts — but it must be the plan they want, not the plan forced on them by our government.
Thirdly, we should give our great state governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out.
Fourth, we should implement legal reforms that protect patients and doctors from unnecessary costs that drive up the price of insurance, and work to bring down the artificially high price of drugs, and bring them down immediately.
And finally, the time has come to give Americans the freedom to purchase health insurance across state lines which will create a truly competitive national marketplace that will bring costs way down and provide far better care.
As with Obamacare the devil will be in the details. While they can’t keep kicking the can down the road on this I do want Congress to take some time working out details. It’s important that this happens, but it is equally important that it is done in the right way.
6. Three Noticeable Omissions
There was no mention of Common Core during President Trump’s speech. He highlighted school choice instead.
Education is the civil rights issue of our time. I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.
Joining us tonight in the gallery is a remarkable woman, Denisha Merriweather. As a young girl, Denisha struggled in school and failed third grade twice. But then she was able to enroll in a private center for learning — a great learning center — with the help of a tax credit and a scholarship program.
Today, she is the first in her family to graduate, not just from high school, but from college. Later this year she will get her master’s degree in social work. We want all children to be able to break the cycle of poverty just like Denisha.
I am not opposed to school choice in general, but I am concerned about what a federal program would look like. What I instead would have liked to hear from President Trump is how his administration was going to shrink the federal role in education and return power to the states. Ultimately, in future State of the Union addresses, I don’t want to hear education mentioned at all.
He made a big deal out of getting rid of Common Core so it is surprising that he didn’t mention it in this speech.
The second grand omission was the the life issue. Is this not a priority? He could have used the bully pulpit on this issue, but he didn’t. He did allude to a bill before Congress that would reallocate money away from abortion providers to federally qualified health centers when he mentioned increasing women’s health care funding. Beyond that comment nothing was said.
Third, there was no mention of religious liberty. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any action to protect it, but it would have been welcomed to hear it brought up as a priority..