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Trump Gives Broad Outline Of Policies In Speech To Congress


President Donald Trump gave his first speech to a joint session of Congress last night, using the moment to strike a more positive tone.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A new national pride is sweeping across our nation, and a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp. What we are witnessing today is the renewal of the American spirit. Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead.

MARTIN: All this morning, we'll be looking at the themes and policy directions raised in the president's address. NPR's Scott Detrow's here in the studio with us to help work our way through that. He'll be with us all morning.

Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So there was a lot of buildup to this speech because this is a president, as we all know, who likes to break from traditional norms and do things his own way. There were questions about how he was going to approach what is really one of the most presidential kind of moments, these addresses. How'd he do stylistically?

DETROW: Well, he stuck to the script, both the literal script in front of him and the expectations that you have for a president of the United States coming in and speaking to Congress and the nation.


DETROW: And I think that's really notable. You know, the policy was the same, a hard line on immigration, a nationalist stance toward the world but a much more measured tone and a lot of the traditional stagecraft that you've seen from presidents. And given how much of his style is what sets him apart to his detractors who don't like his Twitter feed and to his supporters who say they don't want typical politicians, I think a typical speech from the president to Congress...

MARTIN: That's a big deal.

DETROW: ...Is a remarkable thing.

MARTIN: Yeah. OK, stay with us, Scott. We're going to turn now to NPR's Mara Liasson. She's going to give us a run-through on what the president said last night.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: This was a kinder, gentler Donald Trump. His first speech to a joint session of Congress was a rhetorical course correction. He started by acknowledging Black History Month and condemned the kind of violence his critics say he has tacitly encouraged.


TRUMP: 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.


LIASSON: After a rocky first month that saw his approval ratings slide to historic lows, the speech was a chance for Trump to reset his relationship with the public and Congress. He reverted to a more traditional approach to foreign policy, reassuring European allies who have been unsettled by Trump's repeated disparagement of the transatlantic alliance.


TRUMP: We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two world wars that dethroned fascism...


TRUMP: ...And a Cold War and defeated communism.

LIASSON: But he returned to his demand that the allies increase defense spending.


TRUMP: 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.


LIASSON: Trump also suggested that for all of his harsh rhetoric about immigrants, he was open to comprehensive immigration reform, which usually includes a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.


TRUMP: 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. If we are guided by the well-being of American citizens, then I believe Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve an outcome that has eluded our country for decades.

LIASSON: This was the most conventional speech Trump has ever delivered. He stuck to the teleprompter and, for the most part, sounded like an ordinary Republican president. There was no praise for Vladimir Putin, no attacking the press as enemies of the people. In fact, Trump only mentioned the media once.

Republicans on Capitol Hill were thrilled as Trump embraced their goals for corporate tax reform and what he promised would be massive tax relief for the middle class. But he also called for a $1 trillion infrastructure program and promised a new entitlement for family leave, two things Republicans may not be as enthusiastic about. He didn't say how he would pay for all those programs, and he only offered general guidance for replacing Obamacare.


TRUMP: First, we should ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage and that we have a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the health care exchanges.


TRUMP: 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.


TRUMP: Thirdly, we should give our state governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out.

LIASSON: But all three of those points are hotly contested on Capitol Hill. The most emotional moment of the evening came when the president acknowledged Carryn Owens, the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens who died in the controversial raid on a terrorist camp in Yemen. Earlier in the day, Trump had distanced himself from the raid saying his generals, quote, "lost Ryan." But last night, he singled out Owens' widow as she sat in the gallery, tears streaming down her face.


TRUMP: Ryan died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation.


LIASSON: While the picture Trump painted last night was one he's painted before - drugs pouring in over the border, illegal immigrants and terrorists killing Americans plus a stagnant economy - the presentation was less dark and divisive than his inaugural address. Trump himself seemed to acknowledge it was time for something new - more uplift and less American carnage.


TRUMP: The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.

LIASSON: So does that mean there will be no more trivial fights about crowd size, Ivanka's fashion line or "Saturday Night Live"? If so, this speech will have marked the long-awaited pivot to a more presidential President Trump.


That's NPR's Mara Liasson reporting there. NPR's Scott Detrow is still in our studios here in Washington.

And Scott, let's check a couple of facts. First, the president described the murder rate and correctly cited a statistic I believe that he's gotten wrong again and again and again. What was it?

DETROW: Yeah, many times President Trump has said the murder rate is the highest it's been in 45, 47 years. Now, that is not the case.


DETROW: What he said last night was that the year-to-year increase from 2015 to 2016 was the highest in many years. That is the true - that is true. But it's kind of a forest-trees situation. While the year-to-year uptick went up, by and large, the United States still has a far lower rate than it did several decades ago.

INSKEEP: OK - but correctly citing the statistic there. Second, the president cited a study by the National Academy of Sciences on the high cost of immigration. What does the study say?

DETROW: Well, in the typical intersection of academics and politics, several sides are claiming it and saying it proves their point. President Trump said that the immigration system costs American taxpayers billions. The study said first-generation immigrants do cost state and federal government a lot of money but that second-generation immigrants are among the strongest contributors and that, big picture, immigration does help the American economy.

INSKEEP: OK - so a question of the frame that you're in.

MARTIN: So Scott, let's talk about how the Democrats responded to this address. This is what happens - one party's president gives an address. The opposing party puts up a person to give a countermessage. Steve Beshear, former governor of Kentucky, was tapped for that task...


MARTIN: ...Last night.

DETROW: In a diner.

MARTIN: In a diner - in a diner with some with some patrons - no one was eating. But what did he say? What was his message last night?

DETROW: A lot of what he talked about - as a governor of a red state, Kentucky, he presided over a state that embraced Obamacare. So he was making the pragmatic case that Democrats are trying to make, saying this is a system that's done a lot of good. It's gotten a lot of people the health care they need, and we need to keep part of it. So that was a big part of his response.

MARTIN: And - which was really interesting because - I mean, Beshear is a 72-year-old...


MARTIN: ...White guy...


MARTIN: ...From rural America.


MARTIN: And Democrats seem to be saying, you know, we are going to put up a guy - he's not an up-and-comer, which usually that role is saved for. They are doubling down on the issue of Obamacare and how they can save it.

DETROW: And I think he played a symbolic role, talking as somebody who helped put the system in place in a state where he said it had benefits. But I think there's also - I mean, that says something about the Democratic Party right now and the state that they're in that they pick somebody who's not in office.

And, you know, I was just at a big Democratic meeting - the DNC meeting this weekend, and their keynote speaker was Jason Kander, who lost the election last year. So Democrats do not have many success stories...


DETROW: ...And rising stars they can point to at the moment.

MARTIN: Let's talk about the economy finally. It's a big part of what Donald Trump has promised again and again to make great again. He spoke a little bit last night - about this last night, about how he wants to make that happen. Let's listen.


TRUMP: 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.

MARTIN: So the president's going to need Congress to do this, right, Scott? Are they on board?

DETROW: (Laughter) There's a lot of work that needs to be done. There's a lot of divides within the Republican Party on health care right now. That's probably the top item on their plate. And some Republicans say nothing but a full repeal will do. Others say we need to keep the Medicaid expansion in place; we need to keep a lot of the big-picture things in place.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Scott Detrow joining us as we work through President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress last night. Scott will be with us later in the show. Thanks so much for being with us.

DETROW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLAZO'S "EARLY ORANGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.