Trump speech to Congress less confrontational in tone but leaves questions with vagueness, distortions and falsehoods, and maintenance of controversial and divisive policies
Developments on Day 40 of the Trump Presidency:
Trump’s Speech to Congress
Trying to overcome the turmoil that has beset his Administration in its opening weeks, Donald Trump gives a speech to Congress with a markedly different tone from his statements during the 2016 campaign and after his inauguration.
Delivering remarks written for him — and, indeed, that could have been written for a Ronald Reagan — Trump replaced his confrontational style with invocation of optimism and an appeal to end “trivial fights” in an effort to “raise the American spirit”. He avoided any reference at all to Russia, whose possible links with the Trump campaign have unsettled the President amid investigations and the media’s coverage of the issue.
However, the speech was vague over major policies such as the repeal of ObamaCare and economic initiatives. It was filled with exaggerations and even falsehoods: from the “highest murder rate in 47 years” — the rate is actually at its lowest since the 1960s — to leading companies bringing jobs and plants back to the US because of Trump, when the moves had been planned before his election. He even tried to declare his commitment to clean water and air, having just signed orders lifting environmental provisions and planned to cut the Environmental Protection Agency, putting an anti-EPA politician in as head.
In a headline moment of the speech, Trump tried to defend a bungled raid in Yemen by introducing the widow of the US commando who died in the operation and insisted it had been a success, even though officials and the father of the slain US SEAL have said the operation was a failure due in large part to the President and his advisors.
Though the approach was not as provocative as that of recent weeks, the statement held to controversial — and divisive — efforts such as the crackdown on undocumented immigrants, supported by further distorted claims that immigrants increased the US crime rate and depressed wages. Trump insisted again that he will build the “great Wall” along the border with Mexico. H
He also put forth the economic line and inward vision of chief strategist Steve Bannon, blaming other countries for America’s challenges and ending with Trump’s proclamation: “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”
Trump’s See-Saw Over Immigration
Trump’s speech is part of confusion over whether he has changed his position over a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, with almost all of the 11 million at risk of deportation.
Hours before the speech, Trump told a group of TV anchors, “The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides.”
He described a proposal that would allow some undocumented immigrants to live and work in the US without fear of deportation, but would stop short of offering them a pathway to citizenship.
That does not go as far as the Obama Administration’s DREAM Act, long blocked by Republicans in Congress, but would step back from the aggressive detention and deportation approach set out in the first weeks of the Administration, with hundreds already affected.
But Trump never referred to the initiative in his speech, instead reverting back to his statements about the need for “strong borders” against immigrants whom he falsely accused of raising US crime rates and depressing wages.
Attorney General Pulls Back from Lawsuits v. Police over Civil Rights
Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the Justice Department will limit lawsuits against police departments for violations of the civil rights of minorities.
“We need, so far as we can, to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness. And I’m afraid we’ve done some of that,” Sessions told State attorneys general. “So we’re going to try to pull back on this.”
He insisted that this would not be “wrong or insensitive to civil rights or human rights”. Instead, he said people in poor and minority communities must feel free from the threat of violent crime, requiring more effective policing with help from the federal government.
Administration: We’ll Cut 37% in State Department & Foreign Aid
The Trump Administration proposes a 37% cut in US diplomatic and foreign-aid funding as it plans to raises defense expenditures by $60 billion.
The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development currently receive about $50.1 billion.
One US official said that the Trump Administration is also looking at deep slashes to American development assistance to other countries.
Both GOP and Democratic legislators indicated that they would oppose the cuts, even before the Administration’s first draft of its budget in mid-March.
“That is definitely dead on arrival,” Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations, told reporters. He said the proposed budget “destroys soft power” and puts diplomats at risk.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (said he didn’t believe that a 37% cut would make it through Congress: “The diplomatic portion of the federal budget is very important and you get results a lot cheaper frequently” than through military spending.
Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, said cutting the State Department budget by more than a third would “have serious and detrimental effects on our national-security posture”.
Trump: I’m Not Filling 100s of Jobs Because They’re “Unnecessary”
Trump defends massive vacancies across Government agencies, saying this is not because of mismanagement and chaos within the Administration but because the posts are “unnecessary”:
Trump says he's not behind in agency appointments; doesn't want to fill many “because they’re unnecessary” pic.twitter.com/X5779YQQC9
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 28, 2017
Trump: The Generals “Lost Ryan”
Hours before using a slain US commando’s widow as a central point in his speech to Congress, Donald Trump appears to blame the Obama Administration and generals — even while maintained that a botched raid in Yemen was a success.
Trump said in a Fox interview of the operation in which US SEAL Ryan Owens and dozens of Yemenis, including women and children, were killed:
This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they wanted to do,” he said. “They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do ― the generals ― who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.
Owens’ father Bill has demanded an investigation after refusing to meet Trump at the airport as his son’s casket was carried off a military plane last month.
Trump insisted, “According to [Defense Secretary James] Mattis it was a very successful mission. They got tremendous amounts of information.”
But US officials said on Monday that the raid yielded no significant intelligence.
Here's how Trump, on Fox, responded to McCain and the father of slain SEAL William “Ryan” Owens about the Yemen raid pic.twitter.com/E3jlvG6wBN
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 28, 2017
Did Trump Say Anti-Semitic Vandalism is “False Flag” Attacks?
Under pressure over claims that he responded slowly to a wave of attacks on Jewish community centers and cemeteries, Donald Trump opens his address by condemning them.
But hours earlier, Trump appeared to suggest that the attacks are staged by opponents of his Administration.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, among a group of state attorneys general who met with Trump at the White House, said the President declared, “Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people, or to make others, look bad.”
Shapiro claimed Trump used the word reverse “two or three times”: “It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
A White House spokesperson insisted, “This is not what [Trump] said or meant. He…was referring to protesters.”