President Trump sought to repackage his hard-line campaign promises with a moderate sheen in his first joint address to Congress Tuesday night, ushering in what he termed “a new chapter of American greatness” of economic renewal and military might.
Seeking to steady his presidency after a tumultuous first 40 days, Trump had an air of seriousness and revealed flashes of compassion as he broadly outlined a sweeping agenda to rebuild a country he described as ravaged by crime and drugs, deteriorating infrastructure and failing bureaucracies.
Trump’s speech touched on his plans to overhaul the nation’s health-care system and tax code, but was short on specifics. Struggling to steer a bitterly divided nation with his job approval ratings at historic lows, Trump effectively pleaded with the American people to give him a chance and to imagine what could be achieved during his presidency.
“We are one people, with one destiny,” Trump said quietly near the end. “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.”
Trump extended olive branches to his opponents. He called on Congress to pass paid family leave, a reference to a long-held Democratic Party priority that brought liberal lawmakers to their feet to applaud. And he pledged to work with Muslim allies to extinguish Islamic State terrorists, going so far as to acknowledge the killings of Muslims as well as Christians in the Middle East.
Still, Trump did not back away from his most controversial policies. He used typically bellicose language to describe the fight against the Islamic State, calling it “a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women and children of all faiths and all beliefs.”
The president forcefully defended his travel ban — an executive order that was halted in federal court — as necessary to prevent the entry of foreigners who do not share America’s values.
“We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America,” Trump said. “We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.”