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Trump promises 'renewal of American spirit' in Congress speech

 US President Donald Trump addresses Congress in Washington, DC on February 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/JIM LO SCALZO)

President Donald Trump took his first mission-critical trip down Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday to address a Joint Session of Congress, telling his political opponents that 'the time for small thinking is over, the time for trivial fights is behind us.'

At that very moment, a member of the Democratic Party hissed. 

But Trump's 60-minute speech drew 94 interruptions for applause, including a sustained, tear-jerking 
ovation for the widow of a Navy SEAL killed in action just eight days after Trump took office. 

As Carryn Owens wept and Ivanka Trump comforted her, Trump said her husband Ryan was happy that the lengthy applause 'broke a record.' 

The slain sailor's father made headlines last week when he said he had refused to speak with the president when his son's remains were returned to the U.S. in a somber ceremony. He also blasted Trump for green-lighting what he called the 'stupid mission' that claimed Ryan's life.

But the president praised Ryan as 'a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation.'  

'Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity' Trump said. 'For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom. We will never forget Ryan.' 

Trump began Tuesday night with a claim on the role of political peacemaker, saying he wanted to bring Americans who voted for him together with those who didn't.

'I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart,' he said.

That followed a stunning condemnation of anti-Semitism and other hatred.

Trump declared that the close of Black History Month led him to remember 'our nation's path toward civil rights and the work that still remains.'
 
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 its forms.
 
President Donald 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 its forms.'

Some of Trump's other rhetoric was full of hopeful Kennedyesque loft – notable after four contentious weeks marking the beginning of the president's Washington odyssey.

'Think of the marvels we can achieve,' Trump urged, speaking of his still-incubating science reform proposals, 'if we simply set free the dreams of our people, cures to illnesses that have always plagued us are not too much to hope.'

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Treasury Steve Mnuchin and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson applaud the president's address¬†'American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream. Millions lifted from welfare to work is not too much to expect. And streets where mothers are safe from fear, schools where children learn in peace, and jobs where Americans prosper and grow are not too much to ask.'

Trump, 70, was predicting a safer and more prosperous world when America celebrates its 250th birthday in 2026. He noted the centennial celebrations in 1876 where 'the country's builders and artists and inventors showed off their creations' in Philadelphia.

'Alexander Graham Bell displayed his telephone for the first time. Remington unveiled the first typewriter. An early attempt was made at electric light,' he mused. 'Thomas Edison showed an automatic telegraph and an electric pen.' 

RED MEAT ON ISIS AND IMMIGRATION  
On Tuesday they joined the GOP in applauding Trump's condemnation of the ISIS terror army as 'a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs.'

There was no such bipartisan appreciation when the president boomed the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.'

The degree to which Trump has polarized Washington could be seen on the faces of lawmakers, and in the reactions of TV hosts Joe Scarborough and Sean Hannity. Both men were guests of congressmen.

Hannity, a Fox News conservative, applauded and roared as Trump outlined his agenda. MSNBC's Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who now mocks the White House daily, scowled and shook his head.

Trump called on Tuesday for Congress to 'increase funding for our veterans,' pass 'historic tax reform' for middle-class Americans, make good on his campaign pledge to 'repeal and replace Obamacare,' help soften the financial burden of child care, and 'help ensure new parents have paid family leave.'

His speech also included a demand that the government 'invest in women's health' and 'promote clean air and clean water and rebuild our military infrastructure.'

And Trump boasted that 'by finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone.' 

Trump's domestic policy prescriptions were led by his death prognosis for the Obamacare medical insurance overhaul experiment.

'Mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for America. The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we will do,' he pledged.

'Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor, and keep your plan? We now know that all of those promises have been broken.'

Trump said he will support retaining one aspect of the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that patients with pre-existing medical conditions can't be denied insurance coverage.

He also demanded 'a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the healthcare exchanges.'

NO BACKING DOWN: SCHOOL CHOICE AND DEPORTATIONS 
The president challenged Congress to develop a plan that will use tax credits and 'Health Savings Accounts' to give Americans a broader choice of plans – including those offered by insurance companies in other states.

Trump also planted a stake in the ground for school-choice advocates, saying that 'education is the civil rights issue of our time.'

He asked Congress for 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,' he said.

Another dramatic moment came when he acknowledged Jamiel Shaw, the father of a 17-year-old boy who was 'viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member who had just been released from prison.'

Shaw, along with a group of 'Angel Moms' who lost children in similar attacks, was a fixture at Trump campaign rallies.

Next to him sat the widows of two police officers 'gunned down by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record and two prior deportations.'

The central philosophy of the president's economic and foreign policies is the 'America first' agenda he promised would guide him in his inauguration speech.

SOLVE PROBLEMS AT HOME FIRST 
On Tuesday he sat comfortably with that idea, making the case that the U.S. should look inward to enact some of the solutions it has spent generations

'For too long, we've watched our middle class shrink as we've exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries,' he said.

'We've financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit – and so many other places throughout our land.

'We've defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross -- and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.

'And we've spent trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.'

Trump painted his own political rise as the antidote, saying that last year 'the earth shifted beneath our feet' as a quiet conservative counter-culture became a 'loud chorus' and then a political 'earthquake' of millions who elected him.

Later he declared that while 'America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path,' his own job is 'not to represent the world: My job is to represent the United States of America.'

More members of Congress – including a nearly full complement of Democrats – heard Trump's message Tuesday in person than anything the brash billionaire had said previously.


FIVE MINUTE OVATION AS HE ENTERED TO CHEERS
Following a rash of Democratic boycotts of his January 20 inauguration, only one – Rep. Maxine Waters of California – announced that she would purposely skip Tuesday's speech.

The far-left partisan reportedly said during a Democratic Caucus meeting that any lawmaker 'who can't sit still shouldn't go.'

Others, including New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, said they would attend but go out of their way to avoid shaking Trump's hand – something few members of Congress get close enough to do.

Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, known for hogging an aisle seat every time President Barack Obama delivered a State of the Union speech – the better to be seen on TV shaking his hand – said through a spokesman that she didn't plan to repeat the effort.

New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, another Democrat, was also fond of sitting on the aisle so he could share a few words with Obama once a year.

But as Trump turned the page and builds his own relationship with Congress, Pascrell told Fox News: 'I will not take an aisle seat.'

Trump entered the House chamber to raucous cheers from the GOP and polite claps from Democrats.

He pumped a fist, straightened his blue-and-white striped tie, and acknowledged more than five minutes of sustained applause. Another ovation came after House Speaker Paul Ryan pounded a ceremonial gavel and introduced him

The occasion of a president's first speech before the entire federal legislature and most of his cabinet – one member always stays away as a 'designated survivor' in case of the unthinkable – is a 'State of the Union' address in all but name.

CAMPAIGN PLEDGE TO REPEAL OBAMACARE GETS FRESH AIRING 
On Tuesday that honor went to Veterans Administration Secretary David Shulkin.

Trump's main job Tuesday and in the days that follow is to give his administration a booster shot of enthusiasm.

Many of the key issues in the president's stable, all campaign rally standards, had lost their luster in the corrosive air of government.

His once-rock-solid pledge to begin repealing and replacing Obamacare on the first day of his presidency ran into the buzz saw of internal Republican politics, with warring factions disagreeing about whether the two halves of the promise need to happen simultaneously.

Trump's prepared remarks include a firm marker, however, demanding 'reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time provide better health care.'

'Mandating every American to buy government approved health insurance was never the right solution for America,' Trump said.

'The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance and that is what we will do.'

Trump once vowed to rebuild America's 'decimated' military, but the reality of cutting $54 billion per year from domestic spending to pay for it has drawn jaundiced stares on Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle.

Even his signature issue – illegal immigration – has seen the Trumpian bravado quieted into a quietly whispered cascade of maybes.

On Tuesday afternoon multiple sources in a lunch meeting the president held with television anchors said he made an overture to Democrats about an immigration reform proposal.

'The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,' he reportedly said.

Those words hung in the Washington air for hours on Tuesday as pundits and lawmakers alike wondered if Trump was ready to embrace the kind of 'Gang of Eight' compromise he mocked during the Republican primary season.

A law offering some illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status – or even citizenship – was the sort of sausage-making that made Marco Rubio's path to the White House impossibly fraught.

MELANIA GETS BIPARTISAN SUPPORT 
His first move may be to lower the bar for so-called 'DREAMers,' people illegally brought to the U.S. years ago when they were children.

Trump called their situation 'very, very difficult' during a press conference just a dozen days ago.

'To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids ... they were brought in here in such a way. It’s a very, very tough subject,' he said, while emphasizing that some of them have turned criminal and should be deported.

The president's campaign persona emphasized a one-size-fits-all approach, saying last August that every illegal immigrant would have 'to return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else,' as part of his bid to 'break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration. 

There is a long tradition of the party out of power sitting out applause lines thrown at them by the president during a speech they are forced to watch on camera.

Democrats on Tuesday took their opposition to a new level. When the president got announced and entered the chamber, dozens of Democrats stood, but kept blank expressions on their faces and refrained from clapping.  

Even when Trump made non-controversial statements about lowering prescription drug costs, many Democrats sat on their hands.

There were a few holdovers from the traditional theater that comes with the speech.

When First Lady Melania Trump first entered the chamber – after an awkward interlude where she stood without waving – the chamber erupted into a big round of applause with approving yells.

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