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Trump Delivers 'Message of Unity and Strength'

  • VOA Staff

U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., Feb. 28, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump has told a joint session of the U.S. Congress that recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries reminded the U.S. that it is a country that stands united in condemning hate in all of its forms.

The president Tuesday night addressed lawmakers and invited guests at the Capitol, with Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan looking on behind him.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Feb. 28, 2017, in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Feb. 28, 2017, in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

He said what we are witnessing today is the renewal of the American spirit, in which "our allies will find that America is once again willing to lead."

President Trump said he listened to the "pleas" of the American people and began enforcing immigration laws -- laws he said will raise wages, help the jobless, save billions of dollars, and make the country safe for everyone.

Trump again promised to build a wall along the U.S.- Mexican border, calling it an effective weapon against drugs and crime.

And he said he is taking strong measures to protect the country against "radical Islamic terrorism" by increased vetting of would-be immigrants, He said the U.S. cannot become a beachhead of terrorism and a sanctuary for extremists.

Trump said he instructed the Pentagon to come up with a plan to defeat Islamic State, which he called a "network of lawless savages" who have slaughtered Muslim and Christian men, women and children.

First Lady Melania Trump, and guests, applaud on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017, during President Donald Trump's address to a joint session of Congress.
First Lady Melania Trump, and guests, applaud on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017, during President Donald Trump's address to a joint session of Congress.

He said that while the United States has spent trillions of dollars overseas, its infrastructure at home has crumbled.

He said America can only be made great again if it puts its own citizens first.

Domestically, Trump said, dying industries will come "roaring back to life" while heroic veterans will get the help they desperately need. New roads and bridges will replace crumbling infrastructure, he said.

The president also vowed to end the country's drug epidemic, giving hope and rebirth to inner cities and their youth.

Trump also promised to reform the "current and outdated" immigration system.

He cited what he called a merit-based system used in some other countries that require people entering their borders to be able to financially support themselves.

The president repeated one his favorite themes: replace Obamacare, again calling it "a disaster." He said a new system will expand choice and increase access to better health care at a lower cost.

He called for slashing restraints on governmental agencies like the Food and Drug Administration in a effort to speed up the process of bringing new drugs and treatments to the market.

He also called on Congress to pass a bill to fund school choice for disadvantaged children, giving families the option of choosing schools other than government funded public schools.

Trump said he is making the safety of Americans a priority. He said he has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is to aid Americans who become victims of violence by undocumented immigrants. He did not specify how that office would help those harmed by such violence.

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress, Washington D.C., Feb. 28, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress, Washington D.C., Feb. 28, 2017.

Trump's address to both the House and Senate was titled Renewal of the American Spirit. It comes at a critical time for this new president, who was elected on pledges to quickly shake up Washington, but whose first five weeks in office have left him saddled with historically low approval ratings. Just 44 percent of Americans approve of his job performance, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

This speech is technically not a State of the Union address, although newly sworn-in presidents often address a joint session of Congress in their first weeks in office. The Supreme Court justices and members of Trump's Cabinet are on hand for the televised event.

FILE - Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear speaks to the media and a group of Ford employees at the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Dec. 1, 2015.
FILE - Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear speaks to the media and a group of Ford employees at the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Dec. 1, 2015.

After the speech, Democrats had former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear give the official opposition party response. As governor he aggressively expanded access to health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans are vowing to repeal.

Another Democratic response will come an immigrant brought into the U.S. illegally as a child. Astrid Silva, 28, says millions of people living in the United States are worried, whether it's about being deported, losing their health insurance coverage or being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. She made the comments in an interview with The Associated Press at the Capitol.

Astrid Silva is interviewed by The Associated Press on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017.
Astrid Silva is interviewed by The Associated Press on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017.

Silva will deliver the response in Spanish. She is part of a group of 750,000 immigrants who were brought into the U.S. without authorization as children but later received deportation relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program authorized by former President Barack Obama in 2012.

On Monday, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at the National Press Club, delivered what they called a “prebuttal” to the president’s address.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., right, meets with reporters on Capitol Hill before President Donald Trump's speech to the nation, in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., right, meets with reporters on Capitol Hill before President Donald Trump's speech to the nation, in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017.

VOA correspondents Jim Malone and Steve Herman contributed to this report.

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