Give President Donald Trump credit. There was no “carnage” to be heard in his remarks Tuesday night.
In what clearly was his most measured speech since claiming the White House, Trump painted a more positive picture of America than the exceedingly bleak portrait he rolled out during his inaugural address. He also presented a more hopeful vision of the path forward, encouraging lawmakers to work across party lines and end “trivial fights.”
“I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength,” he said.
And most Americans saw it for that. A CBS News/YouGov poll released Wednesday found 76 percent of viewers approved of Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress and 82 percent found it “presidential.”
During his hour-long talk, he also took a radically different tone from the combativeness of recent days, offering strong support for NATO as allies and pledging to back causes that even many of his opponents could applaud, such as expanding access to affordable child care, ensuring paid family leave and bringing down the “artificially high” prices of prescription drugs.
Yet, it’s also true that given the rancor of his public interactions — from 140-character tweets to 75-minute news conferences — the president benefited from a certain morning-after exuberance of low expectations. For many Americans, as well as Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the bar had been set pretty low.
The president’s speech was long on optimism and grand ambitions, but it was also short on detail. As he did during his campaign, Trump spoke mostly in generalities, pledging “big, big cuts” to taxes, “major tax relief” and the restoring of “millions” of jobs. He also vowed to replace Obamacare with a plan that would give people cheaper insurance, better coverage, more choices and would promise, as with Affordable Care Act, that pre-existing conditions would not prevent anyone from obtaining coverage. How all that would be done largely remains a mystery.
The speech also fell short on the facts. Trump’s claims that undocumented immigrants cost taxpayers “billions” — disregarding their positive impacts on the economy in the long run — his taking credit for Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Motors and other companies deciding to “invest billions of dollars in the United States” and his contention that “94 million Americans are out of the labor force,” are all incredibly misleading if not outright untrue.
Nonetheless, polls show the majority of Americans were encouraged by the tone of what the president had to say. That’s certainly positive. But whether that optimism remains won’t be known until Trump and GOP leaders in Congress move forward with plans for tightening immigration, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and seeking approval of a new federal spending plan. That’s where the president’s true agenda — as well as the ambition and veracity of his promises — will be tested.
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