USA

In his first speech to Congress, President Trump vows 'new chapter of American greatness'

Trump's address came at a pivotal moment for a new president elected on pledges to swiftly shake up Washington and follow through on the failed promises of career politicians. 

US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017.
Jim Lo Scalzo/Reuters
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  • Julie Pace
    Associated Press

Heralding a "new chapter of American greatness," President Donald Trump stood before Congress for the first time Tuesday night and issued a broad call for overhauling the nation's health care system, significantly boosting military spending and plunging $1 trillion into upgrading crumbling infrastructure.

Striking an optimistic tone, President Trump declared: "The time for small thinking is over."

Trump's address came at a pivotal moment for a new president elected on pledges to swiftly shake up Washington and follow through on the failed promises of career politicians. His opening weeks in office have been consumed by distractions and self-inflicted wounds, including the bungled rollout of a sweeping immigration and refugee executive order that was blocked by the courts.

Ahead of the signing of a revamped order, Trump said, "It is not compassionate but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur."

Trump sent unexpectedly mixed messages on immigration, one of his signature campaign issues. He pledged to vigorously target people living in the U.S. illegally who "threaten our communities and prey on our citizens." But he told news anchors before his speech that he was open to legislation that could provide a pathway to legal status, and he told Congress he believed "real and positive immigration reform is possible."

The president was greeted by enthusiastic applause as he entered the House chamber, though it was filled with Democrats who vigorously oppose his policies and many Republicans who never expected him to be elected. Most Republican lawmakers have rallied around him since the election, hopeful that he will act on the domestic priorities they saw blocked during President Barack Obama's eight years in office.

Topping that list is undoing Mr. Obama's signature health care law and replacing the sweeping measure. Trump offered a basic blueprint of his priorities, including ensuring that those with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines and offering tax credits and expanded health savings accounts to help Americans purchase coverage.

He suggested he would get rid of the current law's requirement that all Americans carry insurance coverage, saying that "mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for America."

Democrats, now firmly ensconced in the minority, sat silently while Republicans cheered and stood for many of Trump's promises. Some wore blue, pro-health care buttons that read "Protect our care," and dozens of Democratic women wore white in honor of the suffrage movement.

First lady Melania Trump sat with special guests who were on hand to amplify the president's agenda, including the widows of two California police officers killed by a man living in the country illegally. The widow of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia also sat alongside Mrs. Trump, a reminder of the president's well-received nomination of federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia's seat.

Trump was vague in his call for tax reform, another Republican priority. He promised "massive tax relief for the middle class" and a reduction in corporate tax rates, but glossed over how he would offset the cuts.

The president also urged Congress to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure package financed through both public and private capital.