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After a confident speech, which priorities can Trump achieve?

March 1, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
President Trump's address to Congress promised action on a long list of priorities he’s stressed before, but in a more disciplined and upbeat tone. Lisa Desjardins offers a recap of reactions to the president’s speech from both sides of the aisle, then Judy Woodruff talks to Dan Balz of The Washington Post and Susan Davis of NPR about the realities of enacting the agenda he proposed.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We take a longer look now at President Trump’s speech last night.

He promised action on a long list of priorities, including Obamacare, the border wall, public works and regulatory reform. And all of it, he did in a more disciplined, upbeat way than before.

Lisa Desjardins reports on the day after.

LISA DESJARDINS: The president called in Republican leaders for a White House lunch, hoping to build on momentum from last night’s address.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It begins as of now, and we think we’re going to have tremendous success.

LISA DESJARDINS: Vice President Pence took that theme on a one-man media blitz, with 11 interviews on his public schedule.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: What the American people saw last night is the president that I serve with every day: broad shoulders, big heart, reaching out, focusing on the future.

LISA DESJARDINS: Praise came from top Republicans in Congress as well.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: The president made clear last night he’s ready to work with Congress on policies that can actually move us forward. He will find many partners in Congress excited to get those things accomplished.

LISA DESJARDINS: High on that list, repealing and replacing Obamacare. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a former Republican primary rival, lauded Mr. Trump for his broad outline.

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-Texas: The principles he’s focused on are exactly the right principles: more choice, more competition, lower costs, lower premiums.

LISA DESJARDINS: But Democrats say there was no real substance, and they accuse the president of misleading the public with statements like this:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Obamacare premiums nationwide have increased by double and triple digits. As an example, Arizona went up 116 percent last year alone.

LISA DESJARDINS: In fact, while it’s true Arizona’s premiums have gone up by that amount, the president ignored important context, that Arizona is an outlier, with increases four times the national average.

On immigration, some Republicans say they’re encouraged by Mr. Trump’s comments ahead of his speech that he’d consider a legal status for some undocumented immigrants.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: He’s showing some willingness to embrace a more practical immigration proposal. I want to give him credit for that. Any time he moves into the land of practicality, I want to encourage him, because that’s what it’s going to take to get a bill passed.

LISA DESJARDINS: But in the actual speech, there was no mention of legalizing undocumented immigrants. Instead, the president spoke of crimes by immigrants and his plan to crack down on the undocumented.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone.

LISA DESJARDINS: That claim, too, was challenged.

Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota spoke with the NewsHour last night.

REP. KEITH ELLISON, D-Min.: This speech seems to blame undocumented immigrants for a crime. It indicated that clamping down on immigration was actually going to increase wages and make our economy better. The fact is, there’s no facts that support that.

LISA DESJARDINS: Several of the presidents statements were declared inaccurate by fact-checkers today. Also getting attention, the generally positive tone of the speech.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Democrats and Republicans should get together and unite for the good of our country and for the good of the American people.

(APPLAUSE)

LISA DESJARDINS: But Democratic leaders say it’s all a facade.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: You can’t just talk the talk, Mr. President. You have to walk the walk. And on issue after issue after issue, we haven’t seen anything, or negative things, for the working class.

LISA DESJARDINS: The president and Congress both soon will see pressure for action increase soon. House Republicans have said they want a draft health care bill by the end of this month. At that point, Trump will be just one month away from the end of his first 100 days.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last night’s presidential address relayed an ambitious agenda. But how much of it will take shape, and does President Trump have enough support on Capitol Hill to find success?

Joining me to discuss all of that are Dan Balz of The Washington Post and NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis.

And we welcome both of you back to the program.

Dan, I’m going to start with you.

We just heard Lisa Desjardins talk about this was a different tone coming from the president. You wrote about that today in The Washington Post. It was a change from what we have been hearing.

DAN BALZ, Chief Political Reporter, The Washington Post: It was a dramatic change from what we have been hearing.

And I looked back to the inaugural address, which was described by so many people as dark or dystopian, the phrase American carnage being one that leaped out at people and has stayed with people, a very downbeat view of things in the state of the nation, the state of the world.

The substance of last night wasn’t significantly or materially different from what he’s talked about all through the campaign and in his inaugural address, but the tone was so much different. He talked about unity repeatedly. He talked about cooperating with Democrats. He talked about a spirit of American renewal.

And it was — it was a speech that was certainly aimed at reassuring his congressional Republican allies that he will be presidential, if you will, going forward, that he will be serious about trying to get these things done, and that he will not be seeking to create diversion and digression and controversies.

Whether he’s able to stay with that, we don’t know. I mean, this was only one speech, and we know the history of Donald Trump is that there are moments when he — you know, he goes in directions that even his staff doesn’t want. But for that hour in the House chamber last night, he was the Donald Trump that a lot of elected officials have wanted to see for a long time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Sue Davis, it was a confident-sounding speech, as if he expects these things to happen. How much of what he’s done and what he said he’s going to do so far is actually taking effect?

SUSAN DAVIS, NPR: Well, let’s start with the two top priorities for Congress that we know, health care and taxes.

And his remarks in the speech last night, it’s like they could have been written by House Speaker Paul Ryan. And the speaker’s office has been saying, there’s no daylight between us. There’s no daylight between us.

But the president is fairly erratic. He has tweeted different things on positions at different times that have contradicted the speaker. And they saw the speech as incredibly reassuring, as Dan said, not only that they’re on the same page, but that the president is capable of using the moment to show leadership to sort of build the case for these conservative ideas.

Republicans say health care is on track. They expect to see a bill within weeks, not months. And they saw the president’s speech last night as an almost tacit endorsement of this plan that’s emerging from the House.

The fight that’s going to be really interesting is that there is a group of conservatives in the Senate, namely Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah, who are — could be an immovable force on this, who say it is not conservative enough.

And we’re going to see this really interesting test of conservatism and the conservatives that bedeviled past leaders in Congress and Donald Trump, and who is going to win out this fight. And I talked to Rand Paul today, and he said, what has emerged from the House, he will not vote for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Dan Balz, to what extent is the White House prepared for that kind of pushback from people in their own party?

DAN BALZ: Well, I think they are prepared.

I think they know it’s there. They have been getting pushback for some time. There is not only opposition from conservatives on Capitol Hill. There is division among the Republican governors — put aside the Democratic governors — over what to do with Medicaid.

If you were a state that expanded Medicaid, you have got one view of that. And if you didn’t, you have got another view of that. There are divisions.

I think the administration today feels that, as a result of the speech, people who have been reticent to support him or openly hostile to what is taking shape in the House might be a little more amenable to working with the administration.

Secretary Price from HHS and the vice president, Mike Pence, are going to be the point people from the administration. I think one question is to what extent the administration will, in fact, put down a proposal and move toward Congress or wait for Congress to really do it and then come in at the end.

I think Congress would like the president to lead as effectively as he can, in part, I think, to try to create the consensus that doesn’t exist today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And then, Sue Davis, there’s immigration, where — I happened to be at a lunch with the president yesterday where he was talking about he liked want idea of an immigration bill, if he could get the two sides to compromise. He didn’t talk very much about comprehensive immigration reform last night.

He talked about the wall. And we know there’s that travel ban, renewed version of that. But what is the mood? What are the attitudes on the Hill about immigration?

SUSAN DAVIS: Well, here’s what we know is going to happen.

In a couple of weeks, he’s going to send a request to Congress asking for undetermined amounts of millions of dollars to start building that wall. But immigration — comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t really been part of the conversation on the Hill.

It wasn’t part of the agenda outlined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Ryan at the beginning of the Congress. I talked to the speaker’s office today that said it’s still not necessarily at the top of the agenda. But if the president decides that he wants this to be a priority, he has tremendous power to make it a priority and upend what the congressional schedule is.

I think, on that issue, where I think Congress is trying to take the lead on things like health care and taxes, on immigration, I think they’d like to see the White House be a little bit more assertive and outline specifically what the president would like to do, specifically because that issue was such a core, center point of his campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just finally to the two of you — and I hate to ask you to do this quickly — but, Dan Balz, the president really mentioned tax reform only briefly last night, taxes at all.

What does it look — what does the atmosphere look like? What are the realities in terms of getting tax reform done this year?

DAN BALZ: Well, it will be very challenging.

Just simply getting the health care bill through will be potentially a year-long effort, as we saw in the Obama administration. On taxes, they don’t have a plan at this point. And health care will have to go first. Taxes will have to follow. There are questions about what he really wants to do.

He provided no details of that last night. He provided some principles on health care at least. On tax reform and tax legislation, he offered nothing of substance beyond kind of a generalized notion of what he wants.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you pick up anything on that, Sue?

SUSAN DAVIS: I see the fates of health care and taxes linked.

If the repeal and replace effort falls apart, I think tax reform falls apart. If repeal and replace, if they’re able to get something to the president’s desk, I think that that increase the chances that they can actually move on taxes this year.

I don’t think they can be seen as separate tracks. I think they have to move together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is an ambitious agenda.

SUSAN DAVIS: Extremely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re talking health care. We’re talking — and we didn’t even mention infrastructure, which is something the president has said he wants to get done too.

But we’re going to leave it there for now. We thank both of you for talking to us, Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Susan Davis of NPR. We thank you.

SUSAN DAVIS: Thank you.

DAN BALZ: Thank you.

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