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Laying out priorities to Congress, Trump sees immigration reform opportunity

February 28, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
It’s President Trump’s biggest moment in the spotlight since the inauguration. On Tuesday night, he’ll give Congress and the country his take on various issues, and lay out plans for the future, including the possibility of immigration reform, investment in infrastructure and beefing up the military. John Yang reports and Lisa Desjardins offers an update from Capitol Hill.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s not a State of the Union address, but it has most of the trappings. Tonight offers President Trump his biggest moment since the inauguration to tell Americans what he wants to do as the president, and possibly to turn around impressions after a bumpy beginning.

John Yang begins our coverage from the White House.

JOHN YANG: President Trump spent today getting ready for prime time, tonight’s address to a joint session of Congress.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s a busy day, and I guess tonight will be a rather busy night. We look forward to it.

JOHN YANG: Senior administration officials say he will tout the campaign promises he has kept in his five weeks in office and offer an optimistic look into the future.

In a FOX News interview that aired this morning, he acknowledged some shortfalls, specifically on his travel ban order.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I give myself an A-plus, OK, effort. But that’s, you know, results are more important. In terms of messaging, I would give myself a C or C-plus.

JOHN YANG: In a lunch with television anchors and reporters, including the “PBS NewsHour,” Mr. Trump said the time may be right for an immigration reform bill if there’s compromise on both sides.

On health care, officials said the president would outline guiding principles tonight, but offer no specifics on repealing and replacing Obamacare tonight.

On Capitol Hill, some Republican conservatives balked today at what party leaders are considering.

REP. JIM JORDAN, R-Ohio: We didn’t tell the voters that we were going to repeal Obamacare, but keep the Medicaid expansion. We didn’t tell the voters we were going to repeal Obamacare and keep some tax increases. And we certainly didn’t tell the voters we were going to repeal Obamacare and start a whole new entitlement.

JOHN YANG: Despite the divisions, House Speaker Paul Ryan was upbeat.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: This is the plan that we are all working on together, the House, the Senate, the White House. So there aren’t rival plans here. We’re all working on this together with the administration. I feel, at the end of the day, when we get everything done and right, we’re going to be unified on this.

JOHN YANG: Administration officials said Mr. Trump won’t offer many specifics on tax reform, but will address the need to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: What I’m anticipating is an optimistic and upbeat portrayal of what America could be, with the kind of changes that we are in the process of implementing, as you know, on regulatory reform, on repealing and replacing Obamacare, comprehensive tax reform, and, of course, the Supreme Court.

JOHN YANG: Democrats say Americans should listen carefully to get the real message.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: We fully expect the president will offer populist platitude after platitude. But talk is cheap. Tonight, the president is likely to use populist rhetoric to mask a hard-right, special interest-driven agenda. Democrats and the American people won’t be fooled.

JOHN YANG: Mr. Trump will also push his plan to beef up the military, raising defense spending by $54 billion next year and cutting domestic spending and foreign aid.

On FOX News, he said his policies can spur the economy and raise new revenue.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You look at the kind of numbers we’re doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1 percent. And if I can get that up to 3 or maybe more, we have a whole different ball game.

JOHN YANG: Today, the president two more executive orders, beginning the process of overturning an Obama era waterway protection rule, and returning oversight of aid to historically black colleges and universities to the White House.

President Trump was still adding to his speech late this afternoon, including considering whether to add language about an immigration compromise that he talked about. Officials say the speech could run as long as an hour and 20 minutes.

And although he’s calling for deep cuts in domestic spending next year, officials say the speech will include a call to the government to expand manned space exploration — Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: John, you and I were at that lunch with the president today and other television anchors and correspondents.

We were all, I think, struck by the fact the president brought up the issue of an immigration bill and talked about how he’s decided this is something the country is ready for.

JOHN YANG: That’s right. He seemed to be — this was a trademark campaign issue, talking tough on illegal immigration, and he seemed to be open.

According to senior administration officials who are familiar with his thinking, he thinks the time is right because people are tired of this issue. They’re tired of us talking about it. They want to solve it. These officials say that the president believes that the tough enforcement of immigration laws that he wants to carry out could help the effort by reassuring those that this is not going to be opening up the borders, that he is still tough on immigration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some needle-threading to be done here.

John Yang, we thank you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Lisa Desjardins is on Capitol Hill in Statuary Hall.

Lisa, what are the members that you have spoken with today, what are they expecting from this speech?

LISA DESJARDINS: Well, I think it’s more about what they hope to get from it tonight, Hari.

Some Republicans and Democrats both told me that they think the president needs to reach out specifically to those who oppose him. They’re feeling the divide. They’re feeling more rancor from their constituents.

Also, Hari, a lot of kind of regular order Republicans would like more details from the president. This is a place where words need to become reality. That means details. But, at the same time, Republican leaders who spoke with the president say they don’t expect those details in this speech tonight.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And put this in the context of the timing that is at work, considering what the Trump administration has put forward so far.

LISA DESJARDINS: This is an important moment, especially here at the Capitol, Hari.

It’s an interesting one, because right now two of the president’s major pushes are hitting obstacle courses and speed bumps. That’s, of course, the ACA repeal and replace. Republicans have not yet formed a final plan. And there is disagreement.

And then the president’s own budget, which he outlined yesterday, many Republicans have a lot of problems with it. Specifically, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell himself made a rare open statement of disagreement with the president today when asked if he could support those potential cuts to the State Department and diplomacy that the president is thinking about proposing.

Mitch McConnell said he personally is against that, and also he doesn’t think anything like that could get through the Senate.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Lisa Desjardins, thanks so much.

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