That’s a wrap on our live blog of President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress and the Democratic rebuttal. Trump’s getting good reviews from Republican-leaning commentators so far. Democrats don’t like most of the substance, of course, but are acknowledging that this was one of Trump’s better-delivered addresses. Still, it’s early, the media spin on an address like this can shift over time, and as Ben mentioned below, the delivery was calmer than normal but there was plenty of vintage Trump content. In any case, we’ll have more coverage on Wednesday of the politics and the policy goals Trump put forward. In the meantime, you can relive the speech chronologically by starting at the beginning of this live blog and scrolling up.
If you’re a busy person, though, I asked our staff to give me the main takeaway from their corner of the politics/policy world.
Perry: Overall, that speech was not especially surprising or striking. Trump repeated the themes he focused on during the campaign and in his inaugural address. He praised his moves of the last month. He said he would pursue tax cuts, ACA repeal and an America-first policy at home and abroad. The biggest surprise to me was that $1 trillion infrastructure idea, which he mentioned during the campaign too but is not a proposal beloved by traditional Republicans.
Maggie: There’s been a good deal of focus in Trump’s first few weeks on reforming and decentralizing the Environmental Protection Agency. But you’d never know it from this speech.
Harry: I think there was a clear understanding from Trump that he needed to be a little less harsh and a little more presidential. On that score, I’d say he was successful.
Julia: Nationalism, nationalism, nationalism. Couched in some other ideas, but that is the core ideology tying together what he said about trade, immigration, military and foreign policy.
Anna: Trump chose more or less not to weigh in on how to repeal and replace the ACA, but his five-point plan sounded an awful lot like Speaker Ryan’s plan, which isn’t popular with Democrats or the Freedom Caucus within the Republican Party.
Seth: Trump’s tone was more practiced and conciliatory than we’ve seen in pretty much any of his public speeches. But the policies he outlined, notably his “America first” material and his focus on crime by immigrants, were as radical as ever.
Ben: I was struck by the sheer number of times he mentioned infrastructure, given that the issue had seemed to take a backseat in the first weeks of his term. Beyond that, his discussion of economics was pretty standard fare for him, although he tried to sound some somewhat more hopeful notes than he has in the past. Oh, and the border tax! All that anyone in my nerdy little corner of the internet wants to know is whether Trump just endorsed Paul Ryan’s border tax!
I started out the night by saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump’s speech was fairly conventional, at least by his standards. And for once, I’d say I was right. (Political prognostication is not my thing.) In many ways, this was one of the least “Trump-y” speeches we’ve heard Trump give: He mostly stuck to the teleprompter, he was relatively muted in tone, and he repeatedly called for unity. But Trump’s relatively conventional style shouldn’t obscure the many ways in which the speech was radical in substance. He repeatedly implied that immigrants are vicious murderers, he called for a dramatic reshaping of U.S. trade policy, and he defended a new version of his controversial travel ban. Trump’s tone was calm, but his policy was as Trump-y as ever.
What’s the point of the rebuttal? Republicans learned with Bobby Jindal’s speech in 2009 that showcasing a rising star isn’t a great use of this tough platform. One of the things the opposition party might want to do is to remind the country of its alternate priorities and policy stances. But the last couple of rebuttals I’ve seen have been very focused on opposing the president and whatever the president just said. These tasks are obviously related, but without giving a point-by-point response of similar length to the original address, it’s hard for the out-of-power party spokesperson to get the message out without it being mostly focused on the president. Man, I want some hash browns.
Trump will likely get some positive press from this speech. If he can do what presidents normally do — send surrogates out to reinforce his message over the next several days — and not step on his own achievements with a Twitter fusillade, he could turn this into a good week.
From a political angle, I think the thing to remember is that we’ve got a long way to go. Trump has been in office for a little more than a month. It’s nearly two years until the midterm elections and nearly four years until the next presidential election. While Trump may have helped himself tonight, there’s plenty of time for him to help himself more — or hurt himself.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos says “rather unusual choice” for the Democrats, going with Beshear. If Democrats want to bring in political moderates, I think it was a good choice.
One thing Americans apparently disagree on: What “helping families” means.
Beshear says that the U.S. made a promise to make sure every American has access to affordable insurance. By that measure, the Affordable Care Act failed. Millions of Americans gained insurance under the law, but some 29 million Americans still lacked health insurance in 2015. Some of those people couldn’t get insurance because of decisions Republican governors made not to expand Medicaid, but some of it was baked into the design of the law.
Beshear would like you to remember the Trump that exists outside this “pivot” speech.
Beshear feels like he’s from another era. Democrats had traditionally done well in state elections in Kentucky. Beshear won re-election in 2011 by over 20 points. In 2015, Republican Matt Bevin won the governorship by nearly 10 percentage points. Not only that, but both houses of the Kentucky state assembly are controlled by Republicans.
I get what he’s trying to do here by giving the Democratic rebuttal in a diner, which is to draw a clear contrast between himself/Democrats and Trump, but having other people in the background is just awkward. And I’m not sure you make the visual point about moving forward in that setting. And now I want an omelet, so there’s that.
Beshear raps Trump for planning to roll back an Obama-era rule requiring financial advisers to work in their clients’ best interests. That sounds like a no-brainer, and it certainly plays well politically. But the issue is more complicated than the sound bite makes it sound. Experts are divided over the so-called “fiduciary rule,” which might help protect savers but could also make it harder for them to get financial advice.
There’s a lot of these moments where people are saying the same thing, but meaning something totally different … like, Beshear has a message of not succumbing to fear. So does Trump. They mean different stuff by that.
Another thought on the Democrats’ choice of Beshear, and let’s be blunt: Beshear is a white guy from the South. Beshear allows Democrats to highlight that the party is not all women and people of color. Also, these rebuttals can kill careers. See Bobby Jindal. So Kamala Harris, Chris Murphy and Cory Booker should send Beshear thank you notes for doing this.
State of the Union responses are often a chance for a party to highlight one of its rising stars. The Democrats do not seem to be pursuing that strategy tonight.
Kentucky has had one of the biggest reductions in the uninsured rate of any state. And it’s a red state. So this is a smart contrast for Democrats re: Obamacare.
Stay tuned. We’ll keep the live blog going for the Democratic rebuttal, which just started.
Trump’s speech didn’t have a lot of details — no new specifics on taxes, trade or health care — but it would be hard to argue that the speech wasn’t substantive. He spent most of the speech talking about policy issues and laying out his main priorities: more infrastructure spending, fairer trade, stricter enforcement of immigration laws, and a replacement for Obamacare, among other issues. He didn’t call for a long list of new programs, as presidents often do in State of the Union addresses, but he left little doubt about what he wants to focus on.
As I noted before we started, be very suspect of the insta-polls that follow this speech. Why? The people who watch the speech are not representative of the American electorate at large. If the past is any precedent, the people watching the speech are going to lean a lot more Republican than the public as a whole. That doesn’t mean the polls won’t foretell future public opinion, but chances are that Trump will be seen more positively in the insta-polls than in polls of all Americans.
Trump wrapped up the speech by talking about the wonders of American innovation. A small irony here (as noted by New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum on Twitter): A prominent group of economists think that the greatest technological innovations are behind us. Or at least, the innovations that matter the most to the economy are. As Robert Gordon, the most prominent proponent of this position, has argued, the flush toilet mattered more to the economy than the internet ever will.
Back when Trump was talking about heath care, he mentioned giving flexibility to states. Most of the Republican plans use that language to describe changes they’d like to make to Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor. As I wrote both earlier tonight and last week, most Americans say they are opposed to these changes, which would cap how much the federal government reimburses states for Medicaid coverage. State budgets rely on Medicaid, and much of the increase in health insurance coverage that resulted from the Affordable Care Act was from people enrolling in Medicaid, which is why governors and members of Congress have also spoken out against the proposed changes. While the health insurance exchanges get a lot more attention, it’s the debate over Medicaid that’s the eye of the health care storm.
The last president said Russia hacked our elections. This president didn’t attack Russia once. He never used the word Russia at all in an hourlong speech.
Going to Mars is possible. It’s also difficult and may actually be too much to ask, depending on your priorities. It’s worth checking out our ongoing series “Earth to Mars” for more on the obstacles this effort actually faces.
All of those remarks about America being friends with former enemies and rethinking our foreign policy will likely be interpreted as targeted at a new relationship with Russia.
Trump is really still pushing this idea that America has lost its strong reputation abroad. That’s not true.
“We strongly support NATO” is a line that both parties appreciated.
Ryan Owens is the Navy SEAL who died in the Yemen raid conducted six days after Trump assumed office. His father refused to meet with Trump and has called for further investigation into the death of his son.