No welfare for new migrants: Trump

US President Donald Trump at a rally in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday. He spoke about his idea to build a solar wall along the US southern border and on renegotiating the North American free trade pact.
US President Donald Trump at a rally in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday. He spoke about his idea to build a solar wall along the US southern border and on renegotiating the North American free trade pact.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

US President says he's working on laws to deny welfare to newcomers for at least 5 years

CEDAR RAPIDS (Iowa) • United States President Donald Trump has said on Wednesday that he was crafting legislation to bar new immigrants from receiving welfare for at least five years.

He announced the proposal in a conquering-hero-returns speech in Iowa, his first trip back to the political battleground state since he won it in the 2016 general election.

Mr Trump basked in the Republican victory in the closely watched election in Georgia, telling cheering supporters at the campaign-style rally that "the people love us".

Tuesday's congressional election had been widely cast as a referendum on his young administration as it battles a swirling Russian scandal and a string of legislative setbacks - and the President seized on the result as a vote of confidence.

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"We won last night," he told the crowd in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday. "All we do is win, win, win!"

Establishment Republican Karen Handel defeated Democratic novice Jon Ossoff after what turned into the most expensive congressional race in history, retaining a seat that her camp has held since 1979 - and calming party jitters about the impact of the President's troubles on local and national politics. "The truth is, the people love us," Mr Trump crowed to the Iowa gathering.

After wins in South Carolina, Kansas and Montana, Mr Trump's Republicans have now won all four special elections held since his inauguration in January, leaving Democrats demoralised as they seek to snatch control of Congress in next year's mid-term elections.

BRIGHT IDEA?

Yes, we will build a wall. We have to stop the drugs from flowing in. I will give you an idea that nobody has heard about yet. The southern border. Lots of sun, lots of heat. We are thinking about building a wall as a solar wall. So it creates energy. And pays for itself. And this way, Mexico will have to pay much less money. And that's good. Right? Think of it, the higher it goes, the more valuable it is. Pretty good imagination, right? My idea!

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, to a crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"They thought they were going to win last night in Atlanta," Mr Trump jeered at the Democrats. "They spent close to US$30 million (S$42 million) on this kid!"

The Republican Party interpreted the results as a sign that Mr Trump's core supporters remain faithful despite turbulence in Washington: no major legislative achievements to date, a White House mired in scandals over the probe looking into possible collusion between Mr Trump's campaign and Russian officials to influence the 2016 election, and potential obstruction of justice by the President himself.

Hammering home his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again", Mr Trump reprised his key campaign themes: defending American borders, repealing the Obamacare "disaster", promising record tax cuts - and touting "the amazing progress that we have already made".

Promising once more to erect a wall on the Mexican border, he raised the possibility of building it with solar panels - an idea he reportedly floated earlier this month - using the energy thus generated to help cover construction costs.

Under pressure from Democrats, the US Congress has so far refused to commit funding to the project, agreeing only to finance maintenance on existing parts of the border fence. The real funding battle will play out starting in October, when 2018 Budget negotiations begin in earnest.

Mr Trump gave few details about his plan for the solar panels, or his coming proposal to curtail welfare for new immigrants - including how it would differ from existing laws that do just that.

He called it a "total rewrite of our immigration system into a merit-based system", words consistent with the public tone he has struck on immigration restrictions.

The Republican win in Georgia may indeed embolden the party to press ahead with Mr Trump's political agenda, notably reform of Mr Barack Obama's healthcare law and an overhaul of the tax code.

The Senate's Republican leadership said it would unveil yesterday a new health Bill.

The legislation faces unanimous opposition from Democrats and scepticism from some Republicans, who have voiced concern about the secrecy of the drafting process.

But while the Democratic losses of recent months have been demoralising for the party, some see reason for optimism. In all four congressional races, Democrats did far better than in previous elections.

They would need to flip 24 seats to retake the 435-member House of Representatives in next year's mid-term elections, and analysts believe Republicans are vulnerable in at least that many districts.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2017, with the headline 'No welfare for new migrants: Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe