Republicans laud Trump's first address to Congress

President Trump, flanked by Vice-President Mike Pence (left) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, preparing to address a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington yesterday. Republicans gave him repeated st
President Trump, flanked by Vice-President Mike Pence (left) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, preparing to address a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington yesterday. Republicans gave him repeated standing ovations.PHOTO: REUTERS

But Democrats say his speech is short on detail and likely to clash with reality

Buoyant Republicans praised United States President Donald Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress after the 70-year-old, who has shaken up Washington's political establishment, called for both parties to leave petty fights behind and work to revive an ailing America.

In a rousing but calibrated speech that lasted slightly more than an hour (yesterday morning, Singapore time), he shifted the focus from the grim scenarios of a broken country of "carnage", painted in his Jan 20 inaugural speech, and said: "I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart."

Mr Trump went on to sound a ringing call for bipartisan support. "Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve an outcome that has eluded our country for decades," he said.

But ignoring the reality of the massive protests his presidency has sparked nationwide, he said: "A new chapter of American greatness is now beginning. A new national pride is sweeping across our nation. And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp."

Mr Trump also played to what he knew would be a global audience. "Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead," he said. "All the nations of the world - friend or foe - will find that America is strong, America is proud and America is free."

Former Speaker of the House and Republican stalwart Newt Gingrich was ecstatic. "President Trump gave the most compelling speech of his life tonight. Powerful, clear, building on his promises, real leadership," he tweeted.

US President Donald Trump on...

HATE CRIMES

Recent threats targeting Jewish community centres and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.

IMMIGRATION

My administration has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security. 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.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES

We expect our partners, whether in Nato, in the Middle East or the Pacific, to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost.

MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN

The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts... I am asking all citizens to embrace this renewal of the American spirit.

Democrats, however, said the President's words were short on detail, and that much of Mr Trump's soaring rhetoric is likely to run into the reality of a divided nation and an acrimonious US Congress almost immediately as he pushes his ambitious agenda.

CNN reported that 57 per cent of a sample of 509 Americans who watched the speech reacted positively, and that nearly seven in 10 said Mr Trump would move the country in the right direction.

Mr Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson centre in Washington, told The Straits Times over the phone: "It was probably the most presidential speech he has given in his short term."

Professor Glenn Altschuler of Cornell University said: "This was the kind of speech that will play well with Americans.

"But... it was devoid of specifics. It did not address any of the complications. This country will be no less divided and politically polarised tomorrow."

Reflecting that sentiment, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement: "President Trump's speech had an air of unreality because what he said tonight was so different from how he has governed in the first 40 days."

In the speech however, Mr Trump avoided provocation and skirted contentious issues, such as his bashing of the media.

He did make emphatic use again of the words "radical Islamic terrorism", however, noting that the Department of Defence had been tasked to "develop a plan to demolish and destroy" terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Trump paused frequently as the Republican half of the Chamber gave him repeated standing ovations. For the most part, Democrats sat in stony silence.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'Republicans laud Trump's first address to Congress'. Print Edition | Subscribe