White House officials on the eve of President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress are promising the speech will be “grounded firmly in solving real problems for real people.”
“The president will them know that help is on the way,” a senior administration official told reporters at the White House Monday evening.
The address, to be made Tuesday evening (9 pm EST) to both houses of Congress, is titled “Renewal of the American Spirit” and will primarily be “about economic opportunity and protecting the American people,” said the senior official.
While there will be some foreign policy elements in the address, administration officials say they do not expect specific countries to be mentioned. But Trump, according to officials, will provide a justification for pulling out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, a comprehensive trade deal never ratified by Congress that took years to negotiate and was led, for the most part, by Washington and Tokyo.
Immigration will be key topic
Overall, the joint address “will be an optimistic vision of the country,” spokesman Sean Spicer said earlier during the White House daily press briefing.
Spicer added that he hopes the president will receive “a very robust and applause-filled reception” by all the members of Congress, including Democrats.
“You’ll hear a lot about immigration [Tuesday] night,” Spicer promised.
Two Democratic representatives who will be in the audience, however, may be sitting on their hands much of the time, based on what they told reporters Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at the National Press Club, delivered what they called a “prebuttal” to the president’s address.
“Donald Trump would like us to believe that all immigrants are terrorists and criminals,” said Schumer.
Trump’s attitude is a “complete departure from decades of Republicans and Democrats having respect for immigrants,” added Pelosi.
While the minority leaders were criticizing the president’s agenda, some 700 meters away, Trump in the White House was previewing his speech for the majority leaders of both houses of Congress.
“We’re looking forward to a positive, upbeat presentation [Tuesday] night and then proceeding with our agenda which is exactly the same as the Trump agenda,” Senate Major Leader Mitch McConnell said after emerging from the West Wing, along with House Republican Leader Paul Ryan.
“The goal of what we’re trying to achieve is to improve peoples’ lives. We’ve got a bold agenda ahead of us and the president is going to lay out why it’s going to make a difference in peoples’ lives.” said Ryan.
Taxes, budget cuts
Republican lawmakers say they hope to specifically hear about tax reform and health care, in addition to details about a 10 percent increase for defense spending — totaling $54 billion — and cutting roughly the same amount from non-military budgets.
The president and congressional Republicans “broadly agree on repealing Obamacare and a tax cut and border security and regulatory reform, so those are the kinds of things that he is going to have to bring his Republican colleagues together on,” analyst John Fortier at the Bipartisan Policy Center told VOA.
Foreign aid is expected to be specifically targeted. That is opposed by 121 retired admirals and generals, who in a statement on Monday argued “that elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe.”
Assistance to other countries only represents 1 percent of the entire budget, meaning there would have to be significant cuts elsewhere.
A separate request is to be made to Congress to pay for the president’s oft-touted controversial wall between the United States and Mexico — a project that could cost as much as $38 billion if the entire 2,000 mile border is to be included.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters that could involve deeper cuts to such core programs as Social Security (retirement insurance) and Medicare (health insurance for elderly and for younger disabled people)—something that could prove deeply unpopular with much of the public.
Changes to those programs will be part of the debate about changing the tax code, Mulvaney added.
The tone of the president’s remarks will be closely watched by those across the political spectrum, following the initial weeks of turmoil here that have seen Trump’s approval rating in several major polls drop to a record low for a newly inaugurated president.