President Trump sought Wednesday to build on the momentum of a speech that invigorated fellow Republicans, as they focused on the hard work of turning his vision into policy.
Following his first joint address to Congress — in which Trump won high marks from Republicans for both his agenda and his measured tone — he convened a lunch Wednesday with leading GOP lawmakers.
“We’re just here to start the process,” said Trump, who was flanked by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as the meeting began. “It begins as of now, and we think we’re going to have tremendous success.”
Trump was scheduled to meet later Wednesday with members of his own team to talk more about how to advance key parts of his sweeping agenda.
No Democrats were invited to Wednesday’s lunch at the White House with congressional leaders, which press secretary Sean Spicer said was by design.
“To be factual here, at some point the people who set the agenda and the timetable to enact his agenda are Republican,” Spicer told reporters, who were later invited into the luncheon in the Roosevelt Room only briefly.
Spicer said Trump would meet with Democrats in Congress — who criticized him Wednesday for not offering concrete plans — at some other point.
While Trump garnered enthusiastic applause Tuesday from the Republican side of the aisle for marquee items such as replacing former president Barack Obama’s health-care law and retooling the tax code, major differences remain within the GOP on the specifics of how to move forward.
“I think he understands, as we do, the importance of getting those things done to set the tone for his entire first term,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), one of the luncheon participants.
Cornyn said the meeting focused more on how the two chambers of Congress and the White House will work together than on reaching immediate consensus.
“We are getting organized, getting prepared,” he said. “The only way we’re going to get this done is to work closely together.”
Vice President Pence said earlier Wednesday that the reception Trump received both in the House chamber and outside it gave him “great confidence that the agenda that the president articulated last night is the right agenda for America; it’s resonating with the American people.”
“I couldn’t be more optimistic about the opportunity to move forward our agenda,” Pence said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the first of 11 planned television and radio interviews in the wake of Trump’s speech.
Spicer added that Trump felt “humbled” by praise he had received for his 60-minute address.
Both Trump and Pence are planning to hit the road to pitch their plans beyond the Beltway.
On Thursday, Trump plans to give a speech aboard the USS Gerald Ford, a newly christened aircraft carrier in Newport News, Va., and lead a roundtable discussion with military officials and shipbuilders. And on Friday, he will visit St. Andrew’s Catholic School in Orlando to conduct what aides described as a listening session on school choice.
In his address Tuesday night, Trump sought to repackage his hard-line campaign promises with a moderate sheen, declaring what he termed “a new chapter of American greatness” of economic renewal and military might.
Seeking to steady his presidency after a tumultuous first 40 days, Trump had an air of seriousness and revealed flashes of compassion as he broadly outlined an agenda to rebuild a country he described as ravaged by crime and drugs, deteriorating infrastructure and failing bureaucracies.
Trump’s speech touched on his plans to overhaul the nation’s health-care system and tax code, but it was short on specifics and heavy on lofty prose. Struggling to steer a bitterly divided nation with his job-approval ratings at historic lows, Trump effectively pleaded with the American people to give him a chance and to imagine what could be achieved during his presidency.
“We are one people, with one destiny,” Trump said quietly near the end. “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.”
The softer edges than in previous speeches, including Trump’s inaugural address, prompted speculation about whether he was attempting a broader shift in his leadership style. That style has been marked by numerous distractions, including some he has instigated on Twitter.
As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, Trump had tweeted only two words since his speech: “THANK YOU!”
Democrats warned that less had changed than it might appear.
“With this president more than any other, his speeches are detached from reality,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday morning on NBC’s “Today” show. “In his campaign, and even his inaugural speech, he talks to the working people of America, but for the last 40 days, his actions have been decidedly on the side of special interests, hurting working America.”
Schumer criticized Trump for, among other things, not yet presenting a package to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure, despite heralding that aim in his speech.
“He’s not governing like his speeches,” Schumer said. “This speech will be forgotten in a day or two, and where’s the action?”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) struck a similar tone Wednesday, calling Trump “a good salesman” who delivered “a bait-and-switch speech.”
“He hasn’t had a proposal on jobs, on infrastructure, not even renegotiating NAFTA, which he promised,” Pelosi said during an appearance on MSNBC, referring to the North American trade pact.
Democrats also expressed skepticism about Trump’s comments Tuesday suggesting that he is open to an immigration overhaul that could provide a pathway to legal status. Trump made the remarks during a private White House luncheon with television news anchors but made no mention of it in his speech.
“We await the details of what a plan might be that be that could get by a Republican, right-wing House of Representatives that so far has opposed any real meaningful comprehensive immigration policy,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) during an appearance Wednesday on CNN.
Trump did extend some olive branches to his opponents. He called on Congress to pass paid family leave, a reference to a long-held Democratic Party priority that brought liberal lawmakers to their feet to applaud. And he pledged to work with Muslim allies to extinguish Islamic State terrorists, going so far as to acknowledge the killings of Muslims as well as Christians in the Middle East.
Still, Trump did not back away from his most controversial policies. He used typically bellicose language to describe the fight against the Islamic State, calling it “a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women and children of all faiths and all beliefs.” He made a point to utter the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” which Republicans cheered heartily.
The president forcefully defended his travel ban of refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries — an executive order that was halted in federal court — as necessary to prevent the entry of foreigners who do not share America’s values.
“We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America,” Trump said. “We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.”
Trump had planned to unveil a revised order Wednesday, but that appeared to be pushed off until later in the week in the wake of his generally well-received speech.
In the speech, the president trumpeted his plans to budget a major increase in military spending. One of Trump’s fiercest Republican critics, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), stood enthusiastically when the president said he would end the “defense sequester” caps on Pentagon spending.
On foreign affairs, Trump said he would honor historic alliances — and explicitly stated his support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, on which he had wavered during his campaign — but said he would seek new ones as well, even with former adversaries. The latter seemed an indirect reference to potentially working to combat terrorism with Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded meddled in the November election in hopes of helping Trump.
“America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align,” Trump said. “We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict.”
Trump declared that the time had come to rewrite trade deals and alliances in terms that benefit the United States, irrespective of global pressures.
“My job is not to represent the world,” Trump said. “My job is to represent the United States of America.”
Trump was adamant that the United States cannot continue to abide by what Republicans and Democrats see as free trade. “It also has to be fair trade,” Trump said. He cited Abraham Lincoln, who, he said, “warned that the ‘abandonment of the protective policy by the American government [will] produce want and ruin among our people.’ ” He said he would not let workers “be taken advantage of anymore.”
Trump, as he typically does, basked in his electoral feat and cast his ascent to the presidency in epic terms. “In 2016, the earth shifted beneath our feet,” he said, adding that a “rebellion” that started as “a quiet protest” morphed into “a loud chorus” and finally “an earthquake.”
He said he was sent to Washington to deliver on the promises he made on the campaign trail — arguably chief among them, to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Trump argued that everyday Americans cannot succeed “in an environment of lawless chaos” at the borders.
Trump challenged both parties in Congress to move quickly to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature health-care law.
“Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans,” Trump said. “Action is not a choice; it is a necessity.”
Trump also called for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that he said would be the biggest program of national rebuilding since President Dwight D. Eisenhower built the interstate highway system in the 1950s. Trump said his projects would be financed through a combination of public and private capital, but he offered no further details.
Trump was more somber than usual, toning down his bravado, but there were moments where he reveled in his celebrity. He glad-handed Supreme Court justices as he made his way to the rostrum and shared small talk with a reverential congressman, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.). As he left at the end of his speech, he paused to autograph books in the aisle.
Paul Kane, Abby Phillip and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.