Trump's speech before congress: 5 takeaways from Tuesday's address

Trump's speech before congress: 5 takeaways from Tuesday's address
Source: AP
Source: AP

President Donald Trump's first major address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night wasn't an official State of the Union speech, but it was 60 minutes of carefully crafted complexity. Here are five big takeaways.

1. A conciliatory opening

Trump lost November's popular vote and has a net-negative approval rating. So he came into the Capitol Tuesday with a tough row to hoe. Rather than immediately dishing up the conservative red meat that got him to the White House, Trump pointedly took a different approach.

"Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers 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," he said.

The remarks, clearly meant to counter criticisms that his populist nationalism has fomented discord and violence, were even more remarkable in that they came just hours after Trump reportedly insinuated bomb threats targeting Jewish Community Centers could be a "false flag" operation.

2. Trump managed to stay on message

Whether you loved or hated what he had to say, Trump had a script and, for once, he stuck to it.

The billionaire mogul, known for peppering even his prepared speeches with phrases like "believe me" and "so, so important," somehow kept his mind and mouth focused on the teleprompter, avoiding the improvised gaffes that proved to be constant speed bumps on his unlikely road to the White House.

3. Trump tugged at the heartstrings

You can take the president out of reality television, but you can't take the television flair out of the president. In one of the most moving moments in a modern televised presidential address, Trump saluted Carryn Owens, the widow of late Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens. 

The chamber applauded the tearful widow in an extended standing ovation as she clasped her hands and looked to the sky in a moment that punctuated the speech with bipartisan emotion.

"Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity," Trump said of the fallen SEAL, who died while participating in a raid in Yemen. "Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom — we will never forget him."

Again, Trump used an emotional moment to his advantage: Owens' father, according the Miami Herald, has demanded an investigation into the handling of the Yemen raid that ended his son's life. Trump himself has been criticized sharply for downplaying his culpability.

4. Trump doubled down on anti-immigration position

There was plenty of soaring rhetoric about American ingenuity and job-creating infrastructure projects, but Trump used his address to clarify that he's not abandoning his plans to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

Trump's promises to build the wall have energized not just supporters but also critics.
Source: 
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"We want all Americans to succeed — but that can't happen in an environment of lawless chaos," he said. "We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders."

Trump couched his pledge to fight crime and terror through immigration crackdowns and border reinforcements, asking opponents, "What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income or a loved one because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?"

Trump's voters — the type that usually eat up his his fiery rhetoric on security — probably still got the message, just as he and his speechwriters intended.

5. Democrats still weren't fans

No president, even one whose party controls both houses of Congress, can deliver a speech that pleases everyone. Trump is no exception, being called out at every turn for vagaries and "alternative facts" if not downright untruths, into his talk of a safer, more prosperous America.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from Trump's home state of New York, was among the many who called the presidential address pitifully short on detail. 

"I wanted to hear him outline a real plan to keep good-paying jobs in New York, but instead we heard more of the same talk about lowering taxes for rich corporations, building an expensive border wall, and gutting the Affordable Care Act that millions of Americans now rely on," she said in a post-speech statement.

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Celeste Katz

Celeste Katz is senior political correspondent at Mic, covering national politics. She is based in New York and can be reached at celeste@mic.com.

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