Trump’s Speech to Congress: The Good, and the Bad

In his first presidential address to Congress, Donald Trump offered his ambitions for the years ahead. Mixing policy proposals with statements of personal belief, the president sought to rally Americans to his side.

He began confidently, condemning the recent desecration of Jewish graves and other sectarian crimes. It was a necessary message of unity.

Next, Trump explained his plans to cut regulations and business taxes. He was right to do so. Until the federal government makes it easier to operate a business and keep that business profitable, the economy will continue to sputter.

Trump was also right to point out the need to increase our labor participation rate. But here, in the first sign of some simplicity on his part, Trump claimed that boosting job creation would be achieved by cracking down on illegal immigration. While I believe we should secure the border, I disagree with that assessment. In my view the keys to productive economic activity are boosted workforce skills and fewer obstacles to private entrepreneurship.

In a similar vein, Trump also spoke passionately about building an education system offering more ladders of social mobility. He specifically pointed out the failed schools and broken societies which imprison too many Americans—especially minorities. And the president promised to bring the force of law against those wreaking havoc on law abiding citizens in our inner cities. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and too many U.S. city leaders are utter failures. They deserve Trump’s scorn and their citizens deserve his alternative efforts.

THE PRESIDENT PROMISED TO BRING THE FORCE OF LAW AGAINST THOSE WREAKING HAVOC ON LAW ABIDING CITIZENS IN OUR INNER CITIES.
Trump was also strong on health care reform. He pledged to transfer Medicaid authority to state governors and to replace Obamacare. As I’ve explained, President Obama’s landmark law is, in moral and policy terms, an abject failure. And in what was one of the more emotive moments, Trump said he would shake up the FDA’s drug approval regime. This long overdue change offers great hope to Americans in suffering. Science exists to serve humans, not bureaucrats.

Of course, Trump’s broaching interest in immigration reform was tonight’s most shocking development. Still, only Nixon could go to China, and maybe only Trump can resolve the immigration deadlock! Regardless, the president’s olive branch towards bipartisan compromise on immigration reform was notable. It suggests that he believes a pathway to legal residency can go hand-in-hand with border security. He is right.

OF COURSE, TRUMP’S BROACHING INTEREST IN IMMIGRATION REFORM WAS TONIGHT’S MOST SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT.
On foreign policy, Trump committed himself to NATO and U.S. allies. Here we see the influence of Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has pushed the president to recognize America’s indispensible leadership in the world.

Still, the president’s speech wasn’t perfect. While his call for bipartisan immigration reform was positive, his announcement of a new office at the Department of Homeland Security, VOICE, to highlight victims of immigrant crime was disappointing. Yes, we should enforce the laws. But we do not need a government PR agency that blurs the lines between the good and the bad. VOICE is also a particularly Orwellian sounding name and thus anathema to our democracy.

Another problem came when the President spoke about infrastructure spending. Trump sounded very liberal here. Requesting $1 trillion from Congress, Trump suggested he’s open to big union payoffs and inefficient, corrupt public works projects. Even if some of that money comes from public-private partnerships (a good idea), $1 trillion is not chump change. I hope House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is able to pare back some of the excess here. If he does not, Trump risks a civil war between populist conservatives and fiscal conservatives. Trump’s anti free-trade rhetoric was also unfortunate. Free trade helps poor Americans the most. A trade war or internal tariff system, will only hurt American families.

TRUMP RISKS A CIVIL WAR BETWEEN POPULIST CONSERVATIVES AND FISCAL CONSERVATIVES.
Ultimately, however, the best element of tonight’s speech was not so much its substance but its style. For the first time since entering office, Trump seemed to fill his high office. He was confident but not blustery, and funny but not silly. And in reaching out to the widow of fallen Navy SEAL, William Owens, Trump evidenced true leadership. Mrs. Owens reaction proved as much.

A good night. We shall see how long this lasts. But let us hope it lasts for the next four years.