Like much of America, we were surprised by President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress Tuesday.
Where was the argumentative, contradictory Trump we’ve come to know? In his place stood a president presenting a coherent, if broad, outline for congressional action on a host of important issues. In tone and performance, Trump finally exhibited some qualities we expect from the nation’s chief executive.
We have no idea if this Trump was the real Trump. It’s possible the president will relapse into meaningless rhetorical battles with his perceived enemies. A man who conducts his presidency via Twitter can’t ask the rest of us to stop focusing on trivial things.
And there was much to dislike in the policy pronouncements Trump outlined, particularly on immigration and education. The president’s plans to spend more on defense and infrastructure will collide with his promise to cut taxes and with his own party’s longstanding pledge to reduce the deficit.
But there were important places in the speech where Americans of good faith can find a toehold for discussion. Congress should grab these opportunities:
▪ While still supporting repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Trump said his proposed replacement would include tax credits for Americans to purchase insurance, help for the states providing Medicaid coverage and a guarantee that Americans with pre-existing medical conditions could obtain coverage at a reasonable cost. That’s Obamacare-lite.
Trump offered few details. But the speech suggests he has rejected the idea that Congress should simply end Obamacare and walk away. The GOP should accept that reality.
▪ The president proposed spending $1 trillion for infrastructure repairs. Congress must find funding for such a program — tax credits for private businesses, along with toll roads, are non-starters. But our roads and bridges need attention.
▪ Trump endorsed paid family leave, federal help for child care and investing in women’s health. Congress should deliver.
At the same time, lawmakers should walk away from some of Trump’s ideas. An increase in defense spending may be needed, but 9 percent is unaffordable. Trump wants additional federal support for school choice. The government cannot abandon free public education.
He promised to protect air and water quality, a laughable commitment given his appointment of Scott Pruitt, a pollution enabler, to run the Environmental Protection Agency.
Before his speech, the president told TV news anchors he was open to a compromise on immigration that could provide legal status for millions of immigrants already in the U.S. A CNN report Wednesday said the suggestion was an insincere false flag. Still, Congress should pursue this middle ground anyway.
Trump’s call for an office focused on helping victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants is dehumanizing and unnecessary. All violent crime is horrific.
Finally, tone. We applaud the president’s denunciation of last week’s Olathe shooting. The Justice Department should vigorously pursue any hate crime.
We also support Trump’s call for unity, but he must start by looking for it within his party. For eight years, Barack Obama begged Republicans for help. They refused. It isn’t realistic to expect Democrats to reach across the aisle just yet.
It is reasonable to expect Trump to behave like a president. Tuesday, at long last, he showed that is possible.