President Donald Trump gave Republican lawmakers what they badly wanted Tuesday night: a positive, upbeat speech that moved on from the rancor of the campaign and the dark tone of his inaugural speech in January.
But he delivered nothing new. He offered few specifics to guide a Republican-led Congress that wants details and momentum from the White House. When Congress goes back to work Wednesday, it faces the same divisions, the same uncertainty and the same gargantuan challenges that have been vexing lawmakers for weeks.
“You know the devil is in the details – there weren’t a lot of details in this,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. He said that should not come as a surprise since Trump has been president for only five weeks: “The reality is five weeks isn’t very long.”
Trump again repeated his call for a $1 trillion infrastructure investment but didn’t give lawmakers any precise guidance on how to pay for it.
Republicans stood in a hearty roar when the president asked them to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But they’re locked in a disagreement over how to do it.
Whether it was those issues or immigration or regulations or military spending, Trump’s speech may have changed the tone, but it didn’t move the ball. And for all his calls for bipartisanship, few Democrats expressed much enthusiasm for his speech. Several times when Republicans took to their feet, Democrats sat in silence.
“Without specifics it’s impossible to take his speech seriously,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Traditionally, new presidents use their first speeches to Congress to put wind at their backs, to give them a push to fulfill a top priority. President Barack Obama was able to win quick passage of his economic stimulus plan eight years ago. Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan urged big tax cuts, and won approval by midyear.
Trump had little new to offer except, at least for one night, a more positive message.
“I was very, very pleased by his delivery, his manner, and he was very sincere, I believe, with the American people,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
“He didn’t speak extemporaneously as much as he has in the past,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. “You can see that he’s getting more presidential while maintaining that energy level that propelled him to victory.”
But they wanted the specifics.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he’d be looking for more specifics when the president released his budget later this month.
“A lot of it doesn’t add up right now,” he said. “And the details need to be worked out.”
Congress quickly took the first procedural steps to repeal the 7-year-old Affordable Care Act in January but has stalled as it struggles to come up with a replacement. Trump outlined a series of ideas, but few Republicans embraced them all Tuesday night.
“There’s certainly some more things I wish he’d be more specific about, like health care and taxes,” said Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C.
Nor did Trump offer specifics on how he’ll pay for the massive infrastructure plan he’s proposing. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., a small-business owner, said he did think the president had a viable idea and supported allowing some of the infrastructure investment to come from the private sector.
But getting anything done on infrastructure is likely to need 60 Senate votes, and Republicans have only 52 of the 100 seats.
And Democrats weren’t eager to show cooperation. The most visible affront to Trump was clearly the 30 or so members of the House Democratic Women’s Working Group who wore white jackets, suits and dresses — the official color of the suffragette movement, which pushed for the right of women to vote.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., noted that Trump had spoken directly to Democratic lawmakers several times and said that if the president wanted to work with him and others on his side of the aisle, he’d “meet him halfway,” particularly on domestic issues including infrastructure improvements.
But, Butterfield added, it was clear Trump stayed on script and delivered a subdued speech in contrast to his normal TV and rally appearances.
Democrats were in no mood to agree with Trump’s tough line on deporting immigrants who are here illegally or desire to build a huge wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Neither were some Republicans. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has said the wall is “not a viable option.”
Trump has spent a lot of time demonizing his opponents, and he won’t be able to suddenly bring everyone together with one speech. But at least, said some Republicans, it’s a start.
“I think he’ll deliver,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
“Admittedly, he is a polarizing person from time to time,” said Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. “Nonetheless, as president of the United States, as a spokesman for this country, I think he did lay out what Americans believe in and what our hopes and aspirations are.”
Lesley Clark, Rob Hotakainen, William Douglas, Anna Douglas, Donovan Harrell and Alex Daugherty contributed to this article.
Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis
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