Thursday 22 March 2018

Republicans encouraged after Donald Trump's Congress speech

Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill (AP)
Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill (AP)
Donald Trump said: "The time for trivial fights is behind us" (AP)

President Donald Trump's first speech to Congress left Republicans encouraged on Wednesday despite party divisions on healthcare remaining.

Mr Trump's disciplined and optimistic tone was what GOP lawmakers wanted to hear after a rocky first month that provoked daily anxiety on Capitol Hill with every new presidential tweet.

Republicans welcomed Mr Trump's presentation and his call for "a new chapter of American greatness".

Vice President Mike Pence said on MSNBC on Wednesday that Mr Trump showed Congress and the nation his "broad shoulders, big heart, reaching out, focusing on the future".

House Speaker Paul Ryan declared the speech a "home run".

Even though Mr Trump offered some specifics on healthcare and appeared to embrace a key element of a leadership-backed plan emerging in the House, his comments did little to settle an extremely difficult debate over Republicans' top legislative priority.

Indeed, a day after the president called for "unity and strength", Republicans looked as divided as ever as they try to make good on seven years of promises to repeal and replace former president Barack Obama's healthcare law.

Most said Mr Trump's speech had not changed that or brought them much closer together.

Bob Corker, Republican senator for Tennessee said: "I don't know that that was his intent. I mean he gave the kind of guidelines that I think most presidents give on issues like this and it's up to us."

As Republicans cheered and Democrats sat silently on Tuesday night, Mr Trump declared: "We should help Americans purchase their own coverage, through the use of tax credits and expanded health savings accounts - but it must be the plan they want, not the plan forced on them by the government."

Those were comments House GOP leaders interpreted as an embrace of their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a new system built around refundable tax credits.

Conservatives who have been rebelling against that plan, denouncing the credits as a costly new entitlement, disagreed.

GOP Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has joined senators Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky in declaring their opposition to the legislation emerging in the House, accused the media of "bending over backwards" to interpret Mr Trump's remark as a specific legislative proposal.

Mr Cruz insisted that Congress should begin by passing legislation that simply repeals Obamacare like a bill Mr Obama vetoed in early 2016.

"That should be on the (Senate) floor. And from there we should build up and we should focus on areas of consensus," Mr Cruz said.

The stance adopted by Mr Cruz, Mr Lee and Mr Paul provoked familiar backbiting from other Republican senators who fear the rebels could block action given the GOP has few votes to spare with a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate.

Amid the divisions, Mr Trump was lunching with top House and Senate GOP leaders and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell summoned GOP senators to meet later on Wednesday with key House leaders on the healthcare effort.


Press Association

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