WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s first speech before a joint session of Congress earned high marks on Wednesday from many pundits, who welcomed its optimistic tone after nearly two years of Trump’s doomsaying about the level of “carnage” in America.
Stylistically, at least, Trump acted and sounded presidential.
Yet many key assertions Trump made were patently false. America is neither crime-infested nor still mired in a recession, as he portrayed. Moreover, some of his bold rhetoric on issues like the environment, immigration, civil rights, women’s rights and child care are directly undercut by the policies he has pursued or promised to pursue since taking office on Jan. 20.
Trump welcomed the idea of compromise on immigration reform, calling on Democrats and Republicans to “work together to achieve an outcome that has eluded our country for decades.” Prior to the speech, he even told reporters that he wanted a bill that could grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Despite his call for compromise, however, Trump has directed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more aggressively. The policy, which he dubbed a “military operation,” has given immigration officials the freedom to target not only serious criminals, as Trump has promised, but also undocumented immigrants with misdemeanors and some with no criminal history at all. And he still has plans to build a “great” wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which Democrats and even some Republicans in Congress strongly oppose.
“At one point, he mentioned that he was targeting and criminalizing immigrants, but at the same time, he’s saying we need to unite?” asked Roque Pech, a beneficiary of former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants temporary deportation relief to certain young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Pech, who attended the event as a guest of Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.), said Trump’s immigration talk made no sense: “I felt like multiple times he was contradicting himself. That was one of the clearer examples.”
In noting the end of Black History Month, Trump said, “We are reminded of our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains.”
If the president is truly serious about advancing civil rights, however, he could start with protecting the right to vote. On Monday, Trump’s Department of Justice reversed its position in an important voting rights case involving a Texas voter ID law. The government is no longer arguing, as it had under Obama, that Texas enacted its voter ID law with the intention of discriminating against minority voters.
“If Donald Trump was extending an olive branch to the African-American community, it fell completely flat. We’re not interested in words, we’re interested in deed,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told The Huffington Post following Trump’s speech on Tuesday night.
Clean Air and Water
Similarly, Trump promised in his speech that his administration would “promote clean air and clear water.” But earlier on Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order that would dismantle the Waters of the United States rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule.
That 2015 rule was issued to clarify which waterways should be protected under the federal Clean Water Act to ensure that streams, wetlands and the smaller waterways that feed into them are protected. The rule affected waterways that 117 million people in the U.S. rely on for drinking water.
Trump’s budget proposal would also slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by a reported 24 percent. Those cuts would affect, and in some instances even shutter, agency programs that deal with water and air protections. Trump also picked an EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, who repeatedly sued the agency to stop environmental regulations.
Trump promised to protect the rights of women, particularly “to invest in women’s health.” But a central promise from both him and the GOP-led Congress is to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which provided significant protections for women. Before the passage of the law, insurance companies were allowed to deny health coverage to women who were pregnant or were thinking of becoming pregnant. In other words, being a woman was considered a pre-existing condition that was grounds for denial of coverage.
Obamacare also provided a number of preventive services for women, including free contraception, breastfeeding support, sexually transmitted disease screening and annual well-woman visits.
And in one of his first acts in office, Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which bans U.S. funding for international health organizations that counsel women on family planning options that include abortion. Experts have warned that the policy could be deadly for women and girls in developing countries and conflict zones, who often resort to dangerous methods of ending their pregnancies when they lack access to safe abortion.
Affordable Child Care
Trump spoke about the need to make child care “accessible and affordable” by ensuring that new parents have paid family leave. That a Republican president included the issue in his speech ― and found applause from House Republicans seated in the chamber ― is remarkable in its own right.
But the plan Trump has proposed allocates resources to the families who need them least. According to an estimate by the Tax Policy Center, 70 percent of the benefits included in the plan will go to families making more than $100,000 per year.
“The devil is in the details, and if these are the details, they are devilish indeed, leaving behind those most in need of leave and least likely to have access,” Ellen Bravo, co-director of Family Values @ Work, told HuffPost on Tuesday.
Trump envisioned a nation in which “cures to illnesses that have always plagued us” are easily found. A smart way to accomplish such a goal would be to boost funding for scientific and medical research at agencies like the National Institutes of Health. Trump’s planned budget, however, would raise defense spending by $54 billion at the cost of $54 billion in non-discretionary spending, which includes funds for scientific and medical research.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) addressed some of Trump’s inconsistencies in a speech on the Senate floor.
“His actions don’t match his words. His words in the campaign are not matched by his actions. His words in his inaugural speech are not matched by his actions,” Schumer said on Wednesday.
Jen Bendery and Laura Barron-Lopez contributed reporting.
Audio via whitehouse.gov