Democrats bristle at Trump as GOP sings his praises
WASHINGTON — A more measured, disciplined speech by President Trump appeared to do little to dissipate the partisan tension of the Capitol Tuesday night, as many Democrats dismissed his first formal address to Congress and Republicans cheered.
Congressional Republicans, some of whom have voiced displeasure with the White House’s penchant for creating controversy, praised Trump’s controlled demeanor and applauded his calls to enact campaign promises popular with conservatives, such as increased border security and repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Trump was warmly congratulated as he left the House chamber following the address, with pats on the back and declarations of “You knocked it out of the park!’’
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the speech “one of the best I’ve ever heard.”
Trump also scored points with Susan Collins of Maine, who, as the only Republican senator from New England, has shown an independent streak and has not shied away from criticism of the president
“I was encouraged by the unifying, optimistic address delivered by President Trump this evening,” Collins said in a statement.
But Democrats, many unmoved to the newfound tone, said the speech lacked policy details and facts supporting his contentions and continued his tendency to govern through fear, a common criticism of the Trump-led White House.
Some Democrats laughed audibly as Trump said he was going to “drain the swamp” of corporate lobbyists; others were on their phones while the president spoke.
“I’d like Donald Trump to bring America together, but everything he’s done before, during, and after the election and after January 20th has been to divide this nation,” said Tom Perez, the newly installed chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
The night presented a microcosm of Trump’s standing across the country, where he is reviled as a poorly prepared and divisive leader in some parts while revered as a bold disrupter of the status quo in others.
In Washington, an anti-Trump protest raged in Lafayette Square, and on social media, some said they skipped the address, using hashtags like #TrumpBlackout and #TurnOffTrump. On Capitol Hill, many Demcratic lawmakers who are women wore white pantsuits, paying homage to the women's suffrage movement.
On both sides, an uncertain air loomed before the address, given Trump’s propensity to flout decorum.
“We don’t know if he’ll blow the teleprompter and go into his Tweet mode," said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s minority leader.
But Trump didn’t; instead, he rattled off vaunted promises in a steady voice for more than an hour. Many of his lines were greeted with applause by Republicans and with silence from Democrats.
“My job is not to represent the world,” Trump said. “My job is to represent the United States of America.”
One Democrat, Representative Maxine Waters of California, boycotted the speech, saying she chose “not to honor” the president. Several representatives, including Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, chose not to sit on the aisle and shake the president’s hand.
“I don’t do this lightly, but in light of the policies,” Engel said. “I just can’t sit by and say everything is hunky dory and it’s just business as usual.”
There were no protests from the all-Democratic Massachusetts delegation, though the group was hard-pressed to find any positive takeaways from the speech.
US Senator Ed Markey, whose guest to the speech was Said Ahmed, a former Somali refugee who is now a teacher in the Boston Public Schools, said the speech was “long on rhetoric, and short on details. Health care, education, energy research, climate change, aid to the Middle East — we don’t know more now than we knew when [Trump] walked into the chamber.”
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a favorite target of Trump’s ire and a leading voice in the liberal movement, said no words from Trump could supersede the impact of his first few weeks in office.
The senator’s guest for the evening was Tiba Faraj, an Iraqi refugee who arrived in Lynn in 2010 and now attends the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Faraj’s family helped American soldiers in Iraq, and in an interview with the Globe before the speech, Warren said America cannot turn its back on these families now.
“If America turns its back on those families, we won’t get help in those foreign countries,” Warren said. “I want people all across Massachusetts to hear Tiba’s family story.”
Faraj, who has worked at the Massachusetts State House and plans to work in government when she graduates from college, said she had a message for Trump.
“We love this country,” Faraj said, referring to refugees. “That’s the reason we came here, is that we love country and I love my city.”
Among the president’s immigration orders is a temporary ban on all refugees, though some officials have said exceptions would be made for interpreters and others who have helped US interests.
In the Capitol chambers, Faraj was greeted by a dramatic scene. Liberals filled the visitors’ gallery with refugees, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT leaders, and supporters of the Affordable Care Act.
The president also invited guests, which included three relatives of Americans killed by undocumented migrants living in the United States. During the speech, the group sat with the first lady, Melania Trump, who is the first immigrant first lady since the mid-19th century.
Several members of the Massachusetts House delegation also brought guests. Representative Jim McGovern, of Worcester, brought Dr. Babak Movahedi, a top-ranked transplant surgeon and Muslim who is worried about how Trump’s policies would affect his family. Representative Niki Tsongas, of Lowell, brought Susan West Levine, the CEO of Lowell Community Health center and a supporter of the Affordable Care Act.
Christine Leinonen, an Orlando woman whose son was killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting, was the guest of Representative Val Demings, a Democrat from Florida.
While the president has previously used the Orlando shooting to justify his border security actions, Leinonen said his attempts were misguided.