President Donald Trump wore a sleek-fitting suit and spoke in calm, restrained tones in his first address to Congress. He denounced bigotry and called for unity.
And then he delivered the blunt message that some illegal immigrants are killers.
For all the plaudits that Trump was at his most presidential, he used the speech to dress up his old campaign argument that many Mexicans who cross the border to the United States are rapists, drug dealers or criminals.
To that end, he announced a new agency, “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement,” that will address crimes committed by illegal immigrants. He made murderers the face of illegal immigration by welcoming and highlighting guests whose relatives were killed by illegal immigrants.
Trump took care not to frame his attack in racial terms — he even started his speech by denouncing recent vandalism of Jewish community centers and condemning an attack on Indian immigrants in Kansas last week.
But Trump drew a connection between illegal immigration and violent crime by welcoming guests Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver — both widows of California police officers killed by an illegal immigrant in 2014 — and Jamiel Shaw Sr., whose son was shot by a gang member in Los Angeles in 2008.
Democrats invited immigrants who have made contributions to America, but Trump focused on the worst possible representatives of immigration.
“I want you to know — we will never stop fighting for justice,” Trump said directly to his guests. “Your loved ones will never be forgotten, we will always honor their memory.”
Trump has repeatedly used crimes committed by immigrants as an argument for his contentious immigration policies, though statics show that U.S. violent crime rate has decreased dramatically since 1990.
The president entered the House chamber to loud applause as he sought to change the chaotic narrative surrounding his first month in office. He said the country was experiencing “the renewal of the American spirit,” adding, “Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead.”
The president took credit for keeping thousands of jobs from leaving the country, telling Congress that since the election, “Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Softbank, Lockheed, Intel, Walmart, and many others, have announced that they will invest billions of dollars in the United States and will create tens of thousands of new American jobs.” That contention has been questioned by fact-checkers in the past.
“The stock market has gained almost three trillion dollars in value since the election on November 8th, a record. We’ve saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by bringing down the price of the fantastic new F-35 jet fighter, and will be saving billions more dollars on contracts all across our Government,” Trump said.
“The time for small thinking is over,” he continued. “The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts, the bravery to express the hopes that still our souls and the confidence to turn those hopes and dreams to action.”
But his address was rife with hard undertones, including warnings about “radical Islamic terrorism” and a vow to “begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border.”
Halfway thorough his speech, Trump reiterated his promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
“Tonight I’m also calling on this Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs and at the same time provide better health care,” Trump said.
His criticism of Obama’s signature law didn’t sit well with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who could be seen shaking her head when he called the ACA a “disaster.”
Noticeably absent from the speech was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who confirmed earlier in the day that she would skip the event. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito did not attend either, continuing their past practice.