Trump says 'real and positive immigration reform is possible' in address to Congress
U.S. president says immigration reform would raise wages, help families enter middle class
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was open to a broad overhaul of the U.S. immigration system, a shift from his hardline campaign rhetoric, as he made his first speech to Congress following a turbulent first month in office.
Trump, in a prime-time address to a country that remains divided over his leadership, emphasized his desire to focus on problems at home by boosting the U.S. economy with tax reform, a $1-trillion infrastructure effort and an overhaul of former president Barack Obama's signature health-care law, known as Obamacare.
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Trump said a broad immigration reform plan was possible if both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were willing to compromise. He said U.S. immigration should be based on a merit-based system, rather than relying on lower-skilled immigrants.
Comprehensive immigration reform eluded his two predecessors because of deep divisions within Congress and among Americans over the issue. Trump said reform would raise wages and help struggling families enter the middle class.
"I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation's security, and to restore respect for our laws," said the Republican president, who took a hard line against illegal immigrants in his 2016 campaign.
Short on details
Trump voiced a need to persuade Americans to rally behind his agenda after a bitterly fought election, but he made his argument in terms of getting behind his effort for a "new chapter of American greatness."
Trump said he wanted to provide "massive tax relief" to the middle class and cut corporate tax rates. But he did not offer specifics and failed to comment on the most pressing tax issue facing Congress, a proposed border adjustment tax to boost exports over imports.
Lawmakers have been looking to Trump for more leadership on an issue that has divided corporate America and Republicans in Congress.
His speech was a far more conventional presidential speech than his Jan. 20 inaugural address, in which he painted a bleak picture of the country and described it as beset with "American carnage."
'Buy American, and hire American'
Trump also called for a "new program" of national building.
Invoking President Dwight Eisenhower's infrastructure program to create the highway system, Trump said it's time again for Americans to come together to rebuild itself.
Trump said he'll ask Congress for $1 trillion for U.S. infrastructure, financed by public and private capital. He says it will create millions of new jobs.
The president lamented the amount of money the U.S. has spent over the years building up other nations' infrastructure. He said the U.S. should have focused on rebuilding itself.
Trump said two principles will guide the infrastructure project: "Buy American, and hire American."
Trudeau mentioned in gender parity initiative
Trump mentioned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while highlighting the women's business group created during the prime minister's recent visit to Washington, which involves the president's daughter Ivanka.
"With the help of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we have formed a council with our neighbours in Canada to help ensure that women entrepreneurs have access to the networks, markets and capital they need to start a business and live out their financial dreams," Trump said.
The idea for the project came from Trudeau's chief of staff Katie Telford, who raised it with Ivanka's husband, White House aide Jared Kushner.
Other elements of the speech that touch on Canadian interests included his promise to build the Keystone XL pipeline and his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
'Obamacare is collapsing'
Trump called on the Republican-led Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access and lower costs.
"Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans," he said. "Action is not a choice — it is a necessity."
Republicans remain divided on how to accomplish that goal, and Democrats are ardently opposed to tampering with a system that provides health insurance for millions of low-income Americans.
Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear said in the Democratic response to Trump's speech that "you and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it."
Democrats, now firmly ensconced in the minority, sat silently during the speech. Some wore blue, pro-health care buttons that read "Protect our care," and dozens of Democratic women wore white in honour of the suffrage movement.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press