Republicans praised President Donald Trump for delivering a professional, presidential address to Congress Tuesday night, but Democrats doubt that his policies will match his more measured rhetoric.
“I thought he was very presidential and I think it reassured a lot of people that they made the right choice that he is now the president of the United States,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah in an interview on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Several House Republicans emphasized Trump’s call for bipartisan cooperation.
“I was hoping for a message of optimism, of working across party lines…and that’s exactly what he did,” said Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.V.
He was particularly receptive to Trump’s promises on coal, jobs, and infrastructure investment, along with what he described as “a strong message of bringing this country together.”
“Message number one from last night is he is committing to keeping the promises he made on the campaign trail,” Jenkins said.
Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., described the speech as an “aspirational” and visionary “attempt to bring both sides of the political spectrum together for some joint objectives.”
However, he foresaw potential challenges within the president’s own party in finding common ground on trade and infrastructure.
“There are issues with President Trump’s approach to trade that will require very careful work with the Congress and within the executive branch itself,” Hill said.
He suggested Trump could actually accomplish long-sought comprehensive immigration reform because of his focus on border security and an approach outlined in Tuesday’s speech that prioritizes merit-based immigration.
There was a strong air of partisanship in the room with Democrats sitting stone-faced through much of the speech, but Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., said both sides came together at times in support of law enforcement and the military.
“It was great to hear the refreshing message trying to unite the country, put America first, and put us on the right track,” he said.
Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y. applauded Trump’s tone but he also recognized that the president has backslid into divisiveness before and could do so again.
“He will never give up his strong opinions on things, but at least now he’s talking in a tone that shows he’s ready to govern,” he said.
According to Katko, his Republican colleagues found the address encouraging as well.
“People seem to have a bounce in their step this morning and that’s a good thing,” he said. “I hope it’s not short-lived.”
Democrats were less enthusiastic, acknowledging that the president took a more moderate, conciliatory tone but questioning his sincerity.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said Trump’s past performance has set the bar so low that successfully reading a teleprompter has become noteworthy.
“I think it’s good that he wasn’t ranting like he did with his inaugural speech,” he said.
Despite the more positive rhetoric, Blumenauer said Trump still attacked the Affordable Care Act, made numerous false claims, and “continued politics of division.”
“The tone is different, but the content isn’t,” he said.
Trump still offered few details about how to replace the ACA or how to pay for his trillion-dollar infrastructure funding proposal.
“He has no vision,” Blumenauer said.
Despite talking about unity and responsibility, Democrats said Trump announced the formation of an office focused on immigrant crime and proposed unrealistic spending programs.
“Who is the real Donald Trump?” asked Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla. “He’s full of platitudes. He’s sort of like the bait and switch president.”
She pointed to potential areas of compromise like infrastructure spending and paid family leave, but she also highlighted issues where deep disagreements remain like immigration and education.
“Let’s see if we can take some of the good points and work together…if he can get past [chief strategist] Steve Bannon and start talking to Democrats, maybe we can get something done.”
She expressed skepticism about the prospect of immigration reform that Democrats can get behind if Trump does not allow a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Frankel was one of many Democratic women who attended the speech dressed in white to honor the suffragette movement. With Republicans angling to defund Planned Parenthood and appoint Supreme Court justices who might overturn Roe v. Wade, she said it was important to send a message of resistance on women’s rights.
“We will fight hard to keep from going back,” Frankel said.