US President Donald Trump says the United States will remain engaged with the world, even as he vowed to put American interests above all to achieve the “renewal of the American spirit.
In his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump struck a more conciliatory tone than in January’s inaugural address, as he outlined an agenda centred on job creation, immigration reform and national security.
“Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead,” Trump said. “All the nations of the world – friend or foe – will find that America is strong, America is proud and America is free.”
He also appeared to look for a reset, trying to move past a chaotic period that sowed doubts about his ability to govern effectively.
“The time for trivial fights is behind us,” he said.
Trump began his remarks by addressing anti-Semitism and racism, following a series of threats and incidents across the US recently, including the shooting of two Indian citizens last week in Kansas and the desecration of two Jewish cemeteries. He has come under fire for not responding forcefully to such attacks, which observers say have risen since his election.
“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centres and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” he said.
On the international front, Trump vowed to “extinguish” Islamic State with the help of allies in the Muslim world.
Trump pointed to a review of US strategy against IS that the Pentagon delivered to the White House this week, but did not indicate any change of course.
“We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet,” he said.
He also called on NATO allies to fulfil their commitments on defence spending, claiming money was already “pouring in” and suggested US willingness to forge new partnerships, a possible reference to Russia for co-operation in Syria and elsewhere.
“Our obligation is to serve, protect and defend the citizens of the United States,” Trump said, defending a legally disputed ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations and a suspension of the refugee program.
He placed a heavy emphasis on pocketbook issues in his speech, pushing for protectionist trade policies to favour US workers, keeping illegal immigrants from taking jobs and lowering the cost of health insurance and prescription drugs as part of a repeal of Obamacare.
Trump, who has strongly criticised US immigration policies, called for reforms to implement a “merit-based” immigration system.
“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,” he said.
Trump said that the current US system of “lower-skilled” legal immigration fails to protect workers, and cited systems used in Canada and Australia.
He said that a merit-based system will save money, raise wages “and help struggling families – including immigrant families – enter the middle class.”
Trump’s remarks were well received with 78 per cent of viewers in a CNN poll reacting positively, even as Democrats in the chamber gave the president little applause.