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In Congress and Across Country, Mixed Views of Trump's Speech

  • VOA News

Where they viewed U.S. President Donald Trump's joint address to Congress Tuesday night was different. Some sat inside the U.S. House of Representatives chamber. Some looked up at monitors at a bowling alley in Pennsylvania. Others gathered at a watch party in Las Vegas.

Their impressions were different too. Some saw a rousing vision for the country and a long-needed commitment to putting America's interests in front of anything else. Some saw a president who has yet to follow through on his promises and lacked specific plans to achieve them.

Republican Rep. Joe Barton thought Trump put forth "a vision for a resurgent America," while giving hope to both working class Americans and conservatives who want a smaller government.

"Like most presidents he was strong on the goodies, but a little weak on how to pay for it," he said.

Barton represents the 6th Congressional District in Texas. One county over is the 30th District, home of the city of Dallas. There, Jeff Olsen, a Republican who had questions about Trump but did vote for him, said it is time to see if the president can turn his populist appeal into policies that help make people's lives better.

"I don't think he's a fiscal conservative like I am," Olsen told VOA. "I don't think that he sees the importance of a lot of the social issues in the same parameter that I do, and I just don't know that he has the perspective of somebody who is a middle class educator, father of four, working with a wife who is also an educator trying to make ends meet."

Olsen said he would have felt better if the kind of speech Trump gave Tuesday had come at the beginning of his term.

President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017. Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin listen.
President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017. Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin listen.

Let's see the plan

Back in Washington, Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen said he was disappointed Trump did not use his speech to explain plans to put people back to work, fix the country's immigration system or reform the health care system.

"The American people are tired of hearing rhetoric, we want to see a plan of action," he said.

Kihuen represents the 4th Congressional District in Nevada, just north of the city of Las Vegas, where on Tuesday night the local chapter of Chinese Americans for Trump held a viewing party for the president's address.

Joann Rodriquez supports Trump and said that he is keeping his promises.

"He told us what he was going to do and he's doing it," she said. "And he's doing it very quickly. I've never seen a president work as hard and as long hours as he does."

"So far, all the talk is real good," said Chris Villasenor. "Nothing has been done yet. It's all on the table, but they keep sweeping it off, saying wait, let's change it a little bit. I want something to get done."

Congressman Kihuen was formerly an undocumented immigrant, and said while he supports jailing or deporting criminals, Trump's speech featured a continuation of "hateful, anti-immigrant" rhetoric.

"Most immigrants in this country are hardworking, honest people who are contributing to this economy, who are willing to learn English, stand in back of the line, pay back taxes, just for an opportunity to become a legalized citizen of this country," he said. "It's very disappointing that the president continues to depict immigrants as if we're all criminals and rapists."

Democrats skeptical, looking for common ground

The members of Congress who spoke to VOA after the speech were divided on whether Trump was making real outreach to work with Democrats. A number of the Democrats expressed skepticism, but also a willingness to work toward common ground. One area that has been identified as a possible track for cooperation is spending to repair the nation's infrastructure.

"He did talk about some good things where I hope we can find some common ground – infrastructure, family leave, child care, building up our military to make sure that it's strong," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas.

The outstanding question is how to pay for the $1 trillion in spending Trump has proposed just for infrastructure projects.

"I think that the president is headed for a showdown not only with Democrats, because we disagree on a lot with him, but really with his own Republican Congress," Castro said. He pointed to fiscally conservative Republicans who are not likely to support spending increases.

At MacDade Bowl in Holmes, Pennsylvania, bowlers competed in their weekly league as President Trump addressed the U.S. Congress, (C. Presutti/VOA)
At MacDade Bowl in Holmes, Pennsylvania, bowlers competed in their weekly league as President Trump addressed the U.S. Congress, (C. Presutti/VOA)

At a bowling alley in Holmes, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton supporter Pete Harwan also questioned how Trump could find the money to support his goals.

"How's he going to build up infrastructure when he's cutting taxes? In order to build up infrastructure, you need to raise taxes on the rich," Harwan said.

America first

Bryan Gallagher supports Trump and owns a global business. He is happy the president is maintaining his pledge to put America first.

"Somebody is finally talking about the economy and American workers. What's wrong with that?" Gallagher said.

Rep. Warren Davidson, a Republican who represents the 8th District in western Ohio, said he thought Trump's speech "showed a very positive vision for the country."

"I know a lot of people back home for me in Ohio feel like our former president started off on day one going around the world apologizing for who America was and has been, and in some way trying to be the leader of the free world instead of being America's president first and foremost."

Back across the country in Dubuque, Iowa, a man named John told VOA he was encouraged by what he heard from Trump Tuesday night.

"I'm not a Republican, I'm not a Trump fan, but you've got to give him an opportunity," he said. "He won, and there's nothing we can do about that except support him and hopefully he does a great job. And if not, then we'll wait another four years and wait to see who else can come in and do something better."

VOA's Chris Hannas and Katherine Gypson in Washington, Kane Farabaugh in Dallas, Michael O'Sullivan in Las Vegas, Carolyn Presutti in Holmes, Pennsylvania, and Greg Flakus in Dubuque, Iowa contributed to this report

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