16 February 2019
US President Donald Trump said he is open to immigration reform. Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump said he is open to immigration reform. Photo: Reuters

Trump takes measured tone in speech to Congress

US President Donald Trump told Congress he was open to immigration reform, shifting from his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration in a speech that offered a more restrained tone than his election campaign and first month in the White House.

Trump, in a prime-time address on Tuesday to a country that remains divided over his leadership, emphasized his desire to focus on problems at home by boosting the US economy with tax reform, a US$1 trillion infrastructure effort and an overhaul of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, known as Obamacare, Reuters reports.

After a first month in office dominated by a fight over his temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations, Trump looked for a reset to move past a chaotic period that sowed doubts about his ability to govern effectively.

He called for national unity and showed a more measured tone, avoiding a repeat of his attacks on Democratic opponents and media organizations.

Democratic Senator Tom Carper said that “the person who wrote this speech must not have written the inaugural address. That one was ‘dark’ and this one was more uplifting.”

At his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump painted a bleak picture of the country and described it as beset with “American carnage”.

US stock futures advanced at the start of Trump’s address, but gave back some gains later in the speech.

Trump focused part of the speech on foreign policy, stressing his support for NATO but insisting allies pay more for their defense.

In a possible nod to his bid to warm relations with Russia, Trump said: “America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.”

“We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict,” Trump said, while pledging to embark on a big defense buildup.

Trump said a broad immigration reform plan was possible if both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were willing to compromise.

He said US 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.

Trump has used his early weeks in office to repeat vows to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and intensify deportations of illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.

At the same time, he has expressed sympathy for children who entered the country when their parents crossed the border without proper authority, the “dreamers” who so far are protected by an ordered signed by Obama.

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.

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