by Karey Van Hall · March 1, 2017
The president trotted out an uncharacteristically polished persona during his congressional speech.
President Donald Trump got rave reviews for his disciplined, restrained first address before Congress, but a pressing question looms — can this Trump last?
There are signs Trump and his aides are proactively trying to keep the good vibes from Tuesday night going. They yanked the rollout of a new executive order on Trump’s controversial travel ban that sparked mass protests across the nation. Vice President Mike Pence was trotted out on the morning news shows to deliver his ever-on-message talking points — even saying Trump’s speech was “all him,” even though many of his aides had a heavy hand in its crafting. And Trump himself was banal on Twitter, simply writing “THANK YOU” on Wednesday morning.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday rebutted the notion that a different Trump was emerging.
“For the people who have known him for a long time, this is who he is,” Spicer told reporters. “I don’t think we’re going to see more or less of this. He cares about this country; he has a big heart.”
Spicer also emphatically stated that the address was not an attempt to correct course, despite the rocky nature of the first five weeks of Trump’s presidency.
“It was not a reset speech,” Spicer said.
There are real doubts Trump can stick to his pledge Tuesday night that the “time for trivial fights is behind us,” and Democrats are eager to claim that the presidential figure appearing in the well of the House was a phony.
“This president’s speech matters a lot less than the speeches of just about any other president because they’re detached from his reality. He talks one way and does another,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday morning on CNN, adding on ABC that Trump “talks to the working folks of America — they were his main constituency — but the way he’s governed has been totally with the hard-right special interests against the working people.”
Trump on Tuesday night showed off a new persona — sharper suit, trimmer hair, less “American carnage” and more talk of “the hopes that stir our souls.” While vague on policy points, he still delivered a focused message of GOP priorities on tax reform, rebuilding the military, creating jobs, and repealing and replacing Obamacare. Gone was the Trump of two Thursdays ago when he spent 80 minutes railing against the “dishonest media” in a freewheeling news conference that some saw as racially insensitive.
The reviews were overwhelmingly positive. A CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday morning showed that 57 percent of Americans who watched the speech had a very positive reaction to it, while 21 percent said their reaction was “somewhat positive,” meaning that more than three in four Americans gave Trump a thumbs-up.
The White House will try to keep up the momentum with Trump heading to Norfolk, Virginia, on Thursday to deliver remarks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, possibly to talk about boosting America’s military might — a centerpiece of his preliminary budget proposal released earlier this week. On Friday, he plans to visit a Roman Catholic school in Orlando for a “listening session on school choice,” in a visit that will mark one of his first trips outside the bubbles of the White House, Mar-a-Lago or his comfortable rally format.
Republicans on Wednesday morning were cautiously optimistic that Trump would follow through on the bold promises he laid out.
One of the most surprising elements was his call for immigration reform, especially in light of his harsh policies, including more muscular deportation efforts and plans to build a massive border wall.
Sen. Marco Rubio, whose 2016 presidential run was damaged by his earlier role in the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform effort, on Wednesday morning said a new reform bill wouldn’t be easy, but that it has a chance of success under Trump.
He said Democrats need to drop their “unrealistic” expectations about blanket amnesty or citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“I believe if Democrats are willing to accept that direction, we can get something done,” Rubio said. “I’m hopeful. It is possible.”
But the good feelings on Wednesday morning were tempered by Trump advisers known to court controversy.
Anthony Scaramucci, a fundraiser for the Trump campaign who is still a Trump adviser, continued trying to explain his tweets from the day before, in which he seemed to suggest that Democrats were ginning up the wave of threats against Jewish Community Centers. The tweet freshened the furor over Trump’s delay in strongly condemning the increase in anti-Semitic activity, and Scaramucci again brought the issue to the fore on Wednesday.
“What I was really suggesting in that tweet is that we actually don’t know who’s behind it,” Scaramucci said on CNN.
“And so what you’re finding is there’s a lot of allegations being made and I think people are suggesting that it could potentially be Trump supporters or people who that are affiliated with the president or his administration,” he added. “I think that is categorically very unfair.”
Trump opened his address Tuesday night by condemning the recent incidents of vandalism against Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers.
And even as Trump’s White House tried to cool the temperature around his travel ban for seven Muslim-majority countries by pushing back his new executive order, Sebastian Gorka, a White House aide known for his commentary linking Islam to terrorist activity, on Wednesday morning acted as a counterforce.
Appearing on NPR, Gorka was asked whether Trump believes Islam is a religion. He dismissed the question.
“This is not a theological seminary. This is the White House, and we’re not going to get into theological debates,” he said. “If the president has a certain attitude to a certain religion, that’s something you can ask him, but we’re talking about national security and the totalitarian ideologies that drive the groups that threaten America.”
Gorka also defended Trump’s travel ban and questioned the expertise of terrorism specialists who say it’s more important to focus on stopping home-grown extremists.
“We’re not going to listen to so-called terrorism experts who are linked in any way to the last eight years of disastrous counterterrorism,” he said. “We’re going to take a new approach. We have a new president.”
Tara Palmeri, Madeline Conway and Louis Nelson contributed to this report.