Reversing course, Trump paints optimistic outlook for US
Despite his divisive campaign rhetoric that critics say stoked hate and fear, US President Donald Trump started his first address to Congress by condemning bigotry, saying he wants to deliver a message of “unity and strength”.
Trump cited the threats against Jewish community centres and the suspected hate crime that claimed the life of an Indian immigrant near Kansas city last week.
Even when addressing terrorism, the president took a somewhat less hardline tone. He highlighted what he called “strong steps to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism”.
He said most people convicted of terrorism charges since 9/11 have come from outside the country, adding that it is "reckless" to allow entry for people from places where proper vetting cannot occur.
He reiterated his call for ideological testing for potential immigrants. "We cannot allow our nation to be a sanctuary for extremists," he said.
Trump vowed to "demolish and destroy" the Islamic State group, describing it as a band of "savages" that has killed people of all faiths, including Muslims. The US president promised to work with "friends and allies in the Muslim world" against militants.
He also called for sanctions on Iran’s missile alliance and affirmed Washington's “unbreakable” alliance with Israel.
Trump addressed the controversial Yemen raid that led to the death of a US commando and several civilians, including a US-born child, reiterating his administration’s stance that the raid was a success.
The father of the slain soldier had called for an investigation in the attack, criticising Trump. But the president refused to take responsibility for the death of William “Ryan” Owens, deflecting the blame to his generals. His widow, however, attended Trump’s address at Capitol Hill.
“This was something that was, you know, just - they wanted to do,” Trump told Fox News early on Tuesday. “And they came to see me and they explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected.
“And they lost Ryan.”
The raid generated valuable intelligence that will help protect the US, Trump told lawmakers in his speech to Congress.
“Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity,” he said before a lengthy standing ovation for the late soldier.
He proposed a merit-based immigration system with the focus on improving jobs, protecting security and fortifying respect for the law. He said people admitted into the United States ought to be able to support themselves. He also asked the Department of Homeland Security to create a "violence against immigration crime" office, a move that his detractors claim will crackdown on immigrants.
Trump invited Republicans and Democrats to work together on immigration reform.
Despite proposing an increase in the military budget earlier in the week, Trump said the trillions of dollars spent in the Middle East over the past decades could have been used to rebuild US infrastructure and create jobs.
The change of tone, however, did not affect Trump's "America First" nationalistic rhetoric. The president emphasised prioritising US interests in immigration, trade and foreign policy.