5 Takeaways for Arizona From Donald Trump's First Speech to Congress

Donald Trump made several points in his first speech to Congress that could affect Arizona.
Donald Trump made several points in his first speech to Congress that could affect Arizona. Evan El-Amin/
President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, and spoke for exactly one hour before a divided chamber, serving up a string of policy positions with clear meaning for Arizona.

Trump’s main message was of prosperity, peace, and protectionism, and was intended to usher in what he called “a new chapter of American greatness.”

He called on Democrats and Republicans to join forces to “get the job done and get it done right” to solve a litany of problems he listed, including immigration, crime, joblessness, and radical Islamic terrorists, a “vile enemy” which he promised to “extinguish ... from our planet.”

Bipartisan "Kumbaya" was not the flavor of choice.

Republicans erupted into boisterous cheers and applause on dozens of occasions, particularly when Trump promised deregulation, tax cuts, and ideas to create jobs.

Democrats, many garbed in white, sat mute or motionless through much of the speech. They audibly grumbled when Trump said he was draining the swamp of government corruption. For his part, the president aimed most of his remarks at the Republican side of the chamber, only occasionally turning his neck to face Democratic lawmakers.

Trump, like his predecessors on such occasions, was long on promises and short on specifics. His was a speech about vision and tone, but one that was more in keeping with traditional presidential fare. Though Trump strayed from script at times, notably to chastise some police critics for being divisive, he largely avoided the shoot-from-the-hip style that colored his first tumultuous 40 days in office.

Trump offered Arizona voters plenty to chew on. Here are five takeaways that would raise an eyebrow or two in the Grand Canyon State.

1. Immigration: Pre-speech leaks hinted at a major change of tack for Trump, leading news outlets reported all day.

This is what we got instead:

China has the Great Wall. America, said Trump, has started building the Great, Great Wall on its southern border, to end what he called “lawless chaos” there.

He called for a new agency called VOICE, which stands for Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. It would support the victims of crime by illegal immigrants. Referring to such immigrants, he said, “The bad ones are going out.”

Speaking directly to lawmakers, Trump said, “What would you say to American families that lost their jobs or loved ones because you didn’t enforce our laws?”

But behind some of his customary bombast, Trump also called on Congress to work together to end the decades-old problem of immigration reform. He said it would elevate the lives of working Americans, including immigrants, but had to be based on a system in which new arrivals could prove they could pay their own way.

To immigration and human rights activists watching in Arizona, it was more of the usual.

“He didn’t say shit,” said human-rights organizer Salvador Reza. “This guy is a con man. He’ll seduce you and tell you what you want and in the end he’ll arrest you and deport you.”

Immigration-rights advocate Lydia Guzman was similarly unimpressed.

“This was the same old rhetoric,” she said, calling the VOICE idea “nothing but scapegoating. That type of rhetoric does nothing but divides us.”

She noted nowhere in the speech did Trump talk about reuniting families.

2. Medical care: No surprise here. Trump called on Congress to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act.

He called it “the Obamacare disaster,” and shot a withering look at a none-too-pleased Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Republicans erupted in delirium. Some in white shook their heads and motioned thumbs-down.

He singled out Arizona as a poster child for what he thinks is wrong with the act, telling lawmakers that our premiums shot up 116 percent last year alone.

Instead, Trump called on a combination of regulatory and private market measures to make sure we don’t go broke next time we catch cold.

Specifically, he called on speeding up the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process for new drugs, letting insurance companies sell across state lines and paying for reform with tax credits.

But also vowed to “bring down the artificially high price of prescription drugs immediately” and to keep the popular Obamacare policy of insuring people with pre-existing conditions.

3. Trade: Trump softened, slightly, from the protectionist tone he struck in his inauguration speech.

“I believe strongly in free trade. But it also has to be fair trade. It has been a long time since we had fair trade,” he said.

With that, he told the story of Harley-Davidson, the manufacturer of the hog: the steel and chrome kind.

He said Harley often faces tariffs as high as 100 percent on the price of the motorcycles that they sell in some overseas countries. By comparison, America charges “nothing or next to nothing” for imports, Trump said.

He said Harley execs met with him and didn’t want anything, “but I do.” He claimed one quarter of U.S. manufacturing jobs vanished after NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump’s trade stance is a big deal of Arizona. Never mind the trial balloon 20 percent border-wall tariff that drifted around during the first month of the 45th presidency. Arizona depends on Mexico for billions of dollars of cross-border trade.

A tariff war could directly affect how much commerce flows through the busy Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales.

4. Planes, trains, and automobiles: Trump likes to invoke past, generally GOP, presidents. On the stump, he echoed Ronald Reagan’s days of malaise rhetoric and used Richard Nixon’s silent majority line. As president, he’s borrowed a few of Tricky Dick’s choice words on the media, too.

Tuesday, he quoted Abraham Lincoln and then praised Dwight Eisenhower. Ike, he said, was the last president who invested in building the country, when he ushered in the Age of Interstate.

“The time has come for a new program of national rebuilding,” Trump said, telling Congress that for the $6 trillion he said we spent in the Middle East, “we could have rebuilt our country twice.”

He asked for $1 trillion (yeah, 1,000 billion) to invest in highways, bridges, airports, rail, and more. He said it would come from a combination of public and private capital. The money would come with two strings: the work has to buy American and hire American, Trump said.

The folks at the I-11 coalition and ADOT must have been rubbing their hands. The Arizona Department of Transportation turned to a public-private partnership to build the ambitious project to connect Phoenix and Las Vegas with a new Interstate 11, the first of its kind in decades.

Traditional state and federal transportation funds have been drying up like a drought-stricken victim of global warming for the last quarter-century. Increasingly, planners have been looking for ways to leverage it with private money.

Trump’s plan may have real legs in Arizona.

5. Drugs: “We will stop the drugs pouring into our country,” the president promised.  And, of course, Arizona is supposedly a major gateway for the cartels.

But Trump didn’t stop there. He said he’s directed the Justice Department to crack down on “criminal cartels” throughout the country and vowed, “the drug epidemic will slow down and stop.”

Maybe the memo hasn't reached the Oval Office yet. Nixon launched the War on Drugs in 1971. Before his arrest, Chapo Guzman was one of the wealthiest men on the planet.

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Sean Holstege is the editor of Phoenix New Times. He's been a print news reporter for 35 years. He was an investigative reporter at The Arizona Republic and the Oakland Tribune. He won a Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting. He’s covered transportation, terrorism, the border, disasters, child welfare, courts, and breaking news.
Contact: Sean Holstege