PHILADELPHIA: US President Donald Trump pushed Republican lawmakers on Thursday for swift action on a sweeping agenda including his planned US-Mexican border wall, tax cuts and repealing the Obamacare law, despite tensions over timetables and priorities.
Congressional Republicans were in Philadelphia for a three-day retreat to hammer out a legislative agenda, with the party in control of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives for the first time in a decade.
“This Congress is going to be the busiest Congress we’ve had in decades, maybe ever,” Trump said in a speech to the lawmakers at a Philadelphia hotel. “Enough ‘all talk, no action.’ We have to deliver,” Trump added.
But Trump did not hold an expected question-and-answer session with the lawmakers, and his speech veered into side issues such as predicting crowd size for an anti-abortion march in Washington, alleging American voting irregularities and touting winning Pennsylvania in the Nov. 8 election.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, who initially hesitated in endorsing Trump last year and has criticized him on some issues, disputed the notion that congressional Republicans were not in synch with the New York businessman who was sworn in less than a week ago having never previously held public office.
“We are on the same page with the White House,” Ryan said during a joint news conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “This is going to be an unconventional presidency,” Ryan added.
“I think you know this by now. … I think we’re going to see unconventional activities like tweets and things like that. I think that’s just something that we’re all going to have to get used to.”
Trump pressed the lawmakers for action on repealing and replacing Democratic former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, even as Republicans scramble to devise a replacement plan, and lowering taxes on “all American businesses” and the middle class.
For weeks, Republicans talked about formulating an agenda for the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. In recent days, the talk has turned into a 200-day agenda for passing major legislation before the lawmakers’ August recess.
“It’s going to take more than simply 100 days,” Ryan said. Ryan said that it is “our goal is to get these laws done in 2017,” without guaranteeing that a replacement for Obamacare and a tax reform bill would be enacted by the end of December.
McConnell said lawmakers will take up legislation to provide US$12 billion to US$15 billion to pay for Trump’s planned wall along the US-Mexico border. Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday for the wall to proceed, part of a package of measures aimed at curbing illegal immigration, although the action has tested already frayed relations with Mexico.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said the pace of legislative action may frustrate Trump. “President Trump comes from a different world,” McCarthy told reporters. “Out in the business community, he likes things done fast, and he’s going to continue to push them.”
PROTESTS IN PHILADELPHIA
Thousands of anti-Trump protesters took to the streets in Philadelphia, a heavily Democratic bastion that is one of the cities that could be stripped of federal funds for protecting illegal immigrants under a Trump directive.
Marchers carried signs including, “Fascist Pig,” “Protect My Health Care,” “Immigration Makes America Great,” “Planet Over Profit” and “Impeach Trump.” During his speech, Trump took time to explain his side of the story on Mexico’s president canceling a meeting next week because of Trump’s insistence that America’s southern neighbour eventually pay for the wall.
Mexico has said it will not. Trump said a tax reform bill “will reduce our trade deficits, increase American exports and will generate revenue from Mexico that will pay for the wall, if we decide to go that route.”
McConnell and Ryan did not say whether Congress would offset the wall’s cost by cutting other programs or simply add to huge budget deficits that Republicans have criticized for years. Ryan and McConnell also indicated congressional Republicans do not plan to modify US law banning torture even as Trump considers bringing back a CIA program for holding terrorism suspects in secret overseas “black site” prisons where interrogation techniques often condemned as torture were used.
“I think the director of the CIA (Mike Pompeo) has made it clear he’s going to follow the law. And I believe virtually all of my members are comfortable with the state of the law on that issue now,” McConnell said.
“Torture’s not legal,” Ryan said. “And we agree with it not being legal. In a highly unusual move for a visiting foreign leader, British Prime Minister Theresa May, who will see Trump in Washington on Friday, addressed the retreat, calling herself a “fellow conservative who believes in the same principles that underpin the agenda of your party.”
She was loudly applauded for praising Trump’s victory. “Because of what you have done together, because of that great victory you have won, America can be stronger, greater, and more confident in the years ahead,” May said.