Politics

President Trump: ‘From This Day Forward ... Only America First’

45th president signals major policy shifts in inaugural address

Donald Trump greets President Barack Obama moments before Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, on the West Front of the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump, very much still in campaign mode, vowed in his inaugural address to use his new powers to turn the country inward and “rebuild” America, telling his countrymen and the world he will govern with a simple principle: “It’s going to be only America first.” 

In a striking scene, the bombastic businessman and former reality television star, spoke from the very spot where American political giants like Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama delivered their first remarks as commander in chief.

“Jan. 20, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again,” Trump said. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

In a line notable for its window into his thinking about the state of the country he now leads, Trump declared that “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” after saying, “Crime and gangs and drugs … have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

Trump promised his “total allegiance to the United States of America,” and said his ascension to power has “special meaning” because it marks the “transferring [of] power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.”

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the costs,” the president said under a light drizzle that began just as he stepped to the podium after taking the oath of office from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “Washington has flourished but people did not share in its wealth.

“The jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” Trump said. “Their triumphs have not been your triumphs.”

“Struggling” families across the country have had “little to celebrate,” but the new — and unlikely — chief executive followed that dismal assessment with a bold promise: “That all changes, starting right here and right now.”

“This moment is your moment,” he said in his message to the American people, including what he called the “forgotten” segments of the populace. “It belongs to you.”

 

Political commentator Aaron Kall, a professor at the University of Michigan, said the “overarching theme of returning power to the people attempted to channel Ronald Reagan, but Trump’s speech is unlikely to be mentioned in the same breath as the best addresses of the last half-century, which includes John F. Kennedy in 1961 and Barack Obama in 2009.”

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said he was “looking forward to a presidency that moves decisions out of Washington and back to the states and back to the people.”

He called Trump’s speech “inspiring and succinct,” adding that “the idea of Washington telling us less about what to do is something that rings a chord with me.”

Some Democratic lawmakers and pundits were not impressed with the long-awaited address. House Intelligence ranking member Adam B. Schiff of California tweeted that the new president’s “dark portrait of America, crime ridden & weak, makes me long for Obama.”

Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, told Roll Call that “today, Trump promised to return power to the people — but it’s hard to be a populist when you you have six Goldman Sachs execs on your economic advisory team.”

There were calls from Republicans and Democrats for Trump to deliver a message of unity, and parts of his speech were geared toward just that, saying, “We are one nation,” and “We share one home and one destiny.”

He described the words he spoke just minutes earlier that vested the powers of the presidency in him as an “oath of allegiance to all Americans.”

Trump, echoing his campaign’s major theme, signaled he intends to turn the country inward. He trumpeted his plans to tighten its immigration policies, prevent manufacturing jobs from being outsourced, and promised to “rebuild” the country’s infrastructure.

He delivered a “new decree” that he wanted to be heard in “every city” and “every hall of power” across the world, which he called “a new vision that will govern” the United States: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.”

Trump promised that tax and immigration policies and foreign affairs decisions will be crafted under his command to “benefit Americans” first and “guard against [the] ravages of outside forces.

[Barack Obama Has Left the Building, Or At Least the Brady Room]

“America will start winning again,” he promised. “Winning like never before. … We will bring back our dreams.” Also echoing his campaign message, he said the country will “buy American and hire American.”

The new commander in chief seemed to signal he wants America to play a leadership role in global affairs, but he made clear his intention to focus on domestic matters.

“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their interests first,” Trump said, adding that previous U.S. presidents have defended other countries’ borders and “enriched foreign industries” without “even a thought about the workers that have been left behind — that is the past.”

As lawmakers filed out to the West Front before the ceremony, members of both parties said they hoped to hear a message of national unity after Trump’s campaign targeted Hispanics and Muslims, and was accused of being condescending toward African-Americans.

“I hope to hear a speech like the first speech he gave the night after the victory, that he’s president for all Americans,” said GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was often critical of candidate Trump.

Still, some were concerned Trump would revert to form shortly after assuming office.

“I’m sure he’s going to give a speech about bringing the country together,” said Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut. “But I worry about what he’s going to tweet tomorrow morning.”

Trump officially ran as a Republican, but many of his bold policy pronouncements and promises were uniquely populist, leaving many members of his own party wondering if his agenda would align with their traditional platform.

“The tone of the address was very nonideological, as Trump talked about reaching a post-partisan where political parties were irrelevant," Kall said.

But the University of Michigan professor added that the “overall tenor of the address too closely mirrored the ominous language” from Trump’s address at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July. “The phrase ‘American carnage’ didn’t seem appropriate for a speech that is typically aspirational and forward looking,” he said.

The new president appears more in line with Democrats on some issues, including his call for a massive — and expensive — infrastructure plan. He also wants to keep entitlement programs as is, but GOP lawmakers want to overhaul things like Medicare and Medicaid.

Whether or not his address convinced GOP members or heartened concerned Democrats remains to be seen.

Trump and Obama arrived at the Capitol around 11 a.m. in the heavily armored presidential limousine known as “The Beast.” Trump shook hands with congressional leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Obama gave her a peck on the cheek.

[History Provides Trump a Guide for His Inaugural Address]

The world was eagerly awaiting the address, wondering if Trump would strike a unifying and statesmanlike tone after a campaign in which he used an unprecedentedly brash style and a transition period that featured Twitter feuds with corporations, political rivals and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

The Republican president rode to the White House on a scorched-earth campaign, name-calling his opponents and offering a strikingly dismal assessment of the country’s health. Trump’s populist campaign was fueled by disgust for what he often has called America’s “Third World” infrastructure, “burning” and “crime-infested” inner cities, and its ill-advised foreign interventionism.

Lawmakers and experts agreed that anything was possible when the new president took to the familiar blue podium with the iconic seal. Many around Washington expected his inaugural address would sound much different than those delivered in the past.

The feel inside the Capitol on Friday morning was one of, as Trump might describe it, low energy. Outside on the West Front, early arrivers sat in a drizzle amid chilly temperatures. The security presence inside the building was less than that of other major events just hours before the sitting and incoming commanders in chief were set to arrive.

The new president brings into office an admitted disdain for political norms, no previous government experience, no clear political or foreign policy ideologies, and a penchant for brashly lashing out at anyone who dares to criticize him.

He also takes office amid dwindling approval ratings. A Fox News poll released hours before he was sworn in put the figure at just 37 percent. Two other polls released earlier in the week put his approval rating at 40 percent.

[Mike Pence Tells Mayors Infrastructure Bill Will Be ‘Big’]

At the same point in President Barack Obama’s transition period eight years ago, one of those polls, conducted by CNN/ORC International, had his approval rating at 84 percent.

Both the polls released earlier this week, conducted by CNN/ORC International and The Washington Post/ABC News, put Trump’s disapproval numbers above 50 percent. The Post/ABC survey put it at 54 percent, while the CNN/ORC survey found 52 percent of those polled had an unfavorable view of how Trump is handling his transition to the Oval Office.

At this time in 2009, the two surveys put Obama’s negative ratings at 14 percent (CNN/ORC) and 18 percent (Post/ABC).

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.