Essential Politics: Trump boasts of renewal, critics lament it as more of the same

Essential Politics: Trump boasts of renewal, critics lament it as more of the same

There's a fascinating set of questions that loom large on this day after President Trump's momentous speech in front of a joint session of Congress.

Was this what historians will call his most "presidential" speech so far? And is that the kind of tone Trump's most ardent supporters want? Was it enough to quell his critics?


Good morning from the state capital. I'm Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers and here, as in so many places, there's a lot of buzz about what may be the most important glimpse to date of the world as Trump sees it.

In the broadest view, the president sought to blend familiar themes with a few new pitches that seemed to be attempts at sanding off some of the rougher edges of Trump's rhetoric.


"President Trump sought to rally a divided nation behind his nationalist agenda Tuesday, outlining goals to reform the tax code, overhaul the healthcare system and secure the country in a sweeping speech that was high on ambition but often short on details," writes our team of Noah Bierman, Michael Memoli and Brian Bennett.

The president also brought out a new catchphrase, the kind of thing familiar to those who watch these kinds of big speeches: "Renewal of the American spirit."


The speech offered no quarter for those who disagree with Trump's promises to expand deportation efforts and build a massive wall along the border with Mexico.

"We want all Americans to succeed –- but that can't happen in an environment of lawless chaos," said the president. "We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders."

Some, too, noticed the pointed comments promoting a "merit-based" immigration policy, a shift away from the nation's recent history.

But perhaps overshadowing all of this was what Trump said hours earlier in a private luncheon with television network news anchors. As Bennett writes, the president offered a viewpoint on immigration that was decidedly less harsh, reportedly telling the group that positions on both sides need to be "softened."

And yet, there he was hours later, chastising those who he said "do not believe we should enforce our laws" on immigration.

This one's got the potential to be a real live wire in the days and weeks to come.


Few parts of the new era in Washington leadership may prove as vexing in politics and policy as the GOP's promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act.


"Obamacare is collapsing," Trump said on Tuesday night.

But what will, or should, replace it? So far, there's no clear answer from Congress. Set aside all of the politics and, as Noam Levey reports, the various GOP positions all have one thing in common: More costs would be shouldered by healthcare patients.

The president laid out a set of "principles," as he called them, on what should come next. But even here, there are questions that deserve an answer.

Take, for example, what he said about Obamacare's popular ban on denying coverage due to pre-existing health conditions. Trump said, "we should ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage," but the key word may be access. After all, that doesn't actually guarantee coverage, like the existing law does.


The speech sounded familiar themes on a favorite Trump topic: trade policy crafted with an eye toward a better deal for American workers.

"We've lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was approved, and we've lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001," he said.

Name-checking the North American Free Trade Agreement was notable, given the questions that surround his promises to crack it open. Don Lee reports, in particular, on how Trump's approach could pose serious risks for the auto manufacturing industry and American car buyers.


All presidents insist in some way that they not be judged on the record of their predecessor. And as this president sought to make a case for putting the nation back to work, he made an eye-catching claim.

"94 million Americans are out of the labor force," Trump said.

True? Well, writes David Lauter, only if you're counting retirees and students.


In some of the most forceful parts of his speech, the president renewed his vow to demolish the Islamic State terror organization and to crack down on violent crime in the U.S. He also sounded support for law enforcement officers.

"We must build bridges of cooperation and trust, not drive the wedge of disunity and division," Trump said on the need to work with police officers.

On terrorism, he again invoked the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino. "Our obligation is to serve, protect, and defend the citizens of the United States. We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism," the president said.

"It's just inaccurate and wrong to use San Bernardino as justification for any of the policies that he's rolled out," said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands).


Times columnists Doyle McManus and Cathleen Decker took a close look at the big speech and offered their own key takeaways.


For McManus, the speech masked the real trouble Trump's agenda already faces on Capitol Hill. And Decker writes that there was a noticeable shift in tone, but not much of a road map for Republicans eager for Trump to lead.


Our Times team has extensive coverage of the president's big speech, from an annotated transcript to answers to a few remaining questions.

Did the emotional moment for a fallen Navy SEAL offer any pause in the tough questions about the failed mission? Why were Democratic women wearing white? Did Trump's condemnation of threats against Jews ease the anger of those who believe he hasn't said enough? What kinds of early reactions did the speech get among legislators in Sacramento and statewide elected officials?

And full coverage, as always, will keep coming in at our Essential Washington news feed.


Meantime, the president continues his march toward reversing course on a number of significant actions taken by President Barack Obama. On Tuesday, it was what's known as the Waters of the United States rule.

Trump ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to begin undoing the regulation, invoking the idea that the effort was a jobs killer.

"It is such a horrible, horrible rule," the president said on Tuesday.


Trump's nominee to be the next national intelligence director told senators on Tuesday that he understands the concerns about Russian interference in last November's presidential election.

Former Sen. Dan Coats said in his confirmation hearing that the United States must have its "eyes wide open" when it comes to Russia's actions and intentions.

Coats is widely expected to win confirmation easily. The key, of course, is whether he will see eye to eye with his soon-to-be boss.


Another example of the sharp shift from the Obama to Trump administrations appeared on Monday, this one the latest chapter in legal battles over a voter ID law enacted in Texas. No longer will federal prosecutors, working under U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, assert that Texas state lawmakers intentionally sought to hurt minority voters.

The shift by the U.S. Dept. of Justice, revealed through a Monday court filing, means that civil rights groups have lost a powerful ally in their effort to have the Texas law fully blocked.


And speaking of the attorney general, he promised in a speech on Tuesday to crack down on violent crime, calling this a "pivotal time."

Sessions was speaking to attorneys general from around the nation who were gathered in Washington and was focused on recent crime data that stands in contrast to longer-term information showing a decidedly downward trend.

"I'm afraid it represents the beginning of a trend," Sessions said about the more recent reports.


There were a number of closely watched, high-profile efforts in Sacramento last year to impose new transparency rules for the public to see disciplinary actions taken against law enforcement officers.

That, though, was last year.

This time around, civil rights groups have found no lawmakers willing to champion the issue — one sign, writes Liam Dillon, of the substantial influence law enforcement groups hold in the state Capitol.


State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has made a name for herself by being a dogged crusader for the poor — even if that involves calling out fellow Democrats.

Mitchell leveraged her role as her party's moral conscience to become the powerful chair of the Senate's budget committee. Melanie Mason takes a closer look at how the new role poses a unique challenge: As her Capitol clout grows, can Holly Mitchell still be ... Holly Mitchell?


-- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross won Senate confirmation on Monday night with a bipartisan vote but a California split: Sen. Dianne Feinstein voted for Ross, while Sen. Kamala Harris voted against him.

-- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) broke with Republican colleagues by calling for a full, independent investigation into Russian attempts to influence the election.

-- State lawmakers say they support creating a task force led by the California Highway Patrol to study impaired driving by marijuana users.

-- Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) on Monday took responsibility and pledged a nonpartisan review into actions taken last week by Democratic leaders to remove Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) from the Senate floor.


-- Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) proposed a bill to help determine how many untested rape kits exist in California.

-- California state leaders are officially asking for records on recent immigration enforcement moves.

-- Meet the anarchist who tracks ultra-conservative figures and was on the scene at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference.

-- Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said last fall that we would ban private meetings with developers. He's yet to do so.


You may have noticed we've shifted to a Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedule. It's the same newsletter, just not every day. You can keep up with breaking news on our politics page throughout the day. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Miss Monday's newsletter? Here you go.

Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to

Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get Essential Politics in your inbox. 

Follow me on Twitter at @johnmyers and listen to the weekly California Politics Podcast