On Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of United States Congress, which was streamed live in Wallis Annenberg Hall.
The event was hosted by the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. After the viewing of the congressional address, four panelists discussed the points made during the speech and the impact they could have on the political climate. The panel included Bob Shrum, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics; William Rodriguez Morrison, the Senate director of the California Republican Assembly; Shakari Byerly, a partner at EVITARUS Strategic Research; and Gary Aminoff, who works as a treasurer for the Los Angeles County Republican Party.
Throughout the course of the speech, Trump discussed his policies regarding the U.S. economy, healthcare, education and immigration. The speech was kicked off with the mention of Black History Month and the importance of extending efforts in terms of civil rights. The President also addressed recent bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country and the shooting of Indian men in Kansas.
After the speech, Aminoff began the conversation by saying that he liked Trump’s tone, which differed from previous speeches that appealed to a more narrow group of supporters.
“It was measured, it was not partisan, it was inclusive,” Aminoff said. “I was pleased to see the way he spoke tonight. As a fiscal conservative myself, I think a lot of it was conservative.”
Shrum argued that although the speech put forward a conservative agenda, a large part was tied to the economy and to jobs. He even questioned whether this address had brought about a new form of conservatism.
“It was a remarkably polarized chamber tonight,” Shrum said. “I don’t agree with Donald Trump on a lot of things he had to say, but I thought that was a remarkable speech given the expectations.”
Shrum went on to say that the unhappy attitudes of the Democrats seated in the House Chamber during the speech would not likely play out in their favor. This was a topic of debate during the panel, and Byerly contradicted Shrum by stating that Democrats needed to make a strong showing of how they felt.
“I think if they had seemed overly open, that may have actually played to their detriment,” Byerly said.
During the address, Trump said that 43 million people in the United States are living in poverty, and that he hopes to address this by developing policies to reduce corporate tax rates of American companies to make them more competitive.
Furthermore, Trump argued that reforming immigration would aid in restructuring the economy, and he reiterated his plans to build a wall along the Southern border of the country.
“By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars and make our communities safer for everyone,” Trump said. “We want all Americans to succeed, but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders.”
According to Aminoff, funding is the main obstacle that is likely to stand in the way of Trump delivering on his promises.
“The questions that were running through my mind were: all this infrastructure he wants to build, on the wall, on the border, all of these great programs — my question is, where is the money going to come from to pay for all of this?” Aminoff said.
Although Byerly said that she was critical of a lot of aspects of the speech, she was happy to see Trump attempting to appeal to Democrats as well as Republicans.
“I was happy to see him mentioning some issues where there was some common ground with Democrats, like childcare and paid family leave,” Byerly said. “I think those are policies where Democrats want to see progress being made.”
Shrum said that Trump thought he had to do certain things tonight in order to get approval from other people. He argued that if Trump continued to act like this, people would no longer be able to say that he can’t do his job properly, no matter how much they disagreed with him. Aminoff added that Americans should watch Trump’s actions, rather than just his words over the coming years to judge whether he is an effective leader.
“Trump loves to give shocking rhetoric; he likes to jar people,” Aminoff said. “I would pay more attention to what he does than what he says.”