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A nicer-sounding Trump comes to Congress: Republicans love it. Democrats aren’t buying it.

REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo
Republicans hailed Trump’s shift in tone.

Rep. Tom Emmer was on his feet, clapping and cheering, for most of Donald Trump’s first address to Congress as president. Rep. Keith Ellison spent nearly all of it in his seat, stone-faced.

That’s the image that sums up Trump’s speech, which found Republicans repeatedly roaring their approval of the new president, and Democrats largely sitting in silence and disbelief.

The Trump that arrived on Capitol Hill on a rainy Tuesday night, however, sounded a little different than before. In an hourlong speech, the president laid out a nationalist, populist agenda with few new items, but he surprised politicians and the press with a more measured tone that was missing from his combative campaign speeches and his bleak inaugural address.

Minnesota’s Republicans hailed Trump’s shift in tone — seeming relieved for once to not have to be asked about his rhetorical missteps and bizarre non sequiturs — and claimed the president laid out a vision that Democrats would be hard-pressed to disagree with.

Democrats, meanwhile, were skeptical of this version of Trump. When they weren’t disagreeing with him, Democrats didn’t have bad things to say about Trump’s goals of putting people back to work, improving trade deals and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. But they highly doubt he can make good on those promises.

‘A great tone’

Minnesota’s two most senior Republicans had starkly different stances on Trump during the campaign: Emmer was perhaps the candidate’s most visible defender in Minnesota, while Rep. Erik Paulsen kept his distance, finally affirming in October that he wouldn’t support Trump.

But both had very positive things to say about the content of Trump’s speech and the better, if unfamiliar, tone. Emmer noted with great enthusiasm that the president began his speech noting Black History Month and condemning recent vandalism of Jewish cemeteries.

“I thought it was a great tone. It’s a message that was just amazing,” Emmer said. “It was a tone that somebody next to me said, I was waiting to hear that during the campaign.”

“You had a president tonight that a lot of people did not expect,” he continued. “People who said that’s a little unusual for him. Better now than never.”

Paulsen said Trump’s tone “was measured. I think he’s shifting into governing mode, and I was really encouraged that he was outlining some substantial initiatives.”

There was plenty for Republicans to like during the speech. Trump called the Affordable Care Act a “disaster” and outlined some reforms and he vowed to strongly enforce immigration law — and to build the wall — while increasing funding to the military. (Trump did only utter the phrase “deficit” once — as in, a trade deficit, not a budget one.)

Paulsen was particularly pleased that Trump specifically mentioned reforming the regulatory process at the Food and Drug Administration, a priority of the medical device industry which has a strong presence in his 3rd Congressional District. (He was not a fan, however, of Trump’s condemnation of the now-dead Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.)

In the Republicans’ view, Trump’s speech was an “olive branch” to Democrats, and they believe the pressure is on the minority party to work with the new president and the GOP majority.

Democrats are still reeling from the elections, Paulsen said. “But the reality is… we’re moving forward, we’re going to start to get things done, and it takes bipartisan work.”

“We don’t accomplish anything divided,” Emmer said. He criticized Democratic leadership as “pied pipers” and said he was looking for a figure like Tip O’Neill — the famed Democratic House leader who worked with Ronald Reagan — to emerge.

“If [Trump] maintains this tone,” Emmer said, “it’s going to be awful hard for people not to want to work with him.”

Trump-country Democrats skeptical

Democrats don’t need a long memory, though, to recall the past eight presidential addresses, after which Republicans scoffed at Barack Obama’s calls for the two parties to work together.

Now, plenty of Democrats are gung-ho on blocking this president’s agenda at every turn. And even those inclined to look for common ground with him — like the Minnesotans whose districts Trump won easily — still came away from his speech disappointed.

Rep. Rick Nolan, whose 8th District Trump won by 15 points, said afterward, “I don’t know what to think. He says some things you like. They don’t necessarily square with a lot of things he’s said before.”

“Even when he’s saying things you like and want to hear — U.S. steel, better trade deals, better jobs, better infrastructure, stop the wars, protect people’s salaries, pensions, and benefits — I like it, I just don’t trust it.”

Rep. Tim Walz, another Democrat from Trump country, said he’s looking for common ground with Trump — he stood up and cheered when the president called for paid family leave — but said he failed to provide details on how he’d accomplish his goals.

An address to Congress, Walz said, is a chance for a president to provide specifics. “There was not a lot of detail, there was a lot of rhetoric,” he said.

“He ran through a list,” Walz continued. “You could’ve added cookies to that, if you’re going to tell people what they wanna hear. You have a responsibility to say how you’re going to pay for that.”

Continuing the resistance

While other lawmakers clapped or looked at their phones during the speech, Sen. Al Franken sat in the third row of the House chamber, taking notes on a legal pad.

“I took down some things I agreed on,” Franken said, showing a yellow page with questions and bullet points in black ink. “Drug treatment. That was good. I hope he follows through with it.” (He added that he stopped taking notes at some point in the speech.)

Franken was chiefly concerned with the president’s language on Obamacare, saying the policy points he outlined — praised by Republicans — aren’t anything new and won’t be enough to meaningfully replace Obama’s health care law.

“They all stood up and cheered but I still think they don’t have a plan,” Franken said. “I don’t think they agree on a plan. That was an area where they had six, seven years to come up with some kind of replacement and nothing, no plan I heard raised, has anywhere near a critical mass of agreement.”

Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum, representing Minnesota’s bluest districts, indicated in statements that they hardly saw an olive branch extended from the commander-in-chief, and will continue to resist his agenda.

“The priorities offered by President Trump and supported by the Republican Congress take America backwards,” McCollum said. “My Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate are ready to stand and fight.”

Ellison indicated he would not work with the president unless he changes not just his tone, but his actions.

“As long as the President is committed to dividing Americans and making life more difficult for millions of Americans, I will remain committed to standing in his way,” he said. “You can count on that.”

Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 03/01/2017 - 11:48 am.

    The pain emanating from Carryn Owens for the most interminable part of this speech was palpable by all save perhaps President Trump whose uncharacteristically smarmy delivery put anyone with a heart and soul in a state of shock.

    The speech made one thing glaringly obvious: this president is a sociopath.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/01/2017 - 12:02 pm.

    How low the bar!

    Isn’t it awful, that we see articles like this one praising the President when he doesn’t flail away, insulting and abasing everyone and everything! All we can say is that he used a milder “tone” than he has in everything else he’s done and said. Okay: very, very–disastrous!–low bar.

    • Submitted by Sean O'Brien on 03/02/2017 - 08:34 am.

      Not Praise

      I don’ think Sam’s article shoud be described as praise. Those quotes from Emmer and Paulsen are their own.

      The bar is admittedly low, which is unfortunate. But there is value in learning what elected officials think and this does that without contributing to the “media lowering the bar” effect, in my opinion.

  3. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/01/2017 - 12:22 pm.

    Trump promises…

    Given the loose cannon approach of candidate Trump who said whatever the current audience wanted to hear, the D’s would be smart to identify the things that they are in full support of and build the “Donald Trump and Democratic Party Contract with America” and draft legislation and campaign for each item. To name a few:

    1. A long term Social Security and Medicare protection plan.
    2. Federal negotiation for most favorable drug prices (he’s already backing away).
    3. Infrastructure spending
    4. Term limits (not that the D’s want anything to with this, but watch the GOP squirm)
    5. Paid parental leave.
    6. Increased veteran’s health care benefits.
    7. Coverage for everybody in the TrumpCare plan.
    8. Expanded child care tax credits.
    9. Ending “carried interest” Wall Street advantages.

    The list goes on and on. Keep him on the hook for these things that are good for most people and an unending source of embarrassment (as much as he can be embarrassed) when he fulfills none of them.

    No doubt he will also continually rant and rave about the lack of cooperation from those in congress and the D’s can just point at the list and ask “when do we get started?”.

  4. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/01/2017 - 12:31 pm.


    Well I keep hoping that the reasonable Democratic and GOP politicians can come together and get things done with Trump… And just leave the Progressives and the Tea Party folks gnashing their teeth.

    Here’s to wishful thinking.

    And I don’t think he is a sociopath… I think he is an extreme egocentrist…

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/01/2017 - 04:54 pm.


      Egocentrisim does not explain the lying and he does lie/spin/embellish at nearly 3 times the clip of normal politicians. And therein lies the problem of any “coming together”: some basis of truth must exist to enable each party to say: “I am a little right and you are a little right” let’s find the common ground between us. The pathological liar has the advantage of always believing they are right and the other guy is always wrong; not leaving a lot of room or need for compromise in their eyes.

  5. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/01/2017 - 12:38 pm.

    What He Did

    What the President did last night–and just about all he did–was read a speech that had been prepared in advance. Hooray! Presidential! The Great Pivot has begun! He read words put before him, and did not wander off into an adjective-filled tirade against his “enemies.” What a leader! What a statesman!

    Never mind that the words he read were stuffed with lies, half-truths, and rhetorical reversals. Never mind that experience shows his real temperament is that of a bully and a thug. Never mind that his record so far has been nothing more than picking fights with those who don’t recognize his greatness. No, he was calm and spoke from a script. The Republic is safe!

    The mainstream media, of course, is eating this speech up. For once, he did not raise the specter of “fake news,” or lambaste the media as “enemies of the people.” Even the Lügenpresse gets a night off, I suppose.

    P.S. to Rep. Emmer: No one expects you to give the President anything but fulsome praise. Even so, you have to admit that the Administration’s response to Black History Month has been cringeworthy, at best. Also, denouncing the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries–after speculating on whether it was done by someone wanting to make the President look bad–takes the political courage of a hamster.

  6. Submitted by Jon Austin on 03/01/2017 - 12:47 pm.

    It was his best speech I’ve seen him give…

    In a vacuum, it was a workmanlike text delivered capably; the best performance I’ve seen Mr. Trump deliver as either candidate or president. It contained many big-picture ideas and very few specifics and struck me – and others – as something more like an inaugural address than a joint address/state of the union which tend to be “Christmas tree” speeches of policy proposals. The moment with Chief Owen’s widow was profoundly moving and Mr. Trump did not step on it.

    Letting the air back in, however, it represents (at best) a winning streak of one game, something that will be undone as soon as Mr. Trump gets his hands on his beloved Android phone or reads a story he doesn’t like. Let’s remember that earlier in the day Mr. Trump blamed Chief Owen’s death on “the generals” and suggested that he was totally reversing field on immigration. Who knows what today will bring?

    Fully inflated, the speech last night was just another example of Mr. Trump saying words someone else wrote for him in a way that was less bombastic than his usual screech. He does something like this every once in a while so that pundits and Republican sycophants can spend a day or two talking about “turning points” and “assuming the mantle of leadership.”

    My observation of Mr. Trump over the campaign and the first days of his presidency (and to the extent I cared about him before that) is that WORDS don’t have any specific meaning or importance in his worldview. They don’t bind him to a policy, a position or a reality. They mean different things on different days. Their definition changes depending on the audience or the situation. Words have no intrinsic values for Mr. Trump so he has no problem saying anything he believes will accomplish his goal. That goal, judging by Mr. Trump’s history as a second-rate real estate developer, a failed casino operator, a reality show performer playing the part of a successful businessman and as a politician, appears to be skinning his mark with the least effort and expense as possible. His goals are always myopically small and transactional: do the interview, get the loan, give good meeting, do the photo op, do the deal. Whatever words get the job done right now.

    I truly do think that if Mr. Trump could be convinced that praising Hitler and condemning Lincoln would positively move his poll numbers, he’d read those words with the same labored schoolboy-reading-aloud intensity he brings to every scripted performance. “So true, so true” President Trump might even say, a phrase I’ve come to interpret as an expression of pleasant surprise at finding a nicely turned phrase that he neither wrote nor read beforehand.

    This is not the way most people live their lives in my experience. Most of us appear to believe in ideas like “my word is my bond” and a “promise made is promise kept” (even though we sometimes fall short of those ideals). Most of us choose our words deliberately because we know others will make decisions based on what we say. Most of us know that others will judge us by how closely our words match our actions.

    So, Mr. Trump will forgive me if I’m not moved by his performance yesterday. It was, as Mr. Trump himself might put it, just words. As The Who put it, “Let’s see action.”

  7. Submitted by Mike Downing on 03/01/2017 - 03:07 pm.

    Confidence in Economic Growth

    Fortunately we do not need to care what Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Nancy Pelosi think about President Trump or his speech last night. The stock market has voted over the last 3-5 months and today that it has confidence in President Trump to grow our economy, grow full time jobs, grow personal income, grow corporate income and make America more competitive.

    This retired senior is happy to see the renewed spirit in America, in corporations and in our stock market!

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/01/2017 - 03:18 pm.

      Amazing what can happen when politicians start to remember that the American businesses / our employers are the good guys who pay the salaries, benefits, etc of the American citizens.

      And not some evil group of people that need to be fought tooth and nail, and milked for every dollar so the government can seem generous to the left’s voters.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/01/2017 - 05:55 pm.

        Have you ever heard that Trump’s history precludes many people from considering him a “good guy” with respect to his business practices ?

        He and his type are the ones the laws were written to defend against.

        Not surprising he wants the laws neutered.

        And it is clear that Trump has not been “milked” for the past couple of decades.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/02/2017 - 12:37 pm.


          I agree that there are some ethically challenged business people in the world, but overall I think most of them are good people who are trying to meet the needs of investors, employees, customers, and society.

          Since I have been working for one company or another for my whole career, I think I prefer policies that help compete globally, over processes that cause many to go bankrupt and/or move jobs overseas.

          Please feel free to keep trying to wring the necks of our geese that lay our golden eggs… But I am hoping we start nurturing and supporting them.

          • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/03/2017 - 07:08 am.

            That Really Pales

            In comparison to how employers have been wringing the necks of employees for decades now. Real wage income has been stagnant through administrations both Democratic and Republican.

            In the past year there has been slight increase in real wage income, and all we hear is, “Holy cow! Inflation is back! Keep those wages down!”

            The economic pie has been growing for decades, yet employers have been wringing the necks of employees so that the gains have all been going to the top.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/05/2017 - 08:26 pm.

              Same Old

              Sorry, but as I often say… If you dislike fewer jobs in the USA and lower wages, please remember that the US consumers are the ones who choose which products and services they buy. And for the past 40 year we really have like low cost, high quality, high performance and many features.

              And I am pretty certain the ~11 million illegal workers have not helped to increase wages.

              Which leads to my usual question. Are we consumers willing to pay more for products and services that American employees manufacture or provide?

          • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/03/2017 - 07:28 am.

            I agree that there are a lot of good business people out there who strive to do right every day for their customers, employees and public.

            BUT, the president IS one of those ethically-challenged business people. He has appointed other ethically -challenged or unqualified people to run departments that they have an active dislike for.

            Why should I, or any other person, believe that they are working in the interests of America ?

            And this, all in search of MAGA, with your excuse of making business competitive again–against the “lowest-cost” producers who have little regard for ethics/rules/laws, their employees, the public and the environment. Is that really the way to MAGA ? There is a reason why Trump buys his suits and ties from China and it all has to do with his long held belief that “Americans make too much money”.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/05/2017 - 08:32 pm.

              Better or Worse

              So we have self serving business people or politicians in charge, I sure don’t know who is better or worse. I am thinking only time will tell.

              Given the problems many American citizens are facing today, I am thinking change may be good.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/01/2017 - 04:14 pm.

      Oh Please

      Take a look at a grph of the stock market since March of 2009. It’s been one long uphill ride since then.

      Funny, conservatives seem to have just discovered the stock market last November.

      Now, who has been in the White House for most of that rise?

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/01/2017 - 04:46 pm.


      I cannot imagine how ecstatic you were about the market improvement under Obama. After all, if Trump were to match Obama’s record the Dow would need to hit 60,000!

  8. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/01/2017 - 04:40 pm.

    “I thought it was a great tone. It’s a message that was just amazing,” Emmer said. “It was a tone that somebody next to me said, I was waiting to hear that during the campaign.”

    If Trump had that tone during the campaign, we would have been watching President Clinton last night.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/01/2017 - 06:57 pm.

    The best summary

    of Mr. Trump’s speech that I’ve come across so far came from my Colorado niece: “Speeches, smeeches. Watch the policy.”

    What’s REALLY amazing is that businesses and employers behave, and seem to actually believe, that they’re doing employees a favor by paying them, providing benefits, etc. Without those employees, there IS no business. We all revert to Paleolithic farmers.

    Trump has had little or nothing to do with the growth of our economy (which continues at about the pace it was following before the election). The stock market has little to do with the overall health of the economy, and is currently hyperventilating over the prospect of lower taxes, and thus a larger bottom line, to be distributed, in most cases, to those investors and corporate executives, not to be shared, in most cases, with the employees who actually make the product or provide the service. The financial sector is a leech, a parasite that adds nothing to the GDP.

    Local TV news this evening reports—as if this is some sort of huge punishment—that 8 Wells Fargo executives will get no bonuses for 2016. Thus, those responsible for a banking fraud so huge it almost defies belief will, instead of the prison terms they richly deserve, be forced to make do on the millions they’ve already been paid.

    I’ll be as pleased as anyone if the Trump administration and Republican policies can maintain fiscal sanity, pay off our debts, provide health care for all at less cost, and initiate a solid program of infrastructure development and repair. I see no evidence that they will do it, or that they even want to. A 10% increase in “defense” spending will leave precious little in any national budget for any sort of improvements in the things most people care about, and will, instead, mean very lean times, if not outright elimination, of quite a number of programs and services that millions of Americans use, enjoy and take for granted.

  10. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/01/2017 - 08:05 pm.


    “Ellison indicated he would not work with the president unless he changes not just his tone, but his actions.” But maybe it is Ellison who needs to change both his tone and his actions…

    “As long as the President is committed to dividing Americans and making life more difficult for millions of Americans, I will remain committed to standing in his way.” I don’t think Trump said anything about dividing Americans or making their lives more difficult so it is a totally made up thing by Ellison… But at least he came this time…

    Of course, it is hard to expect anything else from these people who would never be re-elected in their district if they say a single good word about Trump.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/02/2017 - 09:44 am.

      “[M]aybe it is Ellison who needs to change . . .”

      Why? I live in the 5th District, and I approve of the work Rep. Ellison is doing. He represents me just fine, and, given the safety of his seat, my neighbors seem to agree.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/02/2017 - 06:08 pm.


        That is exactly what I said – he can’t change because his constituents love what he does. So when I speculated that it may be he who needs to change, I just meant that he should consider the opposite point of view (the one expressed by half the country, by the way).

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/03/2017 - 09:28 am.

          Well, No

          “So when I speculated that it may be he who needs to change, I just meant that he should consider the opposite point of view (the one expressed by half the country, by the way).” To be consistent, should Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis likewise “consider the opposite point of view (the one expressed by half the country, by the way)?”

          Members of the House of Representatives represent their constituencies, not the entire polity.

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/03/2017 - 08:56 pm.

            Then why

            Presidents also represent their constituents so why are you having troubles with Trump – he certainly just represents his constituents….

            • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/05/2017 - 09:14 pm.

              You know

              All of America are his constituents, even the 3 million extra that didn’t vote for him, suppose we should all just go home and let it roll as Trump wants? Forget the free speech, and the right to assemble, constitution, our principles, preamble, declaration etc. In short: (Shut up, go home we are in charge now, you lost, and have no rights and or voice, you will live the way we want you to). Is that the proper interpretation of : ” he certainly just represents his constituents…. ”

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/06/2017 - 09:26 am.


              Trump is the President of the United States. He represents everyone, not just those who voted for him.

              • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/06/2017 - 07:29 pm.

                Same thing

                Mr. Wagner, Trump does represent all Americans but, similarly, Mr. Ellison (this is what this exchange was originally about) represents all his constituents and I highly doubt that 100% of them are Democrats. On the other hand, I do not see what will force me to “Forget the free speech, and the right to assemble, constitution, our principles, preamble, declaration etc.” People still assemble in huge numbers and say what they want, even if it is silly. And isn’t saying “I have a pen and a phone” an equivalent of “Shut up, go home we are in charge now, you lost, and have no rights and or voice, you will live the way we want you to?”

                Mr. Holbrook,I agree and I think Trump tried to act like that but it is difficult when half the country hates you just because you are not Obama or Clinton…

  11. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 03/01/2017 - 08:45 pm.

    Excellent job of reading, Donald

    When you have a special child who struggles it is right to praise their accomplishments. Someone who was elected President should held to a higher standard. If he were to stop Twittering or share something others than short bursts of whine, there would be hope, but his actual behavior has to substantial believe, given one cannot put anything he says in true or any guide to what he wants to do, and why he continues to avoid responsibility when he is to blame, take credit that is undeserved and exaggerate all his claims.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/02/2017 - 07:10 am.


    Trump is like a child who wants to make everything a negotiation. Very often the response to that attitude is “Because I say so.”

    What children and negotiators sometimes but not always learn and have to deal with is that reality happens, and very often it’s non-negotiable.

  13. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 03/02/2017 - 11:02 am.

    Trump’s Participation Trophy!

    We’ve all heard Conservatives wail about participation trophies, trophies that are handed out to children for participating in this or that sport, and how they are turning our kids in to a bunch of losers. Well folks, that is exactly what Republicans and the Media are giving Trump for delivering a speech in a way that made him appear normal. Nothing earth shattering, just an average speech in which he stuck to the script and refrained from insulting, demeaning or generally antagonizing anyone. Whoopee, after 18 months of campaigning and 6 weeks as president he managed to do that, hand him a a trophy.

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