PHILADELPHIA ― President Donald Trump appeared before a supportive group of lawmakers at the congressional GOP’s annual retreat Thursday to cheer on his own anti-trade, anti-immigration, anti-Obamacare rhetoric. But there was a key difference between his usual speeches and the one he delivered here: Republicans now have the ability to make law.
“We’re actually going to sign the stuff that you’re writing,” Trump said to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “You’re not wasting your time!”
For years, Republicans have written bills that have essentially amounted to press releases. They’ve repealed parts of Obamacare ― or the whole thing ― more than 60 times. They’ve attempted to curb illegal immigration and kick out people who are here. And they’ve tried to roll back environmental regulations and build an oil pipeline through the United States.
Now they actually have the power to enact those ideas.
Trump said the United States is going to begin the “immediate construction” of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and Republicans gathered here Thursday seemed ready to approve the money. He said Congress would build the Keystone XL pipeline ― exclusively with U.S. steel, in fact, even though that would be a violation of World Trade Organization agreements on favoring domestic goods. Republicans, many of whom have advocated for trade their entire political careers, clapped anyway. And Trump said he would deport undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes ― “They’re going to be gone, fast” ― and Republicans cheered.
As far as Obamacare, the GOP knows it wants to get rid of the 2010 law, but they have no real agreement on what to replace it with. No matter. Trump and Republicans are ready to repeal it now and sort out the details later.
Trump’s speech contained a number of claims and provocations that would ordinarily set off weeks of controversy. He once again invoked the phrase “America first,” a slogan used by anti-Semites in the 1940s to argue against intervening in World War II.
He said Republicans would be “cracking down on sanctuary cities,” a politically dangerous policy of withholding funds for cities that allow undocumented immigrants ― or, even more controversially, sending in deportation forces.
In a room full of politicians, he chastised Washington insiders for not having renegotiated trade deals already. “Politicians were too preoccupied to do so,” he said ― though he then seemed to remember who he was talking to. “This is a different group,” he joked. “I think!”
He claimed that he and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had agreed not to hold their scheduled meeting in Washington next week. But the cancellation of that meeting has been widely reported as Peña Nieto’s decision alone.
And Trump spoke about crime in Chicago in his typically disconnected manner. “What’s going on in Chicago?” Trump asked. “I said the other day, ‘What the hell is going on?’”
“Democrats!” yelled Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), according to The Associated Press.
Gohmert is a fringe Republican who many in the GOP conference consider to be the most far-out member of Congress. He routinely takes to the House floor to endorse conspiracy theories and lecture people of color.
This is the voice that Trump has emboldened in the Republican Party. But all Republicans are along for the ride, and now the voters are too.
Laura Barron-Lopez contributed to this report.