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Trump promises to restore integrity, the rule of law (w/video)

President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. [Associated Press]
President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. [Associated Press]
Published Mar. 1, 2017

President Donald Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, laying out the agenda for his presidency and, in broad terms, his vision for the country.

Pulling from his campaign speeches and others since taking office, the president ran off a list of accomplishments since taking office and issued promises for the year ahead. Trump highlighted new lobbying restrictions, and executive orders he put in place to reduce regulations, restart halted oil and gas pipelines, and crack down on illegal immigration.

"Above all else, we will keep our promises to the American people," Trump said.

POLITIFACT: Fact-checking President Trump's address to Congress

He touted "billions" in new investments by American companies in the weeks since his inauguration, seeking to highlight the actions his administration has taken to keep his campaign promises.

He vowed to usher in "historic" tax reform, as he appeared to nod to a House Republican "border adjustment" plan, but did not explicitly endorse it.

"Currently, when we ship products out of America, many other countries make us pay very high tariffs and taxes — but when foreign companies ship their products into America, we charge them nothing or almost nothing," Trump said.

The "border adjustment" is shorthand for a House GOP proposal to tax imports, which some Republicans oppose. Trump didn't use those words in his address. But his remarks could be seen as a hopeful sign for those Republicans hoping he will back it unequivocally.

Trump's comments were received with some bipartisan applause and some jeers from Democrats, especially during his mention of a lobbying restriction that some feel does not go far enough.

TRANSCRIPT: Full text of President Trump's address to Congress

Reiterating a much-repeated campaign promise, Trump vowed midway thorough his speech to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act but stopped short of resolving disagreements among Republicans about how to do that.

In one of the speech's tenser moments, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was seated in the audience, looked on, shaking her head as Trump criticized the law. Pelosi helped then-President Barack Obama pass the law and has sharply criticized Republicans for trying to undo it.

Trump told a series of stories to highlight his calls for reforms to the Food and Drug Administration and public education.

He pointed to two women who sat in the gallery as a guest of first lady Melania Trump. One who was diagnosed with a rare disease and treated with a new drug. A second who was able to attend a private school and become the first person in her family to graduate from high school and college.

Both anecdotes drew bipartisan applause from members of Congress in the audience.

He also pressed his policies on immigration, including his controversial proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"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 at our borders," said Trump. "For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great wall along our southern border. It will be started ahead of schedule and, when finished, it will be a very effective weapon against drugs and crime."

REACTION: Florida legislators weigh in on Trump's speech

Trump challenged members of Congress who disagree with him: "I would ask you this question: what would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income, or a loved one, because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?"

He did call for Republicans and Democrats to work toward reforming the immigration system into a merit-based program focused on the "well-being of American citizens."

Trump argued that the country's current focus on low-skilled immigration hurts American workers and strains the country's finances.

"I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation's security, and to restore respect for our laws," Trump said.

Trump also vowed to take on "radical Islamic terrorism," a divisive term that many have taken issue, arguing it unfairly singles out the Muslim religion.

He also pledged to announce new steps to bolster national security and "keep out those who would do us harm," weeks after his executive order barring immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries was halted by a federal judge.

Pointing to statistics on terror convictions by foreigners from the Department of Justice, Trump said that it was "reckless" to allow foreigners into the country who could then perpetrate attacks on Americans.

"We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America — we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists," Trump said.

The comments drew mixed reaction from the gathered lawmakers.

Though Trump did not specifically mention the travel ban, he suggested that new efforts to put in place "improved vetting procedures" would be forthcoming.

In a highly emotional moment, President Trump led an extended tribute to a U.S. Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, the first U.S. service member to die in the line of duty during Trump's administration.

With Owens' widow, Carryn, sitting in the audience, Trump called him "a warrior and a hero" who gave his life for his nation.

The comments, which were received with protracted applause, come in the midst of a tense time for Trump. Owens died during a raid in Yemen that left him and civilians dead, prompting a series of investigations by the Defense Department.

Owens' father, William Owens, has also spoken out against the raid, questioning why it was authorized so quickly after Trump came into office.

Trump defended the raid on Tuesday, saying that his Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently told him that it was a "highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies."

As Trump spoke, Owens' late wife stood and wept openly as the room applauded her.

He began the night by strongly denouncing recent threats to Jewish community centers across the country and condemned a recent attack on Indian immigrants in Kansas.

"We are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms," Trump said.

His speech quickly turned, however, as he declared that the "earth shifted beneath our feet" in 2016 as he took a victory lap over his election victory and nodded to his signature campaign themes.

"The chorus became an earthquake — and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand, that America must put its own citizens first," Trump said.