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Trump's vow to Republican lawmakers: 'You're not wasting your time'

  • Author: Michael D. Shear, Matt Flegenheimer, The New York Times
  • Updated: January 26
  • Published January 26

PHILADELPHIA — President Donald Trump pledged allegiance to a long list of Republican agenda items on Thursday, telling a gathering of the party's lawmakers that, together, they will repeal the Affordable Care Act, lower taxes for businesses and the middle class, rebuild crumbling infrastructure and create millions of jobs.

"This Congress is going to be the busiest Congress we've had in decades, maybe ever," Trump said at a Republican retreat here. Gesturing to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Trump said: "He's writing his heart out. And we're actually going to sign the stuff that you're writing. You're not wasting your time."

President Donald Trump speaks at the Congress of Tomorrow Republican Member Retreat on Thursday. From left: House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The president was met warmly in the room, particularly as he checked off the Cabinet members and nominees who came from the congressional ranks — among them Mike Pompeo, the Kansas congressman-turned-CIA director.

"It's like being actually led into the Promised Land by Moses," Rep. Tom Cole, a senior Republican from Oklahoma, said of Trump. "We're there and he's our leader and people feel very comfortable."

Aides said Trump made the trip so he could reach out to lawmakers to advance a legislative agenda in the weeks ahead. In his remarks, he bragged about having moved quickly on a series of executive actions covering areas like immigration, the environment and trade. But he said that broader action would require legislation.

As Air Force One landed, Trump learned that President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico had canceled a planned visit to the White House next week, providing yet another distraction for a president whose first week has been filled with them.

In his remarks, Trump described the cancellation as a joint decision. "We have agreed to cancel our planned meeting," he said. "Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless and I want to go a different route. We have no choice."

Though Trump's unpredictable behavior and scattershot policy has continued to catch lawmakers off guard, Republican leaders have taken care to project an air of unity since his election. "We are on the same page with the White House," Ryan insisted on Thursday, speaking to reporters before Trump's visit.

Ryan did say that Trump, on Twitter and otherwise, had compelled members to adjust their expectations of the White House. "This is going to be an unconventional presidency," the speaker said. "That is something we are all going to have to get used to."

Trump arrived in Philadelphia after his first official flight on Air Force One. He got a short tour of the plane after arriving at Joint Base Andrews on Marine One, aides said. After getting off the helicopter, he saluted and then walked up the stairs to the plane.

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One to travel to Philadelphia, at Joint Base Andrews, Md., on Thursday. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The president had already given up his Boeing 757; when he flew down to Washington from New York the day before his inauguration, he flew on a government plane — not officially Air Force One because he had not yet become president.

In his remarks, Trump told lawmakers that the American people had decided in the election that they wanted change. He bragged about his surprise victory, calling it a great night.

"Now we have to deliver," the president said. "Enough all talk, no action. We have to deliver. This is our chance to achieve great and lasting change for our beloved nation."

Trump received several standing ovations from the members of his party, including when he talked about ending overseas aide to groups that support abortion, rebuilding the military and eliminating regulations on the discovery and production of energy. The lawmakers also applauded when he pledged to keep working toward construction of his long-promised wall along the Mexican border.

Negotiations on the wall speak to how much Republicans appear willing to break with past positions on government spending to accommodate Trump. Though many have long shared Trump's desire for a border wall, Republicans in Congress have often railed against spending plans that do not include offsetting cuts, even in emergency situations like a natural disaster.

Ryan and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and the Senate majority leader, estimated on Thursday that Trump's wall would cost $12 billion to $15 billion. They declined to address whether the expense would be offset by spending cuts.

McConnell also shrugged off questions on whether Trump was compromising the United States' relationship with Mexico by continuing to insist that Mexico will pay for the wall. (For now, Ryan suggested, the wall will be paid for with a supplemental funding request from the White House and existing federal funding to secure the border.)

"We intend to address the wall issue ourselves," McConnell said, "and the president can deal with his relations with other countries on that issue and other issues."

Trump, who has had a rocky relationship with McConnell and Ryan at times, went out of his way to praise both men. He called McConnell "a great guy" and said Ryan was "very, very special."

Many questions about the specifics of legislative aims remained unanswered. But as Trump greeted them here, Republicans seemed content this week to revel in the early planning stages, and in their victory.

"Everybody's excited," Cole said. "Nobody's hit the hard parts yet."

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