This is being written on Feb. 28, which, for those who celebrate it, happens to be Mardi Gras, the last day of celebration before Lent. It is also the date of President Trump’s first Joint Address to Congress, and the question for many members is whether the speech offers beads and trinkets for everyone, as befitting of Mardi Gras, or a list of things we will have to give up, as befitting of Lent, or maybe a little of both.
One thing is certain. The first 40 days of the Trump Administration have been different than any Presidency in recent memory, if not ever.
On some things, he’s quickly done exactly what he said he would do during the campaign. He signed executive orders reversing some key policies of the Obama Administration; withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade-agreement negotiations; and announced stronger enforcement of immigration laws.
On others, he’s run headlong into the cold, hard facts of Washington life. His Cabinet nominations have taken longer to be confirmed than any in recent memory, and at least one withdrew rather than face almost certain death in the Senate; the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is proving “very complicated;” and tax reform is rapidly slipping from the front burner to the back of the stove, at least for 2017.
The truth is that there’s only so much a President can do unilaterally, and Trump is rapidly running out of room on that front. To achieve the bold agenda that he staked out on the campaign trail, he’ll need cooperation from Congress. Will he get it?
Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have gone from being downright giddy about being in control of both the House and the Senate – with a Republican President ready to sign legislation they’ve only dreamed about for the past eight years – to bordering on feeling absolutely morose because they can’t agree on how to proceed on key issues like health care and tax reform. As a result, they are desperately hoping for leadership and a strong sense of direction from President Trump’s speech tonight. Will they get it?
Now let’s fast-forward one day. It is March 1, Ash Wednesday, and for yesterday’s Fat Tuesday revelers it is now a time for reflection. By all accounts (including mine), President Trump gave the best speech of his young presidency last night, causing Republicans to breathe a collective sigh of relief and hang around to congratulate themselves and the President, and causing Democrats to look over their collective shoulder as they quickly exited the House Chamber rather than be forced to admit their worst nightmare might be coming true.
The speech was disciplined and inclusive, and the President avoided virtually all of the traps he has routinely fallen into (no media-bashing and no name-calling). He also set a broad and bold agenda, including plenty of beads and trinkets, but also called for discipline and restraint.
He urged Congress to quickly overhaul the ACA and enact tax reform that would revitalize the economy in general and manufacturing in particular. He reiterated that he would be pushing for sweeping regulatory reform, including requiring the elimination of two existing regulations for every new one. He also proposed a massive infrastructure proposal and hinted that he would support immigration reform that could include a system for granting legal status to millions of undocumented aliens who have not committed serious crimes.
All in all, it was a very good night for President Trump, which he badly needed. Of course, it’s much easier to deliver a good speech than to deliver on the promises in the speech. It’s the difference between oratory and leadership.
The next few months will determine whether the promise of the speech can be turned into actions that benefit the U.S. manufacturing economy. The Forging Industry Association will be making its voice heard as part of that process, including at FIA’s annual Lobby Day. Stay tuned for a full report of that event in our next column in June’s issue.