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Trump doubles down on protectionism in first speech to Congress

The US president has addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time, pushing a number of controversial policies like a border wall and ending Obamacare. His speech also called for unity in the legislature.

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Trump addresses US Congress

US President Donald Trump delivered his first address to Congress since taking office on Tuesday in a speech ranging from immigration to healthcare to protectionism.

In an effort to stem criticism that he is hostile towards minority communities, Trump opened with a line about Black History Month coming to a close, acknowledging that "work remains to be done" in the field of civil rights. The president also condemned recent acts of vandalism and threats to Jewish communities as well as a racially motivated shooting in Kansas City last week.

Watch video 01:11

End of small thinking, time for unity

The US is a "country that stands united in condemning hate," Trump said.

Trump reiterates campaign promises

Trump returned to a number of key promises from his successful election campaign, such as a vow to "drain the swamp" of Washington corruption by implementing new laws against ex-lawmakers becoming lobbyists. He also promised to "soon begin the construction of a great great wall" at the US-Mexico border, without elaborating on how that would be managed and funded.

Another chorus of the 2016 campaign, to "repeal and replace Obamacare," was met with applause from Republicans what sounded like an equal number of boos from Democrats. The Affordable Care Act, which has provided healthcare for 20 million previously uninsured Americans, has been the source of much consternation for Republican lawmakers recently, who have been met by crowds of angry constituents afraid of losing their coverage.

The president then turned to his immigration policies, which critics claim unfairly target Muslims. In January, an attempt to ban travel from seven Muslim-majority countries prompted widespread protest and was eventually blocked by a federal court.

In protest, many Democratic lawmakers brought refugees and immigrants as their guests to the speech:

Immigration overhaul, tax cuts

Trump called for an overhaul to promote legal immigration, following the "merit based" model of countries like Australia and Canada.

He then promised to create a database documenting crimes committed by illegal immigrants, despite numerous studies suggesting that immigrants are actually less likely to commit violent crime than those born in the US.

He also took Congress to task for partisan gridlock. Gesturing to both sides of the aisle, he called on lawmakers to "join forces and finally get the job done."

Trump's talk then took an emotional turn as he honored victims of violent crimes and the survivor of a rare disease who were sitting in the audience. He then asked everyone to applaud a teary-eyed Carryn Owens, the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed in a botched raid in Yemen ordered by Trump last month. He praised Owens, who "laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom - we will never forget him."

Watch video 00:57

Reactions to Trump’s first congressional address

Infrastructure spending

The speech was not entirely straight-down-the-line conservative, however. Trump made reference to a recent meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and expressed his commitment to work with Canada's leader to promote female entrepreneurship. This, and mention of creating paid family leave were the rare remarks that drew applause from both Democrats and Republicans.

In another moment of damage control, Trump walked back comments critical of NATO that have had top allies worried for weeks. "We strongly support NATO," the president said, but reminded member nations that "we expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Middle East or the Pacific to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost."

The overall theme of the speech, which ran a bit like a best-of list of Trump's favorite topics, was the protectionism the new president has become known for. He vowed to make it more difficult for companies to leave the US, to take money that had been spent supporting foreign countries and use it to fix the "crumbling infrastructure" across the country, and to create incentives for companies to "buy American and hire American."

"America must put its own citizens first, because only then can we truly make America great again," Trump said. 

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