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Trump Comes Face to Face with Congressional Republicans

President Donald Trump gave mostly scripted remarks at the annual GOP retreat in Pennsylvania but didn't stick around for questions.
Image: Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia
President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One at Philadelphia International Airport on Jan. 26.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

PHILADELPHIA -- President Donald Trump delivered brief, mostly scripted remarks at the annual Republican retreat in Pennsylvania where he detailed the actions he’s taken in the first days of his presidency.

With Republicans in control of two of the three branches of government, many anticipated Trump's session as an opportunity to forge a road map forward with specific details about how to accomplish an aggressive agenda.

Instead, Trump discussed actions he took in his first six days in office and gave broad goals for the year ahead, including the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, adding that his nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services will "do a phenomenal job."

"Not a lot of new ground from what I could tell today," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn., of said of Trump's remarks.

Trump also promoted his own priorities that don't necessarily mesh with the many traditional Republicans in Congress.

Trump boasted that he pulled out the Trans Pacific Partnership but turned to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was sitting on the stage behind the president, and said, “Mitch, don’t worry."

“We’re going to have a lot of trade deals,” he added, referring to bi-lateral trade deals instead of large multinational deals.

Related: Republicans and Trump to Meet With High Expectations

McConnell and many Republicans are supportive of free trade promoted in deals like the TPP and they helped former President Barack Obama advance it in 2015.

Trump also promised large-scale success on rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, an idea that got no applause from the Republican members of Congress who are weary about the cost of major infrastructure projects.

“Infrastructure is in serious trouble,” he said. “We have to fix what we have.”

Infrastructure was not going to be a part of the Congressional Republicans' 200-day agenda, which was previewed here, until Trump asked that it be included.

Trump promoted his immigration related executive orders, including the building of the border wall.

"American people will not pay for the wall," Trump said. House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he's expecting to have an emergency funding bill costing up to $15 billion this spring from the administration to "finance" the wall.

After Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto publicly cancelled a meeting with Trump next week following his executive order on the wall, Trump said it was a mutual decision between the two, saying, "the president of Mexico and I have agreed to cancel our planned meeting."

In a move that is likely to further escalate new tensions between the U.S. and Mexico, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the wall would be financed by 20 percent tax on all goods imported from Mexico.

Trump promoted his executive order that puts an end to the catch-and-release policy, which is the release of people caught trying to enter the country illegally. And he said he's especially proud of the order that authorizes the removal of unauthorized immigrants with criminal records.

“They’re going to be gone fast,” Trump said. “The hour of justice for the American worker has arrived.”

Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insist that Trump and congressional Republicans are "on the same page," but divisions and skittishness about Trump's focus and priorities are evident here.

Republicans gathered this week excited about their opportunity to move a conservative agenda. They came focused on a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act and tax reform, but they've been distracted by questions about Trump's focus on other issues, like unproven "illegal" voting charges and the crowd size of his inauguration.

And they've been sidetracked by reports that the White House is considering two executive actions that would revive the debate over interrogation tactics, including changing the Army Field Manual that dictates approved interrogation techniques and bringing back "black sites," CIA operated locations that interrogated terrorism suspects until they were shut down under President Barack Obama. Most Republicans in Congress are reluctant to relitigate those issues.

"We have to stay focused. I hope the president's able to do that," Dent said. "The first couple of days were pretty rocky."

Trump reminded Republicans about the political risk they face by repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“We’re putting ourselves at risk to a certain extent,” he said, adding that Republicans are doing Democrats a favor by “taking it off their platter.”

Trump opened his remarks in usual fashion by talking about his victory in the November election.

“Nice to win,” he told the Republican elected officials. “It’s been a while.”

He also noted the importance of Pennsylvania in his victory. “There was no path to victory for Trump in Pennsylvania,” he said. “Except we won.”

Continuing to be concerned about how he is portrayed, he said media coverage of him is “not fair.”

He went through the list of his first six days in office that did receive applause, including his executive order restarting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, adding, “We’re going to make that pipe right here in America.”

The day before the annual March for Life in Washington, Trump touted his reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, which bans federal funds from going to clinics and health providers overseas that perform abortions.

He mentioned his meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, which is to focus on trade in Washington. He said that because his Commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, has not yet been confirmed, he’ll “have to handle it myself.”