Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill heard two fundamentally different speeches from President Trump on Friday afternoon.
Democrats condemned the address as a dark vision of an America that doesn’t exist — an at-times combative diatribe that left the millions of voters who cast their ballot for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE standing on the sidelines.
“I was hoping for a little more uplifting vision,” a downcast Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerPanic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Schumer announces Senate-House deal on tax 'framework' for .5T package MORE (D-Va.) said. Asked what she thought of the speech, Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelDemocrats repeal prohibition on funding abortions abroad Investing in child care paves the way to a better economy Democrats introduce equal pay legislation for US national team athletes MORE (D-Fla.) heaved a heavy sigh and said it didn’t line up with her views.
Republicans saw the speech as a clear signal that Trump intends to put the interests of the American people first — a return to a philosophy of American exceptionalism that many Republicans believe was lost under his predecessor.
“I thought it was a good strong message on what he wants to accomplish for the American people,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff MORE (R-S.D.) said. “Basically the message that he wants them at the center of their government. I think it touched all of the right themes.”
“I think it was appropriate that Trump was putting the interests of American citizens first in all of policies domestic and foreign,” Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Tech groups take aim at Texas Republican lawmakers raise security, privacy concerns over Huawei cloud services Debt ceiling fight pits corporate America against Republicans MORE (R-Ark.) said.
The speech had been closely watched as a barometer for whether Trump would pivot to a more unifying message that would help heal raw divisions in the wake of a painful and schismatic election.
But both Republicans and Democrats saw the speech as a continuation of Trump’s brawling, no-holds-barred campaign.
“Generally, I thought the theme was consistent with the campaign he ran,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats face bleak outlook in Florida The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit Poll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field MORE (R-Fla.), Trump’s one-time opponent in the Republican presidential primary.
The address throughout broadly echoed Trump’s campaign rhetoric, most notably his July speech at the Republican National Convention when he accepted the nomination — a speech that at the time shocked many with its dark and violent imagery.
Trump on Friday described in vivid strokes a “different reality” lived by Americans outside of the Beltway: “Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he vowed.
Promising to transfer power from Washington, D.C., to “the American people,” Trump shifted in the second half of his speech to a message of patriotism and unity.
“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other,” he said. “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
But while Republicans said Trump effectively pivoted to a message of unity, the language fell flat for Democrats.
As Trump signed documents formally nominating his Cabinet choices immediately afterward, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared tense, repeatedly checking her watch.
“Nothing about how he’s conducted himself since the election suggests he’s serious about bringing the two parties together, so that sounds like words that probably won’t be followed up by actions,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B Senators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' MORE (D-Conn.) said.
“I thought there was a missed opportunity to speak to the millions of Americans who did not vote for him,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal MORE (D-Ore.) said. Breaking with past precedent, the speech at no point mentioned Clinton.
Across the Capitol, many House Democrats offered a similar verdict, accusing Trump of painting a bleak picture of America that sounded more like a campaign-style speech to his base than an attempt to unite a deeply divided nation.
“President Trump offered a dark, dystopian, and defiant inaugural speech that begins a new presidency without aspiration or reconciliation. It failed to unify or reach out to the entire nation, and insists on Trump's view of patriotism and triumphalism,” said Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHow lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation Overnight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling Connolly rips Wilson over 'you lie' during Blinken hearing MORE (D-Va.), who was among the more than 60 Democrats who boycotted Trump’s inauguration.
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) said Trump and Democrats will have to make more of an effort to bridge the gaping divide.
“The sign of a true leader, I think, is not to walk away from your convictions or your beliefs, but how do you make sure that you as best as possible try to heal divisions,” Huizenga said.
“I think he would be well served to do that and to reach out.”
Trump's inauguration sparked boycotts by more than 60 House Democrats and fierce protests in the capital streets. Many Democrats who did attend wore buttons on their lapels in support of the healthcare law Trump has pledged to repeal.
“That leadership goes both ways,” Huizenga said. “We all have a role in this.”
Jordain Carney, Scott Wong, Mike Lillis, Timothy Cama, Rebecca Kheel and Cristina Marcos contributed.