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GOP, Dems hear different things from Trump

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 ClintonHillicon Valley: China implicated in Microsoft breach | White House adds Big Tech critic | QAnon unfazed after false prediction Jill Biden redefines role of first lady QAnon supporters unfazed after another false prediction MORE standing on the sidelines.

“I was hoping for a little more uplifting vision,” a downcast Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session Hillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships MORE (D-Va.) said. Asked what she thought of the speech, Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelBill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol Hill How Congress dismissed women's empowerment Frankel defeats Loomer in Florida House race MORE (D-Fla.) heaved a heavy sigh and said it didn’t line up with her views.  

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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 ThuneGOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Senate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill Biden gets involved to help break Senate logjam 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 CottonSenate to vote next week on Garland's AG nomination Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll 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 RubioGOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Hillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China 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 MurphyBiden reignites war powers fight with Syria strike Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress Democrats reintroduce gun sale background check legislation 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 WydenSenate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session Senate Democrats vote to provide 0 unemployment benefits into September 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 ConnollyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission 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.