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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 ClintonTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Federal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world MORE standing on the sidelines.

“I was hoping for a little more uplifting vision,” a downcast Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHarris shares Thanksgiving recipe: 'During difficult times I have always turned to cooking' Biden leans on foreign policy establishment to build team Trump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin MORE (D-Va.) said. Asked what she thought of the speech, Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelFrankel defeats Loomer in Florida House race Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' 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 ThuneDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions 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 CottonO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection More conservatives break with Trump over election claims 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 RubioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Rubio signals opposition to Biden Cabinet picks Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks 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 MurphyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses 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 WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans 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 ConnollyGSA offers to brief Congress next week on presidential transition Democrats gear up for last oversight showdown with Trump Biden campaign pushes GSA chief to approve transition 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.