A Number of Virginia Responses to Trump's First Congressional Address

Mar 1, 2017

President Donald Trump pauses after finishing his speech to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill last night.
Credit Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool via AP

So what kinds of reactions are Virginians having to the president’s first speech to Congress? Michael Pope is at the Capitol with the latest.

Several feet above all that pomp and circumstances, above the soaring rhetoric about unifying the country and living out aspirations, the Reverend Keary Kincannon watched the speech from the gallery of the House of Representatives.

“I felt like I was in a bubble.”

Kincannon is pastor at Rising Hope Mission Church in Fairfax County. That’s where federal immigration officials recently arrested a group of undocumented immigrants as they were leaving the church’s overnight shelter program. He says there in the gallery, he was feeling a disconnect.

“Everything was so pretty and everybody was so dressed up. It was a strange experience because when I see the hardness on the streets and the struggles in people’s lives, this was such a different total reality to the people I work with.”

Democratic Senator Mark Warner invited Kinncannon to make a point about immigration, one of Trump’s hallmark campaign promises. In the speech, the president suggested a merit-based immigration system. But Kincannon wasn’t buying it.

“The merit system is not recognizing what’s a basic tenet of the Christian faith is that you welcome the stranger. What you do for the least of these is what you do for our savior.”

Kincanon was not alone in the gallery. Several seats away was Shannon Linford, who lives in Leesburg. She suffers from a chronic neurological disease, and a few months ago she wrote a letter to Democratic Senator Tim Kaine asking him to stand by the Affordable Care Act. He responded by inviting her to watch the speech.

"And it’s been really powerful and really reaffirming that something as simple as a letter that I wrote to him really makes a difference.”

During the speech, Trump vowed to keep the provision of the Affordable Care Act that prevents insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. And Linford says she was encouraged by that. But she says that’s not nearly enough.

"Mental health parity, keeping the importance of mental health and physical health on the same level. Not getting rid of lifetime insurance caps so insurers can say after this amount of money we’re going to stop covering you.”

Republicans reacted to the speech with praise, standing by their president as he outlined the broad shape of his agenda for the coming years. Republican Congressman Rob Wittman says he believes Virginia stands to gain by the president’s focus on military spending.

“The men and women who serve in the military. Those civilians that support the military and then those companies that actually help build the infrastructure for our military. So all of those things are important to Virginians as they see their role in bringing back our military and building this nation’s economy.”

But Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly isn’t so sure.

“What he didn’t really talk about was the offsets, and the offset is going to be really Draconian cuts in an already beset discretionary  domestic spending portfolio.

Even if that’s good for Virginia, the defense spending?

“Well, we forget, 40% of federal spending is on the civilian side. So it isn’t like if defense wins we win. It’s a much more mixed bag.”

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says he estimates that the speech costs about five trillion dollars.

"He promised better health care, cheaper health care, more people with health care at a lower cost. He promised a trillion dollars for infrastructure. He promised more defense spending. But tax cuts.”

Ultimately, though, Kidd says he struck a more presidential tone. And he opened new doors to negotiate with Democrats on immigration and health care. Whether that happens or not will play out over the coming months.