Standing before Republican lawmakers at a luxury resort in West Virginia on Thursday afternoon, President Trump delivered a Trump-ified version of the State of the Union speech.
Instead of stiffly reading from a teleprompter as he did Tuesday night, Trump was excited and animated, using his hands to illustrate his points as he went off script. He still rattled through his policy priorities, but offered the friendly GOP crowd much more.
He took a swipe at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the “stone cold” Democrats who did not applaud his address Tuesday night. He shared his dislike of the terms “dreamers” and “community college,” claimed that a senator told him he was a better president than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and suggested the challenges facing felons trying to get a job will vanish in this booming economy.
He bragged about all of the promises he has fulfilled — “promises plus,” he dubbed it — and claimed that his party is united like never before. Trump called on Democrats to work with his party, but added that it would be easier to simply have fewer Democrats in Congress.
After several days of staying on script and acting presidential, Trump was back to being Trump.
He re-emerged at 6:43 a.m. Thursday, as he tweet-attacked Democrats for not supporting his agenda. In a tweet a few minutes later, he claimed that television viewership of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night was “the highest number in history,” even though it was not.
Hours later — standing in an ornate ballroom at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. — Trump dropped the stuffy titles to thank “Paul and Mitch” and “Jim,” the governor of West Virginia who is an old friend.
“And the hotel is beautiful,” Trump gushed, “and everything is beautiful.”
With this comfortable tone set, Trump let everyone in on a private phone conversation he had with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this,” Trump coyly said, as Ryan smiled, “but I will say that he said to me, he has never, ever seen the Republican Party so united.”
Trump thanked Ryan for not publicly denying the comment, then recited the creed of the Republican Party in the age of Trump: “We believe in strong families and we believe in strong borders. We believe in the rule of law, and we support the men and women of law enforcement. We believe every American has the right to grow up in a safe home and attend a good school, and to have access to a really great job.”
Trump labeled his first year in office “a tremendous success” and gave “tremendous credit” to Republican leaders who were under “tremendous pressure.” He rattled off some accomplishments and said Republicans “got a lot of credit from a lot of people” and, at the same time, not enough credit — but that they’re starting to get credit. And he gave them credit.
“Really,” Trump said, “kudos.”
Trump returned to listing accomplishments, including the lowest unemployment rates “ever recorded” for African Americans and Hispanics.
“And when I made that statement the other night,” Trump said in an aside, “there was zero movement from the Democrats. They sat there stone cold, no smile, no applause. You would’ve thought that on that one, they would’ve sort of at least clapped a little bit — which tells you perhaps they’d rather see us not do well than see our country do great.”
The Republicans applauded in agreement and Trump returned to listing accomplishments, such as cutting regulations and allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.
“I never appreciated ANWR so much,” Trump said, shifting into storytelling mode. “A friend of mine called up — who is in that world and in that business — and said, ‘Is it true that you’re thinking about ANWR?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think we’re going to get it, but you know . . .’ He said, ‘Are you kidding? That’s the biggest thing, by itself.’ He said, ‘Ronald Reagan and every president has wanted to get ANWR approved.’ And after that, I said, ‘Oh, make sure that’s in the bill.’ ”
The Republicans in the room then laughed, seemingly at the process by which the president sets his policy priorities.
“It was amazing, how that had an impact,” Trump continued. “That had a very big impact on me.”
Trump recognized some of Alaska’s lawmakers, then gave another shout-out to “a very spectacular man,” Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Finance Committee and the longest-serving Republican senator.
“He said once, I am the single greatest president in his lifetime,” Trump said. “Now, he’s a young man, so it’s not that much, but . . . he actually once said I’m the greatest president in the history of our country. And I said, ‘Does that include Lincoln and Washington?’ He said, ’Yes.’ I said, ‘I love this guy.’ ”
Hatch’s office quickly pushed back, telling several reporters that Hatch told Trump he “can be” the greatest president ever but not that he already has achieved that ranking.
Soon, Trump was back to listing accomplishments, noting that the GOP tax cuts will save a West Virginia family of four roughly $2,000 a year and enable companies to provide their employees with “tremendous bonuses” — which, Trump said, Pelosi had called “crumbs.”
“She called it crumbs, when people are getting $2,000 and $3,000 and $1,000,” Trump said. “That’s not crumbs — that’s a lot of money.”
Trump went on to say that if Hillary Clinton was president, the stock market would have “gone down 50 percent.”
“I really believe that, because they were stifling it,” Trump said. “They were getting prepared to stifle even worse than it was.” (The Dow Jones industrial average grew by 149 percent during the Obama administration.)
Trump soon transitioned to what he wants to do in the coming year, including reforming the prison system and making it easier for people who have done time to get a job. It’s an issue that Trump said he has watched, seen and studied.
“The best thing we’ve done to fix that . . . is the fact that the economy is just booming. I mean, that fixes it better than any program we can do, anything we can do at all,” Trump said. “I really believe that that problem — it’s a big problem — is going to solve itself, but we’re working on it.”
Trump also wants to increase the number of vocational schools, pointing to one of his childhood classmates as an example.
“He wasn’t like the greatest student, and he just wasn’t,” Trump said. “And yet I saw him one day, and he was able to fix a car engine blindfolded. . . . He had a different kind of a talent, and we should have vocational schools.”The president added that he likes the phrase “vocational school” much more than “community college,” because “a lot of people don’t know what a community college means or represents.”
Trump added to the list of goals for the coming year, including passing an immigration overhaul. He said he hopes Democrats will work with Republicans on this, but also said Republicans shouldn’t compromise too much. Trump noted that a majority of Americans favor offering some form of legal status to young immigrants, known as dreamers, who were brought to the country as children and have lived here illegally.
“Some people call it ‘dreamers.’ It’s not dreamers. Don’t fall into that trap. It’s just much different than dreamers,” Trump said. “And I said the other night, you know, we have dreamers, too. We have dreamers in this country, too. You can’t forget our dreamers. I have a lot of dreamers here.”
Trump accused Democrats of wanting to keep the issue alive through the midterm elections, saying, “If they don’t approve something within that sphere, that means very simply that they’re not looking to approve it at all. They want to use it for an election issue.”
Then Trump was back to accomplishments.
“I’ve kept one promise after another, and we’re just getting started. . . . We’ve fulfilled far more promises than we promised,” Trump said, ignoring that some of his major campaign promises, including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, have not ben fulfilled. “We have seriously fulfilled promises — I call it promises-plus.”
John Wagner, Erica Werner and Paul Kane contributed to this report.