Donald Trump US President looks to reboot in first address to Congress

Since taking office, Trump has put homeland security front and center -- proposing immigration bans, border walls and a roughly 10 percent increase in defense spending.

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US President Donald Trump has put homeland security front and center -- proposing immigration bans, border walls and a roughly 10 percent increase in defense spending play

US President Donald Trump has put homeland security front and center -- proposing immigration bans, border walls and a roughly 10 percent increase in defense spending

(AFP/File)
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President Donald Trump gives his maiden speech to Congress Tuesday, trying to boost low approval ratings and flesh out his promise to help Americans left behind by a changing economy.

During a first turbulent month in office, Trump has put homeland security front and center -- proposing immigration bans, border walls and a roughly 10 percent increase in defense spending.

That hawkish message is set to continue in a primetime address to lawmakers and the nation at 9:00 pm (0200 GMT Wednesday).

But aides say the 70-year-old Republican leader will also try to tilt the focus back toward the bread-and-butter issues that helped win him the presidency.

"All I can do is speak from the heart and say what I want to do," Trump said in a pre-speech interview with Fox News talk show "Fox & Friends."

Trump's focus will be "solving real problems for real people," said a senior administration official, previewing an address to be centered on "economic opportunity."

The billionaire's tough talk and populist economic message were crucial in his November victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton -- helping him win over voters in crucial Rust Belt states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

But his White House honeymoon has been short-lived, with infighting and inexperience dogging the new administration.

US President Donald Trump's approval rating play

US President Donald Trump's approval rating

(AFP)

Some 44 percent of Americans think Trump is doing a good job, according to the RealClearPolitics poll average. That is a historic low for modern presidents after a month in office.

Barack Obama's rating on the eve of his first speech to a joint session of Congress in February 2009 was 62 percent.

Trump is likely to use the pomp and tradition-filled occasion -- which is a State of the Union Address in all but name -- to reconnect with blue collar voters.

He is expected to tout his willingness to tear up trade deals that he says are bad for American workers.

The CEO-turned-commander-in-chief has already withdrawn the United States from a trans-Pacific trade pact and is threatening to scrap a deal with Canada and Mexico if substantial changes are not made.

He is likely to once again claim credit for the rising stock market and corporate job announcements.

Down to business

But many will be looking beyond the rhetoric to Trump's plans for rebuilding America's creaking infrastructure and for high-stakes tax and health care reform.

On all three issues, Trump faces a difficult balancing act with fellow Republicans, who control both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

To succeed, Trump -- the consummate political outsider -- may have to embrace Washington deal-making.

"Repealing and replacing Obamacare" has been a Republican rallying cry for several years, but there is still no clear plan in place to proceed.

"It's an unbelievably complex subject -- nobody knew that health care could be so complicated," Trump said earlier this week.

During Tuesday's television appearance on Fox, Trump promised "a really terrific" health care plan.

"We're coming out with a health care plan that I think will be terrific. It will be very inclusive and I think it's going to do, really, what people are wanting it to do."

Lawmakers are sure to offer him a warm reception but could yet frustrate his goal of swift, far-reaching reforms.

Conservatives are desperate to pull the law out by its roots, but party pragmatists are wary of dismantling a system that has, despite driving up costs for many, helped some 20 million Americans obtain health insurance.

In town hall meetings this past week, Republican lawmakers faced many constituents worried and angry at the prospect of losing their health coverage.

Similarly, efforts to cut corporate taxes might only be paid for with a contentious import tariff that might not pass muster in the Senate.

'More with less'

Tensions between the executive branch and the Republican-led Congress are also simmering over Trump's 2018 budget proposal, which will undergo intense negotiations in coming months as it goes from wish list to law.

The White House said Monday Trump wants to hike defense spending by $54 billion, or about nine percent above current levels, with corresponding cuts in foreign assistance and other non-military spending.

Trump indicated Tuesday that he may also request an additional $30 billion in defense spending, but gave no indication of why the money is needed.

Trump may struggle to balance that promise with a pledge to keep costly social security spending without worsening the country's national debt, which is set to top $20 trillion on his watch.

Trump has speculated that increased economic growth may square the circle -- providing a tax receipt windfall.

Like many presidents before him, Trump could be tempted to inflate growth projections to square otherwise unrealistic spending plans.

"I think the money is going to come from a revved-up economy. I mean, you look at the kind of numbers we are doing, we have probably a GDP of a little more than one percent."

"If I can get that up to three or maybe more, we have a whole different ball game."

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