WASHINGTON — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants to hear the president begin to unify the nation and to move beyond the divisive rhetoric that has dominated Donald Trump’s first month in office when he addresses a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.
“Talk about bringing this country together,” McAuliffe said in an interview with WTOP.
“I think the rhetoric of the campaign has hit the reality of governing,” McAuliffe said. “You can say stuff on the campaign, but it is hard to run this federal government — and that’s what they are finding on health care.”
McAuliffe, who supported Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton, and other governors from around the country spent the weekend meeting with Trump and members of his administration. Officials cited goals such as high-quality, efficient and affordable health care, but provided no details about how they would replace the Affordable Care Act.
“Nobody can tell us how we’re going to pay for it,” McAuliffe said. “No governor walked away feeling any better about where we are on health care in this country today.”
Trump is expected to map out a legislative path for key priorities including the health care law, infrastructure and military spending, which the president wants to increase to the tune of $54 billion.
McAuliffe said that Trump sought him out this weekend to note that Virginia would be happy about his defense budget proposals, which would benefit Virginia’s shipbuilders and its defense-heavy economy.
“I want as many defense assets as we get,” said McAuliffe, who has spent the past three years trying to pivot the state’s economy away from its reliance on federal spending and toward other business sectors like cyber security and biosciences. “How are we going to pay for the $54 billion, that of course, is my concern. And is anyone hurt in the process?”
McAuliffe said he wants to work with Trump to create jobs, but that some of the presidents actions have hurt business including the federal hiring freeze, the uncertainty surrounding the health care law and the travel ban.
“Let’s deal with what we governors have to deal with on a daily basis. We have to deliver. We have to be efficient. We have to be accountable to the voters. And I want the same out of the president.”
McAuliffe said he also pressed Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly about enforcement of the country’s immigration laws. And he was told that the agency would focus on immigrants who are here illegally but who are also involved in “criminal enterprise.” McAuliffe said that he was told there would be no “roundups” of immigrants and no random stops.
Although McAuliffe would like the department’s policy to specify what crimes would trigger enforcement or possible deportation, he said he would accept Kelly’s explanation of the policy.
“But I am very cautious and I’m very skepticle, as I should, because it could really affect our community,” he said. “And if (the policy) changes, I will put the administration on notice.”
WTOP’s Mark Lewis contributed to this report.
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