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Washington and Idaho reaction to Trump’s speech: A call to dream big or full of empty promises

FILE – Marcelas Owens, 11, from Seattle, Wash., left, and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., right, look on as President Barack Obama signs the health care reform bill, March 23, 2010, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Owens, who now goes by Marci Owens, is now a transgender woman and was Sen. Patty Murray’s guest at Donald Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Charles Dharapak / AP)

Washington’s top-ranking Republican commended President Donald Trump for a speech that was presidential, visionary and challenged the nation to dream big.

The state’s most senior Democrat described it as full of empty promises with policies that would hurt families and the economy.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-highest-ranking member of the House Republican Caucus, said she supports Trump’s call to increase defense spending, reduce government regulations and reform the tax system.

“It’s a priority to rebuild the military. We have a lot of aging systems,” she said in an interview after the speech. The president hasn’t yet spelled out where he would spend the extra $54 billion he’s proposing.

That will be part of the budget the administration submits to Congress. She’s not sure how the president will be able to spend more on the military, cut taxes and find money for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan without growing the deficit.

She called it an opportunity to “reimagine how government functions,” but added “I’m curious to take a look at how they put this all together.”

Patty Murray, the Senate’s assistant Democratic Leader, heard the same speech and came away with the opposite reaction. In a statement after the speech, she described Trump’s first month in office as one that was dividing the country, causing chaos and dysfunction in government and helping the wealthy.

“The speech President Trump gave tonight was a clear indication that he plans to continue making empty promises while doubling down on policies and a budget that would hurt families, students, the economy and our national security,” she said.

Murray signaled her opposition to Trump policies of repealing the current health care system and canceling executive orders on transgender rights by inviting Marci Owens, 17, to be her guest to watch the speech from the gallery.

They met in 2009 when Murray was talking about the need for health care reform. Owens’ mother became sick, lost her job, lost her health insurance and eventually died when she couldn’t receive care. In 2010, Owens was invited to the White House for the signing of the Affordable Care Act.

At the signing, a thoughtful Marcelas Owens, hands in pockets, stood next to the presidential desk as Barack Obama put pen to paper. Since that time, Owens has transitioned to Marci, a transgender woman and an advocate for transgender rights.

“I think she represents a lot of people around the country on the need for health care, and on transgender issues,” Murray said.

Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a key element of Trump’s speech. He laid out some of his priorities, like giving access to people with pre-existing conditions, lowering drug costs and a stable transition to a new plan.

“The House and the Senate have the hard job of legislating,” McMorris Rodgers said.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, who agreed with McMorris Rodgers that Trump was presidential in his first address to Congress, said the speech had more details than Risch expected. It was clear the president “is not an ideologue” on the health care, Risch said in an interview.

Repealing and replacing Obamacare is something every Republican promised, so it’s the top priority, he said. “We don’t have a plan. We have lots of plans,” he added, and the problem will be sorting through them for the right one.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a news release after the speech she was worried Trump’s call for flexibility on health care reform sounded like Republican plans to cap Medicaid and turn it into block grants to states. That would push millions off health insurance, hurt local economies and shift costs to states, she said, promising to continue to fight such a change.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said in a prepared statement that Trump was making the commitment to honor the promises he made during the campaign.

“As long as these things are done in a fiscally responsible way that doesn’t add to the national debt, I’ll support the president and will do everything I can to help him succeed,” Labrador said.

Risch, a deficit hawk who criticized previous presidents for proposing programs without paying for them, said he, too, is skeptical about Trump’s ability to keep his promises without raising the deficit.

But he’s willing to give the new president a chance because he and others have underestimated Trump in the past.

“He’s so bullish on how we can grow America. He believes it,” Risch said. “Whether he can make it happen remains to be seen.”