The Trump who spoke to Congress was a lot less fiery than the Trump who stumped in Maine

Republicans are in celebration mode and Democrats are saying Republican President Donald Trump focused on pandering and not details Tuesday night in his first address to a joint session of Congress.

Trump’s speech — which unlike most of his previous public appearances adhered tightly to the script — was remarkable for its departure from Trump’s usual gloom-and-doom characterization of everything from violence in U.S. cities to our country’s role in upheaval in the Middle East.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said portions of Trump’s speech were encouraging but detached from what he has done during his first month in office.

“President Trump has talked a lot about giving the country a brighter future, but his actions since taking office have shown his true priorities aren’t in the best interests of the American people,” said Pingree in a written statement.

Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District, which voted strongly for Trump in November, said he is encouraged that Trump is talking about putting domestic policy and what is good for the U.S. front and center.

“Tonight, President Trump made it clear that growing our nation’s economy will be his top priority,” said Poliquin.

Poliquin took heat for not endorsing any presidential candidate in 2016, and his reticence to veer from his “working for good jobs in Maine” narrative has prompted some protests — mostly from people upset by Trump’s actions on reproductive rights and push to repeal Obamacare — during the first weeks of his second term.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who also did not endorse Trump during the campaign and who has voted against a couple of his Cabinet nominees, called the speech “unifying” and “optimistic.”

The president’s speech Tuesday was very light on details, which makes it nearly impossible to determine how the agenda he laid out will affect Maine. He wants to increase the defense budget by $54 billion, but Congress will have the final say — months from now — and new money in that budget will not likely make its way to Maine defense contractors in 2017.

He again demanded repeal of Obamacare, but did not provide many details on a replacement. One definite policy item — selling insurance across state lines — has been tried in Maine and largely did not work. On another, reducing prescription drug prices, a 2013 Maine effort to look across the border for better prices that was struck down by a federal judge has spurred Sens. Angus King and Bernie Sanders to lead an effort in Congress to change the federal prohibitions.

Maine has suggested some major projects for the infrastructure mission Trump trumpeted Tuesday night, but it appears that shovels will not be in the ground for months on that initiative.

While his opponents would have found fault regardless of what he said, the speech and Trump’s delivery of it really couldn’t have gone much better for the rookie president following months of scathing criticism about his negative tone and what some call scare tactics. The event was in stark contrast to what Trump said during his campaign visits to Maine.

During a visit to Bangor in October, Trump was in the midst of one of his primary campaign narratives, that the electoral system and media were rigged against his candidacy. At the time, Trump was reeling from allegations of sexual misconduct.

“They take these lies and they put them on the front pages,” said Trump.

During an earlier visit to Bangor in June, Trump focused on international trade pacts, saying they were negotiated by “stupid people,” that NAFTA is a “continuing raping of our country” and that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is “totally controlled by special interests.” Trump’s tone on trade Tuesday couldn’t have been more in contrast.

“[Reforming trade deals] will require us to tap into the American spirit that has overcome every challenge throughout our long and storied history,” said Trump.

When Trump visited Portland in August, he shocked some with his comments about perhaps the most controversial flashpoints of his campaign, and now his presidency: immigration reform. He referenced Maine’s Somali community directly before reading a list of crimes allegedly committed by refugees.

On Tuesday, he focused on immigration reform as a means to improving the nation’s economy.

“It will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages and help struggling families, including immigrant families, enter the middle class,” said Trump. “And they will do it quickly and they will be very, very happy indeed.”

Speeches like these often glaze over policy proposals and details, which leads to criticism, but there is no question that Trump’s speech was effective in another way. Generally, any near-term impact in Maine from Tuesday’s speech would be on people’s moods and emotions, not their wallets or roads. — Christopher Cousins and Robert Long

Quick hits

  • U.S. Sen. Angus King is meeting with Trump’s Supreme Court nominee on Wednesday. The meeting with Neil Gorsuch, an appeals court judge from Colorado and favorite of conservatives, will be at the Maine independent’s office in Washington at 11:15 a.m. He is expected to release a statement after the meeting. Gorsuch is Trump’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in the open ninth seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. — Michael Shepherd
  • Democratic lawmakers in hot water with the ethics commission. A Democratic lawmaker from Westbrook could face a fine for failure to account for more than $2,600 in unspent Maine Clean Election Act funding, according to the Maine Ethics Commission, which will consider a fine or a deeper investigation during its meeting on Friday. Rep. Dillon Bates, a second-term lawmaker representing Westbrook, could face a fine of up to $10,000 — but more likely between $250 and $500 — for a failure to return more than $2,600 in unspent Maine Clean Election Act funds to the state. According to agenda materials, the commission has contacted Bates 11 times since Dec. 14 about the money but has so far not been able to collect it. Bates could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning, when the Maine Republican Party issued a press release about the situation. UPDATE 11:15 a.m. 03/01/17: Bates said in an email to the Bangor Daily News late Wednesday morning that he has returned the MCEA funds and and will be at Friday’s hearing to discuss a late fee. “The money was accounted for and there were no red flags on how it was spent,” he said.
    Also on Friday’s agenda are consideration of fines against the Leadership for Maine’s Future PAC and the Prosperity for Maine’s Future PAC, which both face fines for late filing of expenditure reports in the day leading up to the November 2016 election. Also on the agenda: Democratic Rep. Maureen Terry of Gorham failed to include a debt to a mail house on campaign filings in September and October of 2016. She also could face a fine of up to $10,000, though ethics commission staff has recommended reducing the fine to $200. — Christopher Cousins
  • King pushed a Trump nominee on reports that the president’s administration pushed intelligence agencies to justify his travel ban. King questioned former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence, in the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. King focused particularly on reports last weekend from news outlets including CNN that the Trump administration tasked the Department of Homeland Security to work with the Department of Justice to making a legal case for the president’s stalled executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. King said “they gave them the answer and said, ‘Give us the evidence’” and asked Coats if it concerned him. Coats responded that his job will be to provide “not formulate policy” or “be a spokesman for any political decisions that are made.” — Michael Shepherd
  • Maine’s senior senator and treasurer honored. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is being given the Congressional Award by the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Wednesday, while independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes has won the Distinguished Maine Policy Fellow Award by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine Business School in Orono. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Reading list

When the rains come, don’t forget your headphones

The Maine Emergency Management Agency has announced that flood season in Maine begins today and recommends anyone in low-lying areas monitor its River Watch 2017 flood web page, which includes many useful tips for keeping you and your family safe.

MEMA’s tips are much better than mine. I say put on a life jacket, tie your canoe to the front porch and put some lawn chairs on the roof. Maybe bring a fishing rod and don’t forget your cell phone and some headphone, which brings me to the real reason for this item: MEMA has a Bob Dylan song stuck in my head. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.