President Donald Trump on Thursday rallied fellow Republicans who control the White House and Congress for the first time in more than a decade, telling lawmakers they will be busier than they have been in decades helping him implement a broad agenda.
"Think of everything we can achieve and who we can achieve it for," Trump told GOP House and Senate lawmakers at their annual retreat. "This is our chance to achieve great and lasting change for our beloved nation."
Trump has moved swiftly since taking office last Friday to begin reshaping the government and American society. He has taken executive action to revive oil pipelines that were blocked by President Barack Obama, pull the U.S. out of a multinational trade agreement and overhaul the immigration system, among other steps.
Trump's midday remarks Thursday in Philadelphia came a day after he began overhauling the nation's immigration rules and moved to jumpstart construction of his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall. He also ordered cuts Wednesday in federal grants for "sanctuary cities," which shield some immigrants from federal law enforcement, and authorized increases in the number of border patrol agents and immigration officers.
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Congress will move legislation this year providing up to $15 billion to build a wall along the Mexican boundary, Republican leaders said Thursday. But they would not say how they would prevent the massive project from adding to federal deficits.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters at the GOP strategy retreat that they were planning legislation providing $12 billion to $15 billion for constructing the wall, one of Trump's chief goals. Ryan said the goal is to complete that and other major bills in 2017, but the leaders offered no details on how the wall would be paid for, saying they would wait until the Trump administration proposes legislation.
Trump has repeatedly said Mexico will pay for the wall, but Mexican leaders oppose it and have said they won't finance it. He doubled down on that rhetoric Thursday as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday canceled a planned meeting next week with Trump.
Congress will pay for "the construction of the physical barrier on the border," Ryan said.
"We intend to address the wall issue ourselves," said McConnell.
Pressed on whether construction would increase federal deficits, Ryan said Republicans are fiscal conservatives. He said strengthening the economy and replacing President Barack Obama's health care system were two of the best ways to bolster the government's budget.
"If we're going to be spending on things like infrastructure, we're going to find the fiscal space to pay for that" in a budget Congress plans to write this spring, Ryan said.
Yet there were signs that Congress might not easily go along with fronting the money for Trump's border plan, which he continues to insist Mexico will ultimately pay for, though without explaining how.
One influential GOP senator who's clashed with Trump since last year's campaign expressed likely opposition to the plan.
"I'm not inclined to support it," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters.
McCain said he'd await details from Trump's Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly. He said such a plan should be "encompassing, it's got to be coherent" with technology including drones.
"History shows you can tunnel under them, you can breach them," McCain said of border fences.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., would not commit to approving the billions Trump is seeking.
"Look, I haven't seen cost estimates, I don't know what exactly he's talking about," Gardner told CNN on Thursday. He said making good on border security was "an issue of trust with the American people."
Before Trump's appearance, Ryan sketched out an ambitious agenda to lawmakers that includes sending Trump a health care repeal bill by March and a rewrite of tax laws by summer's end.
"I'm just so excited we finally have a chance to do this because we have the House and the Senate and a president who is with us," Ryan told MSNBC on Wednesday about plans to overhaul the tax system, eliminating what critics say are loopholes and lowering corporate rates to 20 percent or even the 15 percent sought by Trump.
"If you can clean up the cesspool of the tax code and give us a pro-growth tax code, that is how you grow the economy, that is how you take power and money out of Washington and give it back to the people," he said.
Despite a rocky start to Trump's administration, many lawmakers are optimistic about delivering change in a new era of GOP control over Washington.
They would like to see a Trump committed to their agenda and results, not a president who veers off course into conspiracy theories about voter fraud or who keeps litigating the size of his inaugural crowds.
Lawmakers were generally enthusiastic to see Trump take quick action on immigration, oil pipelines and other issues via executive order, even though they criticized Barack Obama for overusing such administrative tools when he was president. This time, Republican lawmakers justify it by saying Trump, in many cases, is undoing what Obama did.
For the GOP conference, Trump was visiting a city that he has singled out and criticized for supposed voter fraud. And the mayor has pledged to protect immigrants who are in the country illegally, in face of Trump's crackdown on "sanctuary cities."
Still, said GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, "People are more optimistic, the stock market's rising, companies are deciding to build, folks look at him approving the Keystone XL pipeline. He said he wanted to create jobs. I think there's a sense that he's working hard to create jobs and I think that's incredibly positive."
As for Trump's fixation on supposed illegal voting by 3 million to 5 million people, which is untrue, and the attendance at his inauguration: "Those are distractions, and it's dwelled upon. I particularly don't care about it," Cassidy said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May also addressed the Republican lawmakers in Philadelphia, calling Trump a friend and ally but cautioned him not to turn his back on global institutions and long-established political values.
On her first visit to the U.S. as prime minister, May called the start of Trump's term "a new era of American renewal" — but firmly rejected the president's suggestion that torture might be acceptable, and rebuffed some of his foreign-policy views.
Associated Press writer Errin Haines Whack contributed to this report.