NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump turned his first trip home as president into a victory lap on Thursday, returning to the city that has largely opposed him while celebrating House passage of legislation undoing much his predecessor's health law.
Trump only received 18 percent of the vote in New York in November's presidential election. Multiple modest protests were held across the city during his visit, some visible from the presidential motorcade as it roared past Wall Street and Manhattan's famed skyscrapers.
His visit was shorter than first expected so that he could commemorate the House vote with a Rose Garden event, the White House eager for the appearance of a victory after an uneven first 100 days in office. Slated to be in Manhattan only a few hours, Trump did not visit his home at Trump Tower and pushed back his first-time meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by several hours.
"In those Pacific waters we forged iron bonds between our two countries," Trump said. "Few peoples in the world share ties in history, affection and culture like the Americans and the Australians. Those ties are sealed with the blood of our grandfathers and fathers and those same ties are now the priceless heritage we celebrate so beautifully tonight."
Earlier, he also downplayed the contentious call he had with Turnbull in January, dismissing the reports of tension as "fake news."
The leaders spoke aboard the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of a World War II battle that reinforced the ties between the U.S. and Australia. Both countries' warships and fighter planes engaged the Japanese from May 4-8, 1942, forcing the Japanese navy to retreat for the first time in the war.
Trump paid tribute to the heroism of the battle's veterans and also pointed to the Intrepid, which survived being hit by four separate Japanese kamikaze attacks during the war, as a need for the U.S. to keep its military strong and pledged that he would continue to boost defense spending.
His triumphant appearance aboard the World War II carrier came just hours after jubilant Republicans bused in from Capitol Hill to the White House for the victory lap, an unusually early celebration for the passage of a bill through just one house of Congress. The legislation, which was met with sharp Democratic opposition, squeaked through the House by a vote of 217-213 and faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.
Trump said he was "so confident" that the measure would pass the Senate and vowed that premiums and deductibles would come down.
"People are suffering so badly with the ravages of Obamacare," Trump said.
At one point the president turned to the representatives lined up behind him and, suggesting the victory was especially impressive for a novice politician, exclaimed: "Hey, I'm president! I'm president! Can you believe it?!"
House leaders came through with the votes to give Trump a major political win more than a month after Republicans' first attempt to pass a health care bill went down in a humiliating defeat.
Known as the American Healthcare Act, the bill has yet to receive a price tag from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and is opposed by a number of physician and health care groups, including the American Medical Association, amid concerns it could strip millions of Americans of their coverage, including those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Trump and Turnbull were expected to discuss North Korea's missile testing and security and economic issues, as well as Turnbull's deal with Obama for the United States to resettle up to 1,250 mostly Muslim refugees from Africa, the Mideast and Asia who are housed in immigration camps on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
The agreement was a source of friction when Trump and Turnbull spoke by telephone shortly after Trump took office Jan. 20. The conversation made headlines, and Trump later tweeted about the "dumb deal." But Vice President Mike Pence assured Turnbull during a visit to Australia last month that the Trump administration will honor the deal, but "that doesn't mean we admire the agreement."
Manhattan is where Trump made a name by transforming himself from real-estate developer into a celebrity businessman and now president. During the campaign, Trump would fly thousands of miles back to New York to sleep in his own bed, leaving the impression that he would make frequent trips home after he became president.
But he hasn't set foot in the city since leaving on Jan. 19 for Washington to be inaugurated into office the following day. Now deeply unpopular in his hometown, Trump said in an interview last week that he so far has avoided returning to the city because the trips are expensive for the government and would inconvenience New Yorkers.
Some protesters lined up along the West Side Highway, confined to pens near the Intrepid while holding up signs saying "Dump Trump" and chanted "Not my president." Some passing cars honked in support.
"We want him to know the resistance remains, even in his hometown," said Ruthie Adler, 30, a Manhattan waitress.
Instead of sleeping at the Manhattan skyscraper that bears his name, Trump ended the night at his golf club an hour away in Bedminister, New Jersey.