Delayed by a week due to the partisan wrangling over a 35 day partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump goes before Congress and the nation on Tuesday night to deliver his second State of the Union Address, a speech which White House officials say will again focus on bipartisanship in the U.S. House and Senate, a message the President delivered in 2018 as well.
“Together we can break decades of political stalemate, we can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock extraordinary promise of America’s future,” officials said the President would tell the nation, as Mr. Trump will focus on ‘choosing greatness.’
The speech comes as the days are ticking by to a February 15 funding deadline, as House-Senate negotiations seem to be on hold while lawmakers wait to see whether the President declares a ‘national emergency’ to get money to build a border wall.
Here are five things to watch in the speech:
1. Immigration could dominate all other issues. While the President is certain to talk a lot about border security, and getting money to fund a border wall, that won’t be the only thing Mr. Trump talks about before the Congress. But what President Trump says about a possible ‘national emergency’ declaration to funnel money to wall construction will certainly make headlines, and threatens to overshadow much of what he will say in the speech about other issues. If the President does authorize a national emergency, the Congress gets to vote on that – and it’s certain to be brought to the floor by Democrats in the House, as some Republicans have made clear to the White House that such a move would be a mistake, because it would certainly be used by Democrats in the future when they win the Presidency.
2. Reading the tea leaves on Trump agenda. The State of the Union often gives a glimpse into what issues a President wants action on in the Congress, but other than talking about border security for the last few months, Mr. Trump has said little publicly about other agenda items. In office for more than two years now, the President said in last year’s State of the Union that it was “time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure,” but press reports in recent days indicate that might not even get mentioned, as the White House has yet to formulate an infrastructure plan for the Congress to act upon. Watch to see what the President emphasizes when it comes to domestic policy items.
3. The reaction of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Don’t underestimate the power of a facial twitch, eye roll, or smirk. With the change from last November’s mid-term elections, President Trump will have a Democrat sitting over his shoulder during this speech to Congress, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will wield the gavel, sitting next to Vice President Mike Pence. The last time that Speaker Pelosi and President Trump were in the same room was in early December, when the President said he would gladly take the blame for any partial shutdown of the federal government. Mr. Trump has harshly criticized Pelosi for weeks over money for his signature plan to build a border wall – now, the main TV camera shot quickly show us every facial reaction the Speaker makes as the President is speaking to lawmakers and the nation – especially if he directly mentions her.
4. A handful of Democrats won’t attend the State of the Union. There was more talk a year ago of Democrats boycotting the President’s speech – in the end, about a dozen didn’t show up, and this year it seems to be an even smaller number who will decide to do something different. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have made clear they don’t want to be in the House Chamber for the address. It’s always possible that a few others will quietly stay home and watch from the comfort of their own couch as well. “If I did protest, it would be something very passive,” said Johnson. Meanwhile, as they did in 2017, a number of Democratic women will dress in all white, representing the Suffragette movement, trying to send their own message to the President – in person.
5. Trump speaks on anniversary of House Fight Night. If you are rooting for some kind of wild spectacle on the floor of the House during this year’s State of the Union Address, a wild fight scene actually happened on this same night in 1858, as the House floor turned into a pre-Civil War version of WWE. The House had moved into its current chamber just a few months earlier, when a night of procedural votes, testy debate, and simmering North-South turmoil led to a brawl on the House floor. I wrote about it six years ago, and it’s again another reminder that while many think things are out of hand today, we haven’t reached such a boiling point inside the House Chamber.