President Trump to deliver State of the Union on eve of expected acquittal
On the eve of his all-but-certain impeachment acquittal in the Senate, President Donald Trump is set to head to the Capitol to deliver his third State of the Union address Tuesday evening.
While the lingering impeachment trial casts an unavoidable cloud over a high-profile moment for a president, the address also provides the newly-emboldened Trump the ultimate platform to steal the spotlight and project an air of victory directly to the American people.
Four months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the start of a formal inquiry into the president, she will take her seat on the dais just over the president’s left shoulder as he addresses a chamber filled with Democrats who just weeks ago voted to impeach him.
It will be just the second time in history that an American president has delivered a State of the Union address amid an impeachment trial and the big question is if and how Trump might address it.
The White House has been coy about the extent to which the president will explicitly address impeachment but a senior official said the president will deliver a forward-looking message that will “lay out a vision of relentless optimism” in contrast to what the official said is “unjustified pessimism we are hearing from some in Congress.”
When President Bill Clinton was in the same position in 1999, he didn’t so much as acknowledge the trial’s existence.
“There was no allusion, there was no mention, and there was no discussion of referencing the impeachment in the speech,” according to Jeff Shesol, who served as a speechwriter for President Clinton and helped craft his 1999 State of the Union address.
Shesol said it was understood in the Clinton White House that it would have been counterproductive to mention impeachment in a speech that’s traditionally designed to be a unifying, policy-driven moment.
He suggests the Trump administration should adopt the same tact, warning that if the president gloats about his pending vindication in the Senate, “it’s going to be unseemly to everybody but his base.” But if they feel compelled to mention it, he said there is a way to do so in an elevated posture that puts the president above the political fray.
“I think the seemingly high-minded way of doing it would be to say, we’ve been through this divisive period, and the American people have made clear, they want to move on.
“The Senate will take a vote that will allow us to move on and get back to the work of the American people. And then the Republicans will cheer wildly and the Democrats will sit on their hands,” he said.
Some of the president’s allies on the Hill have also expressed hope that the president will avoid the topic of impeachment and use his address as a forward-looking moment.
“Personally I’d advise him not to,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R – Ala., “I think the American people want to have bipartisanship – actually want to get some stuff done and, and there’s been an opportunity cost with all these deliberations. We’ve not got stuff done that we could get done.”
“If I was him I would avoid that subject,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R – Mo. “I think there’s plenty to talk about and it’s an opportunity to move on. But the other option is to address it head on and he often has a head-on kind of guy.”
Beyond the question of whether the president will address impeachment, the White House has said the address will be heavy on policy and focus on the president’s economic record. The theme of the address is “The Great American Comeback.”
President Trump, for his part, told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Sunday that he’ll use the to “talk about the achievements that we’ve made,” claiming that “nobody has made achievements like we’ve made.”
As for the prospect of a call for bipartisanship, Trump told Hannity “I’d like to” work with Democratic leadership in the future but acknowledged “it’s pretty hard when you think about it” in the wake of the impeachment.
The president is expected to tout his economic record and what the White House has called a “blue-collar boom” under President Trump’s watch. He will specifically trumpet the recently-ratified U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.
The president will also make “specific calls to Congress” related to healthcare and lowering costs while also calling out what the president sees as “radical proposals being floated on the left,” the official said. The White House cited prescription drug pricing, surprise medical billing, and plan flexibility as specific issues the president will address.
The president will also discuss immigration and tout progress in delivering on his central 2016 campaign promise to erect a continuous wall along the southern border. About 100 miles of new barriers have been constructed near the border under President Trump, according to Customs and Border Protection.
Most of those projects have replaced smaller, outdated designs with more massive steel barriers, access roads and motion detection technology. The administration has only built about 1 mile where older barriers did not previously exist. Legal action from property owners and concerned environmental activists has worked to slow construction.
The official said the president will also have firm words for so-called sanctuary cities that do not cooperate with the federal government in complying with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests.
On foreign policy, the official said the president will provide an update on military and diplomatic efforts around the world but said not to expect any “Earth-shattering or new” announcements but will strike a “forceful” and “strong” tone with regard to Iran.
As in years past, the White House has invited a roster of guests to sit in the first lady’s box who serve to embody a given policy. In 2018, the president highlighted the brutality of the North Korean regime by highlighting the brave story of escape of a defector. The man, Ji Seong-ho, received a standing ovation from the chamber as he hoisted the wooden crutches he used in his escape above his head.
The White House has not yet revealed the full list of guests invited to this year’s speech but said the guests will include Tony Rankins, an Army veteran who developed a drug addiction after returning from Afghanistan but has since recovered and is now employed in an administration-supported “Opportunity Zone” in Cincinnati, Ohio. Also invited is U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz, who acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan has said “epitomizes the core values of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”