Trump’s State of the Union speech to project op­ti­mism

Pres­i­dent to stress eco­nomic growth in ad­dress be­fore Congress

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD - By Jill Colvin

WASHINGTON: Stand­ing be­fore law­mak­ers in the grand-domed Capi­tol where his im­peach­ment trial is still un­der­way, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will de­clare the State of the Union strong Tues­day night, even when it is bit­terly di­vided as he asks Amer­i­cans for a sec­ond term.

Af­ter be­com­ing just the third pres­i­dent in U.S. his­tory to be im­peached, Trump will try to move for­ward, aides say, of­fer­ing an op­ti­mistic mes­sage that stresses eco­nomic growth in his an­nual ad­dress be­fore Congress.

But the im­peach­ment drama will hang over him as he stands be­fore the very law­mak­ers who have voted to re­move him from of­fice – and those who are ex­pected to ac­quit him Wed­nes­day when the Se­nate trial comes to a close. Any at­tempt to try to be a mes­sen­ger for unity will surely be dis­missed at a time of pal­pa­ble anger and ran­cor, much of which he has helped gen­er­ate on both sides of the di­vide.

Se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials were tight-lipped about the ex­tent to which Trump would men­tion his im­peach­ment, which he has de­nounced as a “witch hunt” or­ches­trated by Democrats to try to undo the re­sults of the 2016 elec­tion and harm his re­elec­tion chances this Novem­ber. They stressed this prime-time speech was still a work in progress.

But they said Trump sees the speech as an op­por­tu­nity to talk about mov­ing the coun­try ahead, con­trast his vi­sion with Democrats’ and try to make the case to vot­ers that he de­serves four more years in the White House.

“This has been a very par­ti­san process and this is an op­por­tu­nity for him to unify the coun­try around op­por­tu­ni­ties for all Amer­i­cans,” White House spokes­woman Jes­sica Ditto said.

Trump will spend much of the speech high­light­ing the econ­omy’s strength, in­clud­ing the low em­ploy­ment rate, stress­ing how it has helped blue-col­lar work­ers and the mid­dle class. A fo­cus will be the new trade agree­ments he has ne­go­ti­ated, in­clud­ing his phase-one deal with China and the United StatesMex­ico-Canada agree­ment he signed last week.

It’s a fa­mil­iar mes­sage to any­one who has ever tuned into one of the pres­i­dent’s ral­lies. But it’s one the White House be­lieves will reach a broader au­di­ence and have a more po­tent im­pact given the venue, es­pe­cially among in­de­pen­dent vot­ers. His cam­paign has been court­ing these vot­ers as it works to stitch to­gether a win­ning coali­tion for his re-elec­tion.

“Once again, it will present that op­por­tu­nity for the Amer­i­can peo­ple to see how much has been done that not nec­es­sar­ily has been show­cased,” Ditto said. “This is one of the pres­i­dent’s best op­por­tu­ni­ties to talk about his record un­fil­tered with a cap­tive au­di­ence.”

The speech will in­clude a sec­tion on health care. Aides say Trump is ex­pected to go af­ter what one of­fi­cial de­scribed as the “radical pro­pos­als be­ing floated on the left,” in­clud­ing the call by some Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates for “Medi­care for All.” He will high­light ef­forts to re­duce drug prices, end sur­prise med­i­cal billing and tackle the opi­oid epi­demic, urg­ing mem­bers of Congress to pass leg­is­la­tion to back his ef­forts.

Trump promised vot­ers in 2016 that he would of­fer a health plan that was bet­ter and cheaper than Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act, which his ad­min­is­tra­tion has tried to gut. Trump has yet to of­fer any de­tailed al­ter­na­tive.

While the White House said the pres­i­dent will have mes­sage of unity, he will also spend time on is­sues that have cre­ated great divi­sion and res­onated with his po­lit­i­cal base. He will again high­light his sig­na­ture is­sue – im­mi­gra­tion – trum­pet­ing the miles of bor­der wall that have been con­structed.

He will again ded­i­cate a sec­tion to “Amer­i­can val­ues,” dis­cussing ef­forts to pro­tect “reli­gious lib­er­ties” and limit ac­cess to abor­tions as he con­tin­ues to court the evan­gel­i­cal and con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian vot­ers who form a cru­cial part of his base.

In ad­di­tion, he will press Congress to pass leg­is­la­tion en­cour­ag­ing al­ter­na­tives to tra­di­tional pub­lic schools and high­light pas­sage of manda­tory paid leave for fed­eral work­ers. He will try to make the case that the U.S. gov­ern­ment is lead­ing by ex­am­ple and send a clear “sig­nal” to the pri­vate sec­tor to fol­low suit, one aide said.

He also will dis­cuss for­eign pol­icy and na­tional se­cu­rity at length.

Through­out his re­marks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led the im­peach­ment charge, will sit over Trump’s shoul­der as a con­stant pres­ence. Last year, the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat cre­ated a vi­ral in­ter­net meme with an en­thu­si­as­tic “clap back” ges­ture.

The au­di­ence will in­clude Democrats such as Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Adam Schiff, who pros­e­cuted much of the im­peach­ment case against Trump on grounds that he ob­structed Congress and abused his of­fice by try­ing to pres­sure Ukraine to in­ves­ti­gate a Trump po­lit­i­cal ri­val and by with­hold­ing cru­cial se­cu­rity aid.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials were coy when asked whether Trump in­tended to call spe­cific mem­bers out.

The ac­ri­mony, while height­ened, is noth­ing new.

Last year, Pelosi went so far as to dis­in­vite Trump from ap­pear­ing in the House cham­ber in the midst of a bit­ter bor­der wall bat­tle and the long­est gov­ern­ment shut­down in the na­tion’s his­tory.

Yet Trump made no di­rect ref­er­ence to the shut­down in the speech he even­tu­ally de­liv­ered to a newly di­vided Congress.

He used his ad­dress to call for a “new era of co­op­er­a­tion” and urge law­mak­ers to “choose great­ness” and “gov­ern not as two par­ties, but as one na­tion.”

“We must re­ject the pol­i­tics of re­venge, re­sis­tance and ret­ri­bu­tion – and em­brace the bound­less po­ten­tial of co­op­er­a­tion, com­pro­mise and the com­mon good,” Trump said at one point.

The 82-minute speech was also punc­tu­ated by sev­eral un­ex­pected shows of unity, in­clud­ing when women House mem­bers dressed in white joined their coun­ter­parts in a “USA!” chant af­ter the pres­i­dent noted the record num­ber of women in Congress.

Still, there were plenty of sub­tle digs, in­clud­ing when Trump warned those gath­ered against purs­ing “fool­ish wars, pol­i­tics, or ridicu­lous par­ti­san in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

In past years, the White House has tried to con­nect with au­di­ences at home by high­light­ing the sto­ries of guests in­vited to the speech. In 2018, the world watched as a North Korean de­fec­tor, who had sur­vived be­ing run over by a train, stood and waved his crutches in the air in a tri­umphant, made-for-TV mo­ment. Last year, the guest list fea­tured sev­eral vet­er­ans who had taken part in the D-Day in­va­sion as well as as­tro­naut Buzz Aldrin.

This year, the White House is ex­pected to of­fer sim­i­lar recog­ni­tion f or Amer­ica’s he­roes – though Co­nan, the “hero dog” that played a role in the raid that killed Daesh (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi is not ex­pected to make an ap­pear­ance.

Trump will also be con­tin­u­ing the tra­di­tion of hit­ting the road af­ter the speech. He will travel to North Carolina Fri­day for a sum­mit fo­cused on jobs and work­force de­vel­op­ment, while Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence heads to Penn­syl­va­nia Wed­nes­day for an event pro­mot­ing school choice.

Trump re­acts to au­di­ence mem­bers dur­ing a cam­paign rally at Drake Univer­sity, in Des Moines, Iowa.

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