Sus­pense pre­cedes Trump speech

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - NANCY BENAC AND JILL COLVIN In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Adam Beam of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

WASH­ING­TON — The White House has promised that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first ad­dress to Congress will be for­ward-look­ing and about the “re­newal of the Amer­i­can spirit.”

Tues­day’s speech will give Trump an op­por­tu­nity to stand be­fore mil­lions of view­ers around the United States and the world, and to re­frame his pres­i­dency af­ter an open­ing in which he’s rat­tled world lead­ers, railed against leaked in­for­ma­tion, an­tag­o­nized the me­dia and seen his ef­fort to halt some im­mi­gra­tion thwarted by the courts.

He is ex­pected to men­tion his less con­tentious pol­icy moves — such as his nom­i­na­tion of Judge Neil Gor­such for the Supreme Court and sign­ing of a se­ries of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders to rein in govern­ment.

But pres­i­den­tial coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way told Wat­ters’ World on the Fox News Chan­nel, “The Trump ad­dress won’t be bor­ing be­cause Don­ald Trump’s not bor­ing.”

Trump cap­tured the White House with his say-any­thing style at rau­cous cam­paign ral­lies and his red “Make Amer­ica Great Again” ball cap.

He has shown he can stick to a script, but not nec­es­sar­ily the one peo­ple ex­pected. His in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, typ­i­cally a mo­ment for op­ti­mism, was a dark sketch of what he called the “Amer­i­can car­nage” rav­aging the coun­try. And his speech at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion last sum­mer of­fered a sim­i­larly apoc­a­lyp­tic pledge to save the U.S. from Hil­lary Clin­ton’s record of “death, de­struc­tion, ter­ror­ism and weak­ness.”

“We keep wait­ing for the pivot, but it hasn’t yet ma­te­ri­al­ized,” said Aaron Kall, di­rec­tor of de­bate at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan.

There also are ques­tions about how Democrats will dis­play their op­po­si­tion Tues­day night to the pres­i­dent, es­pe­cially if they are em­bold­ened by the vo­cal Trump op­po­nents who have turned out in force at leg­is­la­tors’ town-hall-style meet­ings in their home dis­tricts over the past few weeks.

Democrats have made a point of invit­ing im­mi­grants and other for­eign­ers to at­tend Trump’s speech as a chore­ographed counterpoint to his ex­clu­sion­ary im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

There is no short­age of bad blood be­tween the Democrats and Trump. He has mocked their Se­nate leader, Charles Schumer of New York, as the “head clown,” as a “light­weight” and for cry­ing “fake tears” on be­half of those blocked from en­ter­ing the U.S.

Like­wise, the pres­i­dent still has work to do within his own party.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, when asked re­cently what he wanted to hear from Trump on Tues­day, told a Cham­ber of Com­merce crowd in Ken­tucky: “A tweet- free, op­ti­mistic and up­lift­ing mes­sage about where Amer­ica needs to go.”

While the tra­di­tions of Congress de­mand man­ners and cor­dial­ity, plenty of drama has un­folded over the years in the in­ter­play be­tween pres­i­dents and leg­is­la­tors dur­ing State of the Union speeches and other for­mal ad­dresses, such as Tues­day’s.

Dur­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Septem­ber 2009 ad­dress to a joint ses­sion of Congress on health care, Rep. Joe Wil­son, R-S.C., shouted, “You lie!” It was seen by many as a breath­tak­ing show of dis­re­spect. Groups of Republicans also showed their dis­plea­sure with Obama in more sub­tle ways, by snick­er­ing and not ap­plaud­ing.

Michael Wald­man, chief speech­writer for Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, said Trump can eas­ily “blow up a speech” with just a few de­vi­a­tions from the text on his teleprompter.

Wald­man said pointed op­po­si­tion from Democrats could throw Trump off his game, as well.

“How will he re­spond when sev­eral hun­dred Demo­cratic mem­bers of Congress are not giv­ing him the love he’s hop­ing for from the au­di­ence?” Wald­man asks. “There’s never been any­body who’s stood there be­fore, who’s re­sponded to au­di­ences with as much ex­tem­po­ra­ne­ous venom.”

Kall said heck­ling from Democrats or oth­ers in the cham­ber could be just the thing that en­er­gizes Trump and gives his speech ex­tra zing.

Tues­day’s speech will be Trump’s first visit to the Capi­tol since his in­au­gu­ra­tion. He vis­ited once dur­ing the tran­si­tion and tes­ti­fied be­fore con­gres­sional pan­els a few times in his years as a busi­ness­man.

He also met Repub­li­can law­mak­ers a num­ber of times while he was a can­di­date, and those meet­ings mostly were re­ceived well. Law­mak­ers would of­ten re­mark on how dif­fer­ent he was in per­son than the per­son­al­ity they saw on TV.

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