By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Donald Trump gets a chance to put the rocky start to his presidency behind him on Tuesday night with a speech to the U.S. Congress where he will lay out his plans for the year including a healthcare overhaul and military buildup.
The 9 p.m. (0200 GMT Wednesday) speech in the chamber of the House of Representatives will be Trump's biggest chance yet to command a large prime-time audience and describe his agenda after a first month in office characterized by missteps, internal dramas and squabbles with the news media.
The address, which Trump has been writing with aide Stephen Miller and others, will include some gestures toward unifying a polarized country as he tries to bind the wounds from a bitterly fought election.
He has work to do to overcome skepticism and reassure Americans. An average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics put his approval rating at about 44 percent, relatively low for a new president.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the theme of the speech to the Republican-controlled Congress would be "the renewal of the American spirit" and that it would be grounded in how to solve the problems of everyday Americans.
"He will invite Americans of all backgrounds to come together in the service of a stronger and brighter future for our nation," Spicer told reporters on Monday.
Trump told Reuters last week in an interview that his address would be a speech of optimism "despite the fact that I inherited a total mess."
The president faces a host of questions going into the speech. Specifics of his plan to overhaul former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law have not been released. He has yet to describe how to pay for a sharp increase in planned spending on rebuilding U.S. roads and bridges.
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His proposals to cut taxes for millions of people and corporations have not been sketched out. His strategy for renegotiating international trade deals remains unclear. He took delivery on Monday of a Pentagon proposal for fighting Islamic State militants and must decide on it in the days ahead.
A plan for an increase in defense spending includes a demand that non-defense federal agencies cut funds to offset the cost, painful reductions likely to face opposition in Congress. Some Republicans have said the increase in defense spending is not enough to meet the military's needs.
His executive order temporarily banning people from seven Muslim-majority nations on national security grounds stirred protests and was put on hold by federal courts. He is to sign a replacement order on Wednesday.
Tim Albrecht, a Republican strategist in Iowa, said the speech was Trump's best opportunity to date to explain where he wants to take the country. Albrecht doubted there would be much in the way of conciliatory language.
"Despite those at home or in the audience, he's going to put forward what he believes needs to be done just as he did in the two years he ran for president," he said. "As with everything in Trump land, conventional wisdom is thrown out the window."
Trump's speech is not being labeled a State of the Union address because he has had so little time in office so far.
Democratic lawmakers plan to attend the speech and give their reactions to reporters afterward, as is the custom during similar events, according to congressional aides.
But at least one Democrat – Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, has said he will protest Trump's speech by refusing to applaud or give him a standing ovation, as also is a custom at presidential speeches.
Democrats aim to show their displeasure with Trump policies by inviting an array of guests who will be sitting in House visitors' galleries to highlight their opposition to Trump's agenda.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois has invited Aaima Sayed, who participates in an Obama administration program deferring deportation for youths brought to the United States illegally. Sayed is a third-year medical student at Loyola University in Chicago. Trump has not given a definitive answer on whether he will leave the program in place.
Other Democratic guests include Muslim immigrants, an advocate of programs for people with disabilities and people who want new gun control measures.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, in remarks to reporters on Monday, said that if Trump's address was anything like his inaugural speech, in which he referred to "American carnage" and painted a dark picture of the United States, "it will be a very sad evening for our country."
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Ayesha Rascoe, Jeff Mason and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Peter Cooney)