What to watch for in Trump's first State of the Union


With Congress, senior foreign diplomats and a global audience looking on, the president of the United States faced the packed House of Representatives chamber and called for an end to the investigation targeting him.

“I have provided to the special prosecutor voluntarily a great deal of material. I believe that I have provided all the material that he needs to conclude his investigations and to proceed to prosecute the guilty and to clear the innocent,” the president said. “I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.”

The speaker was Richard Nixon, delivering the annual State of the Union speech in January 1974 — not quite eight months before he resigned ahead of almost certain impeachment.

As President Trump prepares to give his first formal State of the Union speech on Tuesday, it’s unclear whether he will mention former FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 campaign. If he chooses not to confront the issue in this setting, Trump would be following the example of Bill Clinton, who made no mention of the investigation by independent counsel Ken Starr into his relationship with former intern Monica Lewinsky in his State of the Union speeches in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Whether or not Trump trains his fire on Mueller is just one of many things to watch for in the speech. The yearly remarks also provide an unparalleled forum for Trump to boast of what he views as the biggest victories of his young presidency, as well as lay out his agenda going forward and kick off a year of politicking ahead of the November 2018 midterm elections.

7 PHOTOS
Topics you can expect out of Trump's first State of the Union
See Gallery
Topics you can expect out of Trump's first State of the Union

Tax reform win

Trump's single biggest legislative win in his first year as president was signing tax reform legislation into law. He will undoubtedly tout this Capitol Hill victory in his speech.

Immigration

From the border wall to a continued call to end "chain migration," major immigration reform and a plan for the 690,000 Dreamers brought to the U.S. illegally as children is likely going to be a major subject of Trump's State of the Union address.

Trade

As recently as last week in Davos, President Trump has emphasized that he wants "fair" trade deals that benefit the U.S.

Infrastructure

Trump is set to release his promised infrastructure plan on Tuesday -- a potentially $1 trillion workup that was reportedly leaked last week.

Stock market

Trump often boasts of a booming U.S. economy via Twitter, and will surely use the rocketing market as evidence of his administration's good work.

America First

Building off his nationalist speech in Davos last week, President Trump will likely posture himself before Congress as a commander in chief who puts the U.S. interest first, and everything else comes after that.

National security

Where Trump administration rhetoric is concerned, national security and immigration go hand in hand. The address will likely also maintain elements of praise for ICE and law enforcement agency work.

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Behind the scenes, the speech can be an ordeal for the president’s writers. Nixon’s 1970 State of the Union took shape during a sleepless three-day blitz powered by “greenies,” amphetamines prescribed by the White House doctor. Heroic caffeine intake is more the modern norm.

Trump spoke to a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives on Feb. 28, 2017. But those remarks were not technically a State of the Union address, which by tradition takes place each January except in the first year of a new president’s term.

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution says that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” It doesn’t specify that he should do so in a primetime TV speech sometimes lampooned as “I come to you tonight to speak in ringing tones and gaze into the middle distance.”

George Washington delivered his in person, a tradition that largely lapsed until Woodrow Wilson brought it back in 1913. Calvin Coolidge gave the first one broadcast on the radio, in 1923. Harry Truman’s 1947 speech was the first on TV. The first live webcast was George W. Bush’s 2002 address. (Washington also holds the record for the shortest spoken State of the Union, at 1,089 words, in 1790. Clinton gave the longest, at 9,190 words, in 1995).

In addition to the Mueller question, here are other things to watch for in Trump’s speech, which the White House says is titled “Building a Safe, Strong, and Proud America.”

What’s the boast-to-plan ratio?

Trump is sure to highlight what he regards as his administration’s first-year triumphs. He’ll take credit for the growing U.S. economy, the booming stock market and the Republican tax overhaul that is leaving more money in many American paychecks. He’ll underline that American-led forces have routed the so-called Islamic State. He’ll invite conservatives to celebrate his judicial appointments. He may underline that he signed the undoing of Obamacare’s mandate that individuals purchase health insurance or pay a fine. It would not be out of character for him to recall his 2016 election victory.

But the president will also want to shine a spotlight on his agenda — including hard-line proposals on immigration, a potential infrastructure plan or pushing for new sanctions on Iran. Amid signs that his administration is taking a newly tough line on trade with China, Trump could announce new steps to punish Beijing. And he could press world leaders to step up enforcement of sanctions against North Korea.

That doesn’t mean lawmakers will act on any of it. Some presidents have made dramatic appeals that win applause from the audience, only to collect cobwebs in Congress — like a return to the moon by 2020 to set up a manned mission to Mars, a plank of George W. Bush’s address in 2004.

A senior administration official, briefing reporters on condition he not be named, said last week that the five themes in the speech would be: the economy, infrastructure, immigration, trade and national security.

Some notable past State of the Union policy moments include James Monroe announcing the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 and George W. Bush promising action in 2002 against an “axis of evil” encompassing Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

How effective will the Skutniks be?

Ronald Reagan transformed the State of the Union in one important way. Reagan’s 1982 address came two weeks after an airliner crashed into the icy Potomac River. The president gave one of the heroes to emerge from the tragedy, Lenny Skutnik, a seat in the gallery overlooking the chamber and paid tribute to him in his remarks.

Since then, presidents — and, increasingly, lawmakers — have invited people they can use to make a point. In D.C. jargon, they’re known as Skutniks.

These guests can lend emotional punch to a president’s words. When Trump addressed Congress last year, the entire chamber came to its feet when he pointed out Carryn Owens, the widow of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen. The standing ovation provided one of the most memorable moments of his remarks.

On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that the current crop of guests would include an Ohio welder; two couples whose daughters were killed by members of the MS-13 gang, which consists mostly of immigrants from Central America; a Marine corporal badly wounded in Iraq; Americans involved in disaster relief in last year’s hurricane season; a New Mexico police officer; a government investigator whose work led to arrests of MS-13 gang members; a serviceman who took part in the war on ISIS; an activist who puts flags and red carnations on soldiers’ graves; and a brother-and-sister team of business owners who say their workers received larger Christmas bonuses because of the Republican tax cut law. 

13 PHOTOS
Donald and Melania Trump's special guests for State of the Union address
See Gallery
Donald and Melania Trump's special guests for State of the Union address

Corporal (Ret.) Matthew Bradford

Matthew Bradford joined the United States Marine Corps straight out of high school and deployed to Iraq in 2006. In 2007, he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). Shrapnel shot into both of his eyes, blinding him, and the explosion also took both of his legs. After multiple surgeries and therapy, Matthew reenlisted in the Marine Corps—the first blind, double amputee to do so.

(Photo via White House)

Corey Adams

Corey Adams is a skilled welder at Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton, Ohio, where he has worked for more than eight years. During 2017, Corey and his wife were able to become first-time homeowners, and they will invest their extra money from tax reform into their two daughters’ education savings.

(Photo via White House)

Preston Sharp

Preston Sharp was visiting his veteran grandfather’s grave in 2015, when he noticed that other local veterans’ graves were not being honored with American flags or flowers. Today, Preston has organized the placement of more than 40,000 American flags and red carnations on soldiers’ graves, as part of his goal to honor veterans in all 50 States and to challenge others to join the Flag and Flower Challenge (#FandFChallenge).

(Photo via White House)

Officer Ryan Holets

Ryan Holets serves as a police officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In his six years on the force, he has been shot at twice and experienced several near-death encounters. Officer Holets and his wife adopted a baby from parents who suffered from opioid addiction, breaking down walls between drug addicts and police officers to help save lives.

(Photo via White House)

Agent Celestino “CJ” Martinez

CJ Martinez is a Supervisory Special Agent for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit. He has spent much of his 15-year tenure working to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, including MS-13. His investigations have led to more than 100 arrests of MS-13 gang members who have been prosecuted for crimes, including homicide, assault, and narcotics and weapons trafficking. CJ is a proud veteran, having honorably served our Nation in the United States Air Force and Air National Guard for more than 22 years.

(Photo via White House)

Ashlee Leppert

Ashlee Leppert has dedicated her life to her country, serving as an aviation electronics technician in the United States Coast Guard. Last year, she rescued dozens of Americans imperiled during the devastating hurricane season. Nothing has left more of a mark on Ashlee than her efforts to lift a woman to safety in a helicopter basket. The woman was clutching a few bags of what Ashlee thought were clothes. As she drew the woman near, however, Ashlee saw four sets of children’s eyes looking at her as their guardian angel.

(Photo via White House)

David Dahlberg

David Dahlberg works as a fire prevention technician in southern California, stationed at the Pine Canyon Fire Station in the Santa Lucia Ranger District. In July 2017, he saved 62 children and staff members from a raging wildfire that had encircled their camp.

(Photo via White House)

Elizabeth Alvarado, Robert Mickens, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Freddy Cuevas

Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens are the parents of Nisa Mickens. Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas are the parents of Kayla Cuevas. Nisa and Kayla had been close friends since elementary school, but in September 2016, the two girls were chased down and brutally murdered. Their deaths were among a string of 17 Long Island slayings that have been attributed to Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13.

(Photo via White House)

Elizabeth Alvarado, Robert Mickens, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Freddy Cuevas

Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens are the parents of Nisa Mickens. Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas are the parents of Kayla Cuevas. Nisa and Kayla had been close friends since elementary school, but in September 2016, the two girls were chased down and brutally murdered. Their deaths were among a string of 17 Long Island slayings that have been attributed to Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13.

(Photo via White House)

Elizabeth Alvarado, Robert Mickens, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Freddy Cuevas

Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens are the parents of Nisa Mickens. Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas are the parents of Kayla Cuevas. Nisa and Kayla had been close friends since elementary school, but in September 2016, the two girls were chased down and brutally murdered. Their deaths were among a string of 17 Long Island slayings that have been attributed to Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13.

(Photo via White House)

Elizabeth Alvarado, Robert Mickens, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Freddy Cuevas

Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens are the parents of Nisa Mickens. Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas are the parents of Kayla Cuevas. Nisa and Kayla had been close friends since elementary school, but in September 2016, the two girls were chased down and brutally murdered. Their deaths were among a string of 17 Long Island slayings that have been attributed to Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13.

(Photo via White House)

Jon Bridgers

Jon Bridgers founded the Cajun Navy 2016, as a non-profit rescue and recovery organization to respond to flooding in south Louisiana. In 2017, the Cajun Navy set out to provide aid to those in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey. He and the Cajun Navy 2016 have helped thousands of people across the South, and to this day, they are helping collect resources and donations for those who lost their homes in the storms.

(Photo via White House)

Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger

Siblings Steve Staub and Sandy Kepingler started Staub Manufacturing Solutions, a contract manufacturing company specializing in metal fabrication, twenty years ago.  Today, they serve as president and vice president, respectively. Thanks to the “Trump bump” in their business, Staub Manufacturing Solutions has seen an uptick in sales, employment, and optimism. They have grown their team from 23 to 37 employees over the last year and recently expanded by acquiring a new building. Following enactment of the tax cuts and reform legislation last year, they were able to give all their employees larger than expected Christmas bonuses.

(Photo via White House)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

How will Democrats respond?

The Democratic base doesn’t want the party’s elected leaders to cooperate with Trump on issues like immigration. Whether they can find common ground with the president on infrastructure or trade — the party’s left is also inclined to try to protect besieged U.S. industries — remains to be seen.

And then there’s the question of vulnerable Democratic senators in states where Trump won: Will they decide that the electoral math in their states compels them to edge closer to Trump? Or would that only drive off the Democratic base voters they need to win?

Will there be hecklers?

Apart from Skutniks, lawmakers can send other quiet signals. They sit on their hands to show disapproval, or sit with a member of the opposing party to suggest bipartisanship — a gesture that is the political equivalent of a comb-over, in that it looks weird and fools no one.

But things aren’t always quiet in the chamber. When President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on health care in September 2009, Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina interrupted a section on immigrants by twice shouting “You lie!” Wilson later apologized, but the Democrat-held House voted to reprimand him.

Will Trump follow talk with action?

The aftermath of the speech matters as much as what the president says in the chamber. Will the president crisscross the country in favor of his favored initiatives? That sort of travel would double as pre-midterm campaigning. How much work is he prepared to do to advance his legislative proposals?

“And how quickly will he ruin the mood with a bad tweet?” a senior House Republican aide remarked to Yahoo News. The aide requested anonymity to avoid reprisals from the White House.

Presidents have historically not seen much of a public opinion boost from the speech — it’s not a way to pivot or to reset a troubled presidency. And Trump’s approval ratings have tended to tick upwards when he is out of the public eye and his fingers aren’t tweeting.

But because this gives him what is likely to be his largest audience of the year, the pressure is on to stick to the script and make the most of his agenda-setting opportunity.

As of a few days ago, Vice President Mike Pence had about 30 events on his calendar for House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates in 2018. Will the president match that level of energy?

The success of Trump’s legislative agenda may depend on it. And depending on what (if anything) Mueller unearths, keeping Democrats from retaking the House may prove key to saving his presidency.

_____

Read more from YahooNews:

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.