Trump's State of the Union aims for a unifying tone

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump heads into his State of the Union address dogged by bruising midterm losses and sinking poll numbers, wounded by a blistering standoff with Democrats. But for the stately speech, he plans to embrace unity — at least for the night.

"Choosing Greatness" is the official White House theme.

Addressing the nation at the weakest point of his presidency, Trump will seek to use the ceremonial moment to pitch a unifying vision and reset relations with Democrats. The prime-time presidential set-piece Tuesday night comes amid a bitter border wall fight that nearly derailed the speech altogether, but Trump is not expected to dwell on the rancor.

"I really think it's going to be a speech that's going to cover a lot of territory, but part of it's going to be unity," Trump told reporters this week.

While Trump may strive for a unifying tone for the evening, harsh rhetoric has been a constant of his presidency. Previous efforts by Trump to shift gears have been short-lived and have struck many as disingenuous, given the ferocity with which he often takes on Democrats. Even on Friday, Trump was going after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by name, calling her clueless and her ideas dangerous.

In his speech, Trump is expected to highlight rare bipartisan accomplishments from last year and push Democrats to work with him on issues of potential agreement, such as infrastructure, drug prices and vocational training. Still, his recent struggles will be on full display as he addresses a room packed with Democrats and with Pelosi sitting right behind him.

Trump, who loves to build suspense, has teased that he could drop a big announcement in his speech, suggesting Friday he might make news on his threat to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress in his quest to build his long-promised border wall.

"Well, I'm saying listen closely to the State of the Union. I think you'll find it very exciting," he said.

White House speechwriters and policy staffers have been working for weeks on the address, with the president offering considerable input, scribbling notes in his trademark black Sharpie scrawl on drafts of sections prepared by Stephen Miller and other top speechwriters, according to one White House official who, like some others, was not authorized to publicly discuss the speech and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Related: President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address

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President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address
US President Donald Trump listens to applause before the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: First lady Melania Trump arrives for the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (R) looks on as US President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (R) , and US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin look on before the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Jared Kusner and Ivanka Trump attend the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald J. Trump holds a glass of water before he delivers the State of the Union address as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) look on in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) points after being acknowledged during U.S. President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Win McNamee/Pool
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald Trump enters the House of Representatives chamber to deliver his first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by the president and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C), backed by US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan claps as he arrives for his State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller is pictured outside of the White House before President Donald Trump departs for Capitol Hill to deliver the 2018 State of the Union Address on January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald J. Trump arrives for the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (CA) confers with Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) as they makes their way to the House of Representatives Chamber for President Donald Trump's first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
(L-R) US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin speak before the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: (L-R) U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), U.S. Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA) during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
US First Lady Melania Trump waves as she arrives for the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: (L-R) U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Senator Cory Booker (L, D-NJ) waves he awaits the start of the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Eric Trump (L) and his wife, Lara, arrive for the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan point as they await U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. President Donald Trump departs the White House to deliver his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, U.S., January 30 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (C) jokes with other members of Congress on the floor of the House ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) attend the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Win McNamee/Pool
House Oversight Committee Rep. Trey Gowdy (L) talks with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise as they await U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US President Donald Trump (C) arrives for his State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald J. Trump arrives for the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (L) talks with U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R) ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R) talks with Senator Ted Cruz (L) and other members of Congress prior to U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald J. Trump waves during the State of the Union address as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) look on in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) look on in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: First lady Melania Trump arrives for the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner (C-L) and Ivanka Trump clap before the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) point during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. Rep Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) watch during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Robert Mickens, Elizabeth Alvarado, Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, parents of children who were murdered by MS-13 are acknowledged as US President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Donald Trump Jr., Tiffany Trump, Eric Trump and Lara Trump attend the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Donald Trump Jr., Tiffany Trump, Eric Trump and Lara Trump attend the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Parents of Otto Warmbier, Fred and Cindy Warmbier are acknowledged during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Steven Daines (R-MT) take a selfie as they make their way to the House of Representatives Chamber for President Donald Trump's first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and his wife Marcelle make their way to the House of Representatives Chamber for President Donald Trump's first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: First lady Melania Trump looks on as Police officer Ryan Holets and his wife are acknowledged during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Army Staff Sergeant Justin Peck is acknowledged during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump, center, smiles while delivering a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Trump sought to connect his presidency to the nation's prosperity in his first State of the Union address, arguing that the U.S. has arrived at a 'new American moment' of wealth and opportunity. Photographer: Win McNamee/Pool via Bloomberg
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (C) watches during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reacts as she sits with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) listens next to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) during U.S. President Donald Trump's his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Win McNamee/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump's relatives, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, watch during the president's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump takes a sip of water as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Rep. James Clyburn (L), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi react to U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump's relatives, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, watch during the president's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney talks with members of Congress during President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch talk as they attend U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Elzabeth Alvarado, Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, parents of children who were murdered by MS-13 watch as U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, parents of children who were murdered by MS-13 watch as U.S. President Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the first State of the Union address given by U.S. President Donald Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Trump is expected to address the border, continuing to press his case for the wall, but he is also expected to make a bigger pitch about what he sees as his achievements to date and his plans for the rest of the term, said several people familiar with the planning.

Officials were quick to caution that the speech remains a work in progress and stressed that Trump will tinker with it until the final moments. A senior administration official said Trump will focus on five main areas: immigration, trade, infrastructure, drug pricing and national security. He will list what he sees as the dangers of illegal immigration and discuss his efforts to revise trade deals, including the updated agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The president will call on Congress to produce an infrastructure package and support efforts to lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs. And he will discuss military efforts around the world, stressing his interest in ending U.S. engagement in foreign wars.

He's also expected to discuss the political turmoil in Venezuela and trade negotiations with China.

One early excerpt of the speech released by the White House: "Together we can break decades of political stalemate; we can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America's future. The decision is ours to make."

The administration has also been teasing several other announcements, including on the president's planned withdrawal from Syria.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a Fox News interview that the president would "make a significant announcement, I think in the State of the Union next week, with respect of the status of the caliphate, the real estate, the grounds from which (the Islamic State group) had been operating in Syria." Trump tweeted Friday: "We will soon have destroyed 100% of the Caliphate, but will be watching them closely."

And Trump told reporters he would probably be announcing the details of his upcoming second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the speech.

Trump is also expected to seize on recent headlines about late-term abortion amid recent scrutiny of the practice and will talk about "respect for human life," according to the senior administration official.

Bill Galston, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution and former adviser in the Clinton administration, said Trump should look beyond his political base on Tuesday.

"He desperately needs to send a signal to the American people that his administration is open for business, that he is prepared to negotiate on a wide range of issues that might enable him to broaden support," Galston said. He added that after Clinton's losses in the 1994 midterm elections, his State of the Union speeches were "much more conciliatory. ... He was much more interested in overtly laying out the possibility of common ground."

Democrats, meanwhile, intend to use the speech as an opportunity to underscore their opposition to the president and highlight the new generation of leaders that emerged during last year's midterm elections. Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic leader of the the Georgia House of Representatives, will be offering the Democratic rebuttal.

Democrats also intend to send a message with their guests, bringing along federal workers who were affected by the government shutdown as well as Victorina Morales, an immigrant from Guatemala who was in the U.S. illegally and who had worked for Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Democrats are also preparing for the possibility of interrupting the president to make their opposition known — something House Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Trump shouldn't be surprised by.

"I think we ought to comport ourselves in a considered way. But I think his speeches are almost always to fire people up. And he should not be surprised that there is an opposite reaction," Hoyer said. "He fires up his people, but he fires up the opposition to what he's saying or doing or suggesting."

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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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Follow Colvin and Lucey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj and https://twitter.com/catherine_lucey

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