Feb 5, 2019

What to expect at Trump's second State of the Union

A lighting crew sets up TV lights in Statuary Hall. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Taking advantage of what's likely to be his largest audience of the year, President Trump plans to use tonight's State of the Union address to pitch an unlikely message of bipartisanship and to sell policy ideas that his advisers think can be "70-30" issues across the country.

The big picture: The theme of the speech will be "choosing American greatness" — with the subtext being Trump's argument that Democrats should abandon their resistance against him and work together on a few things they should be able to agree on.

White House officials gave a detailed preview last evening to conservative allies, including policy experts and media commentators. Trump and Vice President Pence dropped by, attendees say.

  1. A big part will go to foreign policy, and diplomatic and military efforts abroad, including Trump's drive to exit "endless foreign wars" and his push for regime change in Venezuela.
  2. Trump will renew his push to lower prescription drug prices — likely one of his few applause lines for Democrats — and to mitigate the opioid epidemic.
  3. Administration officials say he plans to tie health and drug policy to immigration and the border, arguing that drugs are pouring across.
  4. Trump will cast his trade agenda through the eyes of American workers, contending that he'll put American priorities first.
  5. He'll also push on infrastructure spending, an early part of his agenda that fell as a priority.

In the new Democratic House, Trump's biggest applause line of the night may come when he greets Speaker Pelosi, sitting behind him, as "Madam Speaker."

  • Past that, Democrats are skeptical of the message of unity and bipartisanship that underpins White House previews of the speech.
  • "The message is fine," said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank. "The messenger is preposterous."
  • "I guarantee that by 10 a.m. tomorrow, he'll do something that's 100% at odds with the spirit of the speech."

Between the lines: The 2020 Democratic guest list says a lot about the messaging, Axios' Alexi McCammond notes.

  • Sen. Cory Booker invited a former prisoner from Chicago who was released by the bipartisan criminal justice reform First Step Act that became law in December.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand invited a transgender Navy lieutenant commander who would be affected by Trump's ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris invited a woman who lost her home in the Thomas Fire in California and is an air traffic control specialist who was furloughed during the shutdown.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren invited a federal employee who was furloughed during the recent government shutdown.
  • Go deeper on the guest lists

The bottom line: Don't expect to get to bed early. Trump's speech last year was the 3rd-longest State of the Union in history at 80 minutes, just 9 shy of the record set by Bill Clinton.

Go deeper: Bookmark this link for our full State of the Union coverage

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