Feb 4, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's mid-impeachment State of the Union

Trump at last year's State of the Union address. Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump will address the nation Tuesday night in the same room Democrats voted to impeach him less than two months ago, and a day before he is expected to be acquitted in the Senate.

Flashback: 21 years ago, former President Bill Clinton found himself in the same situation, addressing a country in the midst of a bitter impeachment battle. Clinton avoided using the I-word in his 78-minute speech, sticking with his commitment to focus on doing the work of a president, despite members' attempts to remove him from office.

What we're watching: The big question is whether Trump follows Clinton’s lead, and not only focuses on his forthcoming agenda and recent accomplishments — like passing USMCA and signing "phase one" of the U.S.-China trade deal — but also fights the urge to take a premature victory lap on surviving impeachment.

What they're saying: Not one Republican senator Axios spoke with on Monday said they think Trump should bring up impeachment.

  • Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana: "I think we've been talking about it for so long, and I think he needs to stick with the agenda. And he'll do quite well. ... I'd say health care is number one."
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana: "I think that our country is dying for bipartisanship. And so, if he can stress those things that we can all agree upon: How do we lower the cost of health care? How do we do an infrastructure package? ... I think those are all things that he'd be wise to speak to."
  • Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida: "I wouldn’t [bring up impeachment]. ... We haven't taken the vote yet and I think he has a lot of positive things to talk about. ... I just think there's no way you talk about impeachment and that not be the takeaway."

Our thought bubble: Trump has a lot of fodder to boast about tonight — from taking out ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian general Qassem Soleimani to rolling out his Middle East peace deal.

  • But some Hill Republicans and administration officials tell Axios they don’t think Trump can help himself, and will resort to attacking Democrats on impeachment, like he has on the campaign trail and on Twitter.

What to watch: Administration officials say Trump will spend a decent portion of his address spotlighting his special guests in the audience.

  • Last year, he invited famous astronaut Buzz Aldrin, brain cancer patient Grace Eline, and Alice Johnson, a woman to whom he had recently granted clemency, among others.

Go deeper: Jamal Khashoggi's fiancée to attend State of the Union

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What to expect from Trump's State of the Union address

Trump walking out to deliver his 2019 State of the Union address. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

President Trump will give his third State of the Union address tonight at 9 p.m. ET, seven weeks after he was impeached by the House of Representatives and one day before he's set to be acquitted by the Senate.

Why it matters: The president typically strikes a more measured tone during formal, teleprompter-guided speeches like the State of the Union, but all bets could be off as an emboldened Trump looks ahead to a scorched earth election campaign.

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Kissinger and Trump, two men who know a thing or two about impeachment. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Historical analyses of President Trump's impeachment will note that it coincided with a tumultuous four months in U.S. foreign policy.

Between the lines: It’s impossible to evaluate exactly if and how impeachment affected Trump's calculus along the way — but it certainly affected his predecessors.

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