Friday 24 May, 2019

Trump’s State of the Union: What to expect

In this 28 February 2017 image, President Donald Trump addresses Congress, as Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud.

In this 28 February 2017 image, President Donald Trump addresses Congress, as Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud.

President Donald Trump will praise a robust economy and push for bipartisan congressional action on immigration in Tuesday night's State of the Union address (at 21:00 EST), as he seeks to rally a deeply divided nation and boost his own sagging standing with Americans.

The speech marks the ceremonial kickoff of Trump's second year in office and is traditionally a president's biggest platform to speak to the nation.

However, Trump has redefined presidential communications with his high-octane, filter-free Twitter account and there's no guarantee that the carefully crafted speech will resonate beyond his next tweet.

Trump was quiet on Tuesday on Twitter, and the White House sought to focus attention on his big speech to Congress and millions of Americans watching at home.

Focus on the economy

While stocks have been falling this week, the economy has been strong and White House officials are hopeful the president can use the prime-time address to take credit.

Though the trajectory of lower unemployment and higher growth began under his predecessor, Trump argues that the tax overhaul he signed into law late last year has boosted business confidence and will lead companies to reinvest in the United States.

Considering the strength of the economy, Trump will step before lawmakers on Tuesday night in a remarkably weak position. His approval rating has hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency and at the close of 2017, just 3 in 10 Americans said the United States was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

It's unlikely Trump will be able to rely on a robust legislative agenda to reverse those numbers in 2018. Congress has struggled with the basic function of funding the government, prompting a brief government shutdown earlier this month that was resolved only with a short-term fix that pushed the spending deadline to 8 February.

Dreamers debate

Republicans and Democrats are also wrestling with the future of some 700,000 young immigrants living in the United States illegally. Trump has vowed to protect the so-called Dreamers from deportation, but is also calling for changes to legal immigration that are controversial with both parties.

Though Democrats are eager to reach a resolution for the young immigrants, the party is hardly in the mood to compromise with Trump ahead of the midterm elections. Lawmakers see Trump's unpopularity as a key to their success in November, and are eager to mobilise Democratic voters itching to deliver the president and his party a defeat at the ballot box.

Boycotts, and the First Lady

Democrats are also looking to make their mark in other ways. A handful of lawmakers are planning to boycott the president's remarks. And several Democratic women plan to wear black to protest sexual harassment, an issue that has tarnished several lawmakers in both parties.

Trump himself has been accused of assault or harassment by more than a dozen women, accusations he has denied. The Wall Street Journal reported this month that the president's lawyer arranged a payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, to prevent her from talking about her alleged encounter with the future president.

First Lady Melania Trump, who has largely stayed out of the spotlight following those allegations, will attend Tuesday's address, according to the White House.

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