What Trump could say in his State of the Union address amid impeachment trial

'Even if he has an A+ night, there won't be any halo that lasts,' Dem strategist says

John T. Bennett
Monday 03 February 2020 19:09 GMT
Donald Trump and Michael Bloomber face off in rival Super Bowl

Donald Trump will face his accusers on Tuesday night, offering him an opportunity to turn his annual State of the Union address into a score-settling spectacle.

A common conversation piece in Washington as Mr Trump prepares to address a joint session of Congress for the fourth time is a simple question. Can he resist? Meaning: Will the president, so clearly agitated by House Democrats' impeachment inquiry and the ongoing Senate trial that on Wednesday will conclude with his expected acquittal, be able to stop himself from going after the lawmakers who rebuked him?

The president teed off on Democrats during an interview with Fox News that aired on Sunday afternoon ahead of the Super Bowl.

"Well I'd like to, but it's pretty hard when you think about it because it's been such, I use the word witch-hunt, I use the word hoax," he said when asked if he can work with Democrats on legislation even after they impeached him.

"I see the hatred.... They don't care about fairness, they don't care about lying. You look at the lies, you look at the reports that were done that were so false," a clearly agitated president said of Democrats. "The level of hypocrisy. So I'm not sure that they can do it, to be honest. I think they just want to win, and it doesn't matter how they win."

But just because Mr Trump could use the stage to further slam his political foes does not guarantee he will. "We're gonna talk about the achievements that we've made. Nobody has made achievements like we've made, so many different things," he told Fox when asked about the speech.

Here is what Mr Trump could say – and what he is more likely to say.

What he could say: Mr Trump could launch right into the impeachment saga, criticising Democrats for prioritising his rebuke and the weeks Democrats spent on their investigation of his actions towards Ukraine. The speech gives him a chance to describe the House under Speaker Nancy Pelosi as fundamentally broken and driven by politics.

Nancy Pelosi applauds Donald Trump during the 2019 State of the Union address
Nancy Pelosi applauds Donald Trump during the 2019 State of the Union address (Getty Images)

The president could deliver a stinging rebuttal right to House Democrats' faces, with Ms Pelosi sitting a few feet behind him. And follow it with a congressional reform proposal. He could lay out a blueprint to voters – such a plan would be going nowhere on Capitol Hill – that he could sell as intended to get the House back to working on meaningful and bipartisan legislation.

But it's unlikely. A White House official who previewed Mr Trump's speech made clear it will be mostly backward-looking, emphasising what the president has done as he seeks a second term.

What he probably will say: It is unlikely the president will completely ignore the impeachment matter.

The senior official declined to forecast any fireworks, saying Friday's briefing would not include any "preview if he's gonna call anybody out". But, notably, the official would not rule it out, telling reporters Mr Trump would be plenty "comfortable" going after any political foes in the room.

What the official said the president definitely intends to do, among other things, is urge politicians to match what he will describe as his own "relentless optimism", while also calling them out for what he will dub "unjust pessimism" from congressional Democrats that has stymied major legislation since he took office in early 2017.

Echoing his campaign-trail message since he began to pivot towards his bid for a second term last year, Mr Trump has settled on "the great American comeback" as the basis for his State of the Union remarks, the senior administration official said.

Because Mr Trump thinks of politics first, second and third, there will be other echoes of the campaigner in chief. For instance, the president intends to offer a "contrast" and a "sharp difference" to what he regularly describes as Democrats' core philosophy: "socialism".

The president went a step further in the Fox interview: "Well, I think he's a communist. I mean you know, look. I think of communism when I think of Bernie," he said, referring to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who has surged to the top of polls in Democrats' presidential primary. "I think of Bernie sort of as a socialist, but far beyond a socialist."

Expect plugs for his recent trade deal with China, and the one he finalised with Canada and Mexico to replace NAFTA.

But several sources say they do not expect Mr Trump to lay out the kind of ambitious policy proposals other presidents have when address joint sessions.

One Democratic strategist who has played a role in multiple state of the union processes sees little reason for the president to lay out an ambitious agenda. "Perhaps counter-intuitively, the stakes aren't that high for him. He'll walk up to that dais with the least amount of credibility and stature of any US president in modern history," said one Democratic operative. "Even if he has an A+ night, there won't be any halo that lasts."

There are few expectations that Mr Trump will deviate from the playbook from which he has operated since taking office, one that is focused exclusively on his conservative political base.

"And if he's his typical divisive and crude persona, it just hardens the narrative that he's unfit for that office," the Democratic strategist added. "In other words, I'm not sure there's anything he can say that changes the calculus in Washington, this year's agenda, or his own fate."

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