Will Trump snub Melania at State of the Union? President has repeatedly ignored wife's work in big speech

President has never acknowledged Melania's initiative Be Best in a State of the Union address

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Tuesday 04 February 2020 17:33
What is the State of the Union?

When Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union addresses, they typically include a few boastful half-truths, an array of promises for what the future of the country holds, and the usual smattering of political campaigning.

What they have lacked so far, however, is any reference to First Lady Melania’s work as an anti-bullying advocate.

In May 2018, Mrs Trump launched her initiative Be Best, a public awareness campaign focused on well-being for youth, and advocating against cyber-bullying and drug use.

“I feel strongly that as adults, we can and should be best at educating our children about the importance of a healthy and balanced life,” the first lady said of the campaign, which she unveiled 16 months into her husband’s presidency.

A year later, Mrs Trump expanded the initiative, which she promoted during visits to 15 states and nine countries, to focus on drug abuse in children of all ages - not just those born dependent on opioids and other addictive substances.

However, the president has yet to acknowledge the work of his wife in any of his State of the Union speeches to Congress, despite touching on the opioid epidemic in his 2019 address.

The omission is glaring when considering the State of the Union addresses of past presidents during their respective first, and subsequent, years in office.

In 1993, during what was referred to as President Clinton’s “Address to a Joint Session of Congress,” the then-president discussed the importance of health-care reform and his beliefs that his wife would be successful as chair of the National Commission on Health Care Reform.

Donald Trump claps at his own State of the Union speech

“Later this spring, after the First Lady and the many good people who are helping her all across the country complete their work, I will deliver to Congress a comprehensive plan for health care reform that finally will bring costs under control and provide security to all of our families, so that no one will be denied the coverage they need but so that our economic future will not be compromised either,” he said.

Bill Clinton mentioned his wife’s work in his later State of the Union addresses as well.

When George W Bush took office, he also used his first State of the Union to raise awareness of the work his wife Laura would be undertaking as first lady.

Acknowledging the importance of children’s education, the president said: “We have increased funding to train and recruit teachers, because we know a good education starts with a good teacher.

“And I have a wonderful partner in this effort. I like teachers so much, I married one. Laura has begun a new effort to recruit Americans to the profession that will shape our future: teaching. She will travel across America to promote sound teaching practices and early reading skills in our schools and in programs such as Head Start.”

He also mentioned his wife in his 2005 State of the Union.

Barack Obama was no different, as he too addressed the work of his wife during his first address to Congress as president.

“And, by the way, I want to acknowledge our first lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make kids healthier,” the then-president said. “Thank you, honey.”

Melania Trump on her initiative BeBest whcih aims to 'take care of the next generation'

While it is possible Mr Trump’s decision not to acknowledge his wife’s work had to do with the delay before her initiative was revealed, it may also be because of the nature of the first lady’s goals - which appear to be in contrast with the president’s own use of Twitter.

A former Obama speechwriter quoted by Politico said: "I think his speechwriters know that Donald Trump talking about an anti-bullying initiative is ironic at best, and you don’t want people laughing during the middle of a State of the Union address."

Since announcing the initiative, the irony of Ms Trump being an advocate against cyber-bullying has not been overlooked.

In December 2019, the first lady’s work came to the forefront of the cyber-bullying conversation when she avoided speaking out against her husband’s decision to attack 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg on Twitter.

Rather, a week later, the first lady’s spokesperson Stephanie Grisham released a statement in which it made a distinction between the bullying of Thunberg and the president and first lady’s 13-year-old son Barron.

“BeBest is the First Lady’s initiative, and she will continue to use it to do all she can to help children,” the statement read. “It is no secret that the President and First Lady often communicate differently - as most married couples do.

“Their son is not an activist who travels the globe giving speeches. He is a 13-year-old who wants and deserves privacy.”

With impeachment and the 2020 election now the focus of attention, it seems unlikely that tonight’s State of the Union will make time for an acknowledgement of the first lady’s work.

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