Donald Trump’s annual State of the Union address will bring him face-to-face with Nancy Pelosi, reportedly for the first time since an incendiary meeting in which he called her a “third-rate politician” and Democrats stormed out.
The House Speaker described the president as having a “meltdown” at the October meeting – which came just weeks after she called the impeachment inquiry, and hours after the House voted overwhelmingly to condemn his decision to pull troops out of northern Syria.
Mr Trump then tried to mock Ms Pelosi using an image of her admonishing him across the Cabinet Room table, captioning it: “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown.” Ms Pelosi adopted it as her Twitter cover photo.
Despite months of impeachment drama, accompanied by a string of blistering attacks emanating from the president’s Twitter account at “Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats” and “Crazy Nancy”, Ms Pelosi’s aides told CNN the pair have not directly crossed paths since the meeting.
Mr Trump is expected to promote bipartisan unity and “relentless optimism” in his State of the Union address.
But many predict he may be unable to resist complaining about the impeachment proceedings and making barbs at Democrats, particularly in the wake of the DNC’s Iowa caucuses debacle, in which he himself soared to victory.
The theme of Mr Trump’s annual address – his last unless re-elected for a second term – will be “the great American comeback”, which appears to be how Mr Trump and his allies view his near-inevitable acquittal on Wednesday after six months of heavy, often paralysing scrutiny.
The White House has promised “can-do optimism in the face of unjustified pessimism we are hearing from some in Congress”.
“We’re really looking to giving a very, very positive message,” Mr Trump told reporters during a Super Bowl party at his Florida golf club on Sunday.
Mr Trump will likely highlight the strength of the US economy and promote his efforts to limit migrants from crossing the US-Mexico border. He will also likely congratulate himself about the death of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.
But key allies have urged him to take the high road by not mentioning his impeachment, which he has often declared a “witch hunt”.
“I hope he will smother people with the milk of human kindness,” said Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and strong Trump supporter.
Mr Roberts said “some of us have urged” the president – who in his 2019 address lashed out at Robert Mueller and Democrats with thinly veiled references to “ridiculous partisan investigations” – to appear gracious about his impeachment.
Lindsey Graham, who has staunchly defended the president in recent months, said it would be “smart” for him to focus on other issues and suggested “most people” are ready to move on, adding: “I hope he is too, because I am.”
“I wouldn’t [bring up impeachment],” Marco Rubio told Axios. “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.”
But Democrats braced for attacks.
“I’d be surprised if he wasn’t bombastic and self-congratulatory,” Senator Chris Murphy told the Washington Post. “I’d be surprised if he didn’t take potshots at the press and Democrats and the impeachment managers. My expectations are so low these days.”
Ms Pelosi told the New York Times the House would treat him “as a guest ... and we hope he will behave as a guest”, before adding: “I think the spotlight that is on him will be very hot for him to handle.”
The dynamic between the pair has changed somewhat since Mr Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address.
Mr Trump had been recently humbled as Democrats seized the House. In her new role as House Speaker, Ms Pelosi had postponed his State of the Union address, before effectively convincing him to end his partial government shutdown without granting him funding for his US-Mexico border wall.
Adding further insult, during the president’s most watched TV moment of the year, Ms Pelosi stood up from her seat behind him to sarcastically applaud his calls to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution, and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good”.
But 12 months later, Mr Trump appears arguably unscathed from his impeachment, on the verge of acquittal, with new Gallup polling on Monday delivering his highest approval rating since taking office, hitting 49 per cent.
On Monday, Mr Trump secured 97 per cent of the Republican vote in the Iowa caucuses, while the Democratic event descended into farce, after “inconsistencies” led to a disastrous delay in reporting the results.
“The Democrat Caucus is an unmitigated disaster. Nothing works, just like they ran the Country,” Mr Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning, as those around Mr Trump wondered whether he would stick to the script hours later.
White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley said he’d seen the speech, adding: “I’ve not seen the word ‘impeachment’. But, as the president likes to say, we’ll see what happens.”
Additional reporting by agencies
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies