On Tuesday night, President Trump will deliver what is technically his first State of the Union address. Since he became president during his address to a joint session of Congress 11 months ago, he’s going to have a hard time topping himself this year. Adding to the drama: The White House has offered few details about what policies the president plans to roll out, Democrats are packing the audience with various people Trump wronged or insulted, and the First Lady is said to be miffed at her husband over reports that he had an affair with a porn star. And to think, we used to get excited about Joe Biden’s background antics. Here’s what we know about Trump’s address.
When Is the Speech?
The speech will start at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and while there’s no set length, it’s expected to run about an hour (President Clinton holds the record for the longest SOTU, speaking for 89 minutes).
The speech will air on every major TV network, and will stream online at CSPAN, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. You can also check out the livestream on Trump’s campaign website if you’d like to watch the address as donor’s names flash on your screen. A fundraising solicitation that went out on Monday offered to display the names of those who donated at least $35.
“This is a movement,” the offer said. “It’s not about just one of us. It’s about ALL of us. Which is why your name deserves to be displayed during Tuesday night’s speech.”
What’s in the Speech?
Unlike the Obama administration, which experimented with unveiling the president’s laundry list of policy proposals before the big speech, the Trump team is keeping things vague. During a briefing on Friday, a senior administration official told reporters few details would be given to avoid getting “ahead of the president’s speech.” The president is adhering to this plan a little too well; while he had time to attack Jay-Z on Twitter last weekend, he’s yet to plug his address to his millions of followers.
Here’s what we do know: the official theme is “building a safe, strong, and proud America,” and there are five main topics: jobs and the economy, infrastructure, immigration, trade, and national security. Trump is expected to point to the strength of the economy as evidence that his tax and regulatory cuts have been successful. Supposedly he will offer some detail on his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, which he originally promised to tackle in his first 100 days. Trump repeatedly derailed his own infrastructure efforts, most recently when he declared he doesn’t care for public-private partnerships, the cornerstone of his administration’s strategy at the time.
During an unrelated event on Monday, Trump indicated that he’ll nudge Congress to work out an immigration compromise. “For many, many years,” Trump said, lawmakers have “been talking about immigration and they never got anything done. We’re going to get something done — we hope. It’s got to be bipartisan because the Republicans really don’t have the votes to get it done in any other way.” He said he hopes some Democrats will join them so they can “really do something great for DACA and for immigration generally.”
A senior administration official promised an “optimistic” tone and said the president would “speak from the heart” and “unite us in patriotism.” According to the New York Times, that has some Trump supporters worried that the address will be too soft and cater to the “swamp” — though Stephen “American carnage” Miller is leading the speechwriting team.
Newt Gingrich said the president (who spent much of the last month attacking lawmakers over his “shithole countries” remark and the ensuing government shutdown) has already been shifting to less combative rhetoric.
“They’re moving a little bit from ‘Trump the fighter’ to ‘Trump the winner,’” Gingrich said Monday. “There’s more of a sense of, ‘Look, I’m the president of the United States. I don’t need to pick a fight.’”
The left is already bracing for a repeat of last year, when Trump’s performance prompted liberal pundit Van Jones to declare that he “did something tonight that you cannot take away from him — he became president of the United States.” The Times’ Michelle Goldberg wrote:
I’m begging my fellow pundits not to get too excited should Trump manage to read from a teleprompter without foaming at the mouth or saying anything overtly racist. No matter how well Trump delivers the lines in his State of the Union — announced theme: “Building a safe, strong and proud America” — he will not become presidential. There will be no turning of corners or uniting the country. At best, Trump will succeed in impersonating a minimally competent leader for roughly the length of an episode of “The Apprentice.” And if he does, recent history suggests that he will be praised as the second coming of Lincoln.
The First Lady. Usually this would not be news, but last week Melania Trump canceled plans to accompany her husband to Davos at the last minute, and made impromptu visits to the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Mar-a-Lago on her own. The Times reports that she was blindsided by reports that her husband had an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels while she was pregnant with their son Barron, and later had her paid off. Now she is said to be furious with her husband.
However she will reemerge on Tuesday night, watching the State of the Union with Trump’s four adult children, and 15 honored guests. The list includes a home buyer who benefitted from Trump’s tax cuts, a Marine Corps veteran who lost his legs and eyesight when he stepped on an IED in Iraq, a police officer who adopted a baby born to opioid-addicted parents, an ICE agent whose investigations led to the arrest of more than 100 MS-13 members, the parents of two teen girls killed by MS-13, and the founder of the Cajun Navy, which conducted rescues during Hurricane Harvey last year.
Members of Congress are allowed to bring guests as well, and many are using their invitations to highlight their opposition to the Trump administration. More than a dozen people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will be in attendance, as well as several Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status recipients. Others are bringing immigrants from nations Trump described as “shithole countries.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is bringing Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan who feuded with Trump.
Several lawmakers invited transgender troops.
One surprisingly controversial guest: Bill Nye. More than 33,000 people signed a petition urging “The Science Guy” not to attend because he was invited by Representative Jim Bridenstine, Trump’s controversial pick to head NASA. The Oklahoma Republican once railed against researching how humans contribute to climate change, but he recently changed his position, saying he thinks humans are causing global warming, but aren’t necessarily the primary culprit. Nye, who is CEO of the space exploration NGO the Planetary Society, defended his decision on Twitter.
Who Isn’t Coming
Taking a cue from the Golden Globes, a number of Democrats are planning to wear black to the State of the Union to show solidarity with victims of sexual assault and harassment. At least 11 Democratic lawmakers are boycotting the event, which is far fewer than the 60 who refused to show up for Trump’s inauguration. The no-shows at this year’s speech include Representatives John Lewis, Maxine Waters, and Frederica Wilson.
“To go would be to honor the president and I don’t think he deserves to be honored at this time, after being so hateful towards black people and then black countries, Haiti and the whole continent of Africa,” said the Florida congresswoman, who clashed with Trump over his remarks to the widow of a U.S. serviceman killed in Niger.
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s likely absence has also been noted. Ginsburg is currently on a speaking tour and is scheduled to be in Rhode Island on Tuesday. It’s not unusual for justices to skip State of the Union speeches, but Ginsburg will be skipping a second Trump event after attending all of Obama’s congressional addresses.
What Happens After the Speech?
There will be no fewer than five responses to President Trump’s State of the Union. Representative Joe Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy who has had a number of anti-Trump speeches go viral, will deliver the official Democratic response. Senator Bernie Sanders will deliver his own response, as he did last year. Elizabeth Guzman, an immigrant from Peru who was recently elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates, will deliver the Spanish-language response. Representative Donna Edwards will comment on behalf of the Working Families Party, and Representative Maxine Waters, who is boycotting the speech, will respond on BET.
President Trump is expected to tour the country in the coming days to promote ideas introduced on Tuesday night, but as with many elements of the State of the Union, the White House has yet to provide details.