Five things to watch in Trump's third State of the Union

Five things to watch in Trump's third State of the Union
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE will deliver his third State of the Union address on Tuesday night, giving him an opportunity to tout his policies and accomplishments while pushing for action on legislative priorities.

But the prime-time address will come under the cloud of impeachment, just a day before the GOP-controlled Senate is widely expected to acquit the president of allegations he abused his power and obstructed Congress.

The speech will also provide Trump a national platform to make his case for a second term, nine months before Election Day.

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Here are five things to watch as Trump delivers his third State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.


Does he mention impeachment?

This year’s speech stands apart for Trump, not only because it comes during an election year but also because he will address members of the legislative body that impeached him less than two months ago.

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill and his advisers have recommended he not talk about impeachment and instead focus on his administration’s accomplishments.

The White House has previewed Trump’s address as focusing on the economy, health care and other top issues of concern to working Americans, saying it will strike an optimistic tone.

White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters Tuesday that he had read the speech and that it didn’t explicitly mention “impeachment.” But he did not rule out the possibility of Trump referencing it in some capacity.

“I’ve read through the speech and I’ve not seen the word impeachment,” Gidley said. “As he likes to say, we’ll see what happens. But I haven’t seen it.”

White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamOAN says it will attend briefing as White House guest after violating social distancing rules UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus White House press secretary to return to work after negative virus test MORE said Tuesday morning she doesn’t think Trump should address impeachment, arguing voters are fatigued by the process.

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“I don’t think people want to hear that,” she said. “People want to hear what the president has done for this country and what he is planning to do for this country.”

Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonClintons send pizza to NY hospital staff treating coronavirus Budowsky: President Trump, meet with all former living presidents Why Klobuchar should be Biden's vice presidential pick MORE, the only other president to deliver a State of the Union address in the middle of an impeachment process, did not mention the word in his 1999 speech.

But Trump’s unpredictable style and penchant for using speeches to lash out at Democrats over what he has termed a “witch hunt” has left some convinced that he will mention impeachment in some capacity.


What’s his message to Democrats?

Trump and U.S. presidents before him have used the annual speech to press for bipartisan cooperation on areas of mutual concern, while laying out a vision for their administration’s agenda.

Still, Tuesday’s address comes at an unusually high point of tension between Trump and the Democratic-controlled House. There is also decidedly less promise for bipartisan cooperation in Congress during a presidential election year.

That backdrop has observers wondering whether Trump will focus on areas where his administration can work with Democrats or if he will strike a combative tone amid impeachment.

Trump’s rhetoric during the last two State of the Union speeches was notably toned down compared with his remarks at campaign rallies and other public events. Last year, he sought to appeal to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle by describing his agenda as not Democratic or Republican but one “of the American people.”

At the same time, Trump went on to advocate for some of his more controversial policies — on immigration and border security — while warning Democrats against pursuing “ridiculous partisan investigations.”


Does he roll out any major legislative proposals or surprises?

White House officials have been guarded about the specifics of Trump’s speech, leaving open the possibility he could deliver an unexpected announcement.

Trump could look to make a renewed push on pursuing an infrastructure package, lowering prescription drug costs or another area that has bipartisan support.

A senior administration official said in a preview of the speech last week that Trump would call on Congress to support a number of administration initiatives already in the works, such as offering school choice, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and eliminating “surprise” medical billing.

Asked if the speech would feature any “big ticket” policy items, the official said it would depend on one’s definition of “big ticket.”

One area where Trump may make news is foreign policy. The official gave few specifics about what Trump would cover in discussing national security and military efforts, but the president has spoken frequently about wanting to bring U.S. troops home from overseas.


How much does Trump focus on the 2020 election?

The November presidential election will loom large over Tuesday’s speech.

Trump will use his address to make the case to voters that his accomplishments and vision for moving forward warrant a second term. That message will be delivered in the presence of a handful of lawmakers vying for the Democratic presidential nomination and the chance to challenge Trump in November.

Others, however, will be on the campaign trail. Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report We're at war and need wartime institutions to keep our economy producing what's necessary Larry David: Bernie Sanders should drop out of 2020 race MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (D-Mass.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBiden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Democrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout Hillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus MORE (D-Minn.) are expected to skip the address to campaign in New Hampshire ahead of that state’s Feb. 11 primary.

Trump may not mention any of the candidates by name, but he is likely to wade into the race indirectly by taking jabs at progressives such as Sanders and Warren and painting proposals like “Medicare for All” as socialist.

The president spent Tuesday morning repeatedly chiding Democrats for the Iowa caucus debacle, where the state Democratic Party cited issues with an app at precincts for the delay in releasing the final results. The majority of the caucus results are now expected at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, just four hours before Trump’s speech.

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How will the speech be received?

The partisan split in Washington means the reaction to Trump’s speech will largely fall along party lines, with Democrats picking out points of criticism and Republicans praising the highlights.

Trump is expected to mention some of his more controversial policy positions, such as his crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities — those that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities — and will draw a “sharp contrast” with health care proposals put forth by Democrats, according to the senior administration official.

Still, a more tempered address that makes a pitch for bipartisanship and does not include attacks on political foes may earn Trump some credit among Democrats — even amid soaring tensions and impeachment.

Trump will deliver the State of the Union address to a crowd of some of his most prominent critics in Congress, including House Democrats who played significant roles in his impeachment, chief among them Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Pelosi, Democrats using coronavirus to push for big tax cuts for blue state residents US watchdog vows 'aggressive' oversight after intel official fired MORE (D-Calif.), who will sit behind the president during the speech.

But the audience will also boast some of Trump’s fiercest congressional allies who have defended him amid the impeachment inquiry that began last fall.

Updated at 1:37 p.m.