Uniting Fractured Country: Trump's Challenge In First State Of Union Talk

President Donald Trump will give his first State of the Union address at 9 p.m. Eastern time, in which he is expected to talk up the U.S. economy and call for bipartisanship – after a year in office during which his aggressive, mercurial politics often overshadowed the former and undermined the latter.

“I want to see our country united. I want to bring our country back from a tremendous divisiveness,” Trump told a group of television journalists Tuesday at the White House, according to PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor.

On Monday, Trump said he would use part of the speech to call for a bipartisan deal on immigration. A few days earlier, he proposed a deal that would allow “dreamers” – young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children – to be given a path to citizenship, in exchange for an increase in border-security funding and large cuts to legal immigration.

“The Republicans really don’t have the votes to get it done in any other way. So it has to be bipartisan,” the president told reporters Monday, after a swearing-in ceremony for Alex Azar as the new secretary of health and human services.

Yet in the hours leading up to Trump’s address Tuesday, Washington seemed even more fervently divided – over immigration and a House Intelligence Committee “memo” that purportedly raises questions about federal investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Many Republicans have used that memo, which was written by staff members of the committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., as a reason to question the validity of scrutiny of Trump and his staff by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The divisions over immigration will be visible in the gallery that overlooks the House chamber. More than 50 Democratic lawmakers have invited “dreamers” to attend as guests to dramatize their demand for legal status. In response, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, Ariz., tweeted that he had asked the Capitol Police to check all guests’ IDs, and arrest “any illegal aliens in attendance.”

In Trump’s box, he has invited guests who will highlight the threat posed by MS-13, a criminal gang active in both the United States and Central America. Trump’s guests will include a federal immigration agent who has investigated the gang, and two sets of parents whose children were killed by MS-13 members.

Trump’s economic adviser, Gary Cohn, has also said that Trump will tout a massive plan to build infrastructure across the country, including proposals to slash back the lengthy environmental-review process some projects might face.

Trump will walk into the House chamber on Tuesday with an approval rating around 39 percent. That’s the lowest of any recent president at this point in his first term, going back to Harry S. Truman, according to the poll-aggregation site fivethirtyeight.com.

The divisions have changed even one of the most durable Washington traditions: the president’s triumphant walk down the House’s center aisle, shaking hands with lawmakers from both sides. Some Democrats who had traditionally staked out seats along the aisle have said this year that they won’t do it.

In the audience, some female Democrats have said they will be wearing black as a signal of their support for the #MeToo movement, raising awareness to combat sexual misconduct. A number of Republican women have said they will wear red, white and blue to show support for the U.S. military.

Trump faces a difficult political task: to reverse his approval numbers and refocus the public on the massive tax cuts pushed through by the GOP late last year.

He speaks at a time when Democrats feel increasingly confident – having won a series of special elections in Trump’s heartland, including a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama.

But that task will require more than simply reading a speech Tuesday. It will require Trump to focus on the GOP’s message and avoid distracting or damaging battles with the targets he’s favored so far: celebrities, federal law-enforcement officials and his own Cabinet members.

Last year, he couldn’t do it.

About a year ago, Trump gave his first address to a joint session of Congress – technically, not a “State of the Union” address – which was widely praised as his most “presidential” moment in office.

A few days later, Trump accused former President Barack Obama of having Trump’s “wires tapped” in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. He gave no evidence, and the FBI director later said there was “no information” to support Trump’s accusation.

“Success in the midterm hinges on selling the tax bill to the American people,” one senior Republican strategist told The Washington Post this week. “To do that successfully, we need the president and the White House making the case every day instead of every sixth day.”‘

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This year, a CNN report indicates that Trump may already be planning a move that would distract from his State of the Union message – authorizing the release of the GOP memo that casts aspersions on the FBI’s investigation of Trump.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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