WASHINGTON (AP) — The state of the union is …
Great again? Or not quite?
A year into his presidency, President Donald Trump stands before the nation Tuesday night to account for his promise to “make America great again” amid talk of a rising threat of nuclear war and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Trump’s 2016 campaign and potential obstruction of justice.
For both parties, the speech operates like the pop of a starting gun for the midterm elections, when Republicans will defend their majorities in the House and Senate.
A look at what to watch:
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday previewed the speech by describing the state of the union as “incredible.”
But will the hyperbole-loving president tone down his bombastic speaking style a bit? The White House is setting expectations as close to “yes” as possible — but only for as long as the speech itself lasts. Expect the president to cast the tax overhaul he signed in December and the strong economy as Trump initiatives that help all Americans. Thematically, Trump is expected to speak of having built the foundation for a safer and stronger nation.
But can Trump stay on message — and off Twitter — after the reviews come in?
THE ELEPHANT IN THE CHAMBER
Will Trump make any mention of Mueller’s probe of Russian connections and obstruction of justice, or his own expressed willingness to be interviewed under oath? Trump told reporters last week he’d “love” to be interviewed under oath about the matter. But his lawyers didn’t seem as enthusiastic and are still negotiating.
First lady Melania Trump will face extra scrutiny this year — and not just because of the former model’s fashionable couture.
Mrs. Trump’s movements have been closely watched ever since The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the president’s lawyer had arranged a payment to an adult film star, Stormy Daniels, to keep her from talking about an alleged 2006 affair with the future president. The couple’s 13th wedding anniversary passed without public comment last week, and Mrs. Trump abruptly announced she was skipping a trip with her husband to an economic summit last week in Switzerland.
Often who is in the chamber reflects the president’s priorities. Seated around Mrs. Trump will be more than a dozen guests, including small-business owners, beneficiaries of tax relief, victims of gang violence and a police officer who adopted a baby from parents addicted to opioids.
Democrats are strategically populating their guest lists, too — with faces of the immigration debate that is roiling Congress and vexing Trump. Their guests will include immigrants who are among the nearly 700,000 people who received protection from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump canceled the program last year but gave Congress until March to come up with a legislative fix.
Only four Supreme Court justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch, are expected at the speech. Roberts, Breyer and Kagan regularly attend, as do justices appointed by the president who is speaking. Trump nominated Gorsuch a year ago.
Traditionally, one member of the Cabinet stays away from the address for security reasons. Justice Samuel Alito, who shook his head and mouthed “not true” at President Barack Obama during the 2010 State of the Union speech, has not attended a presidential address since. And Clarence Thomas hasn’t been in years..
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s long-standing travel plans have him in California, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in Rhode Island and Justice Sonia Sotomayor is in Panama.
Some Democratic lawmakers also plan to boycott the president’s address.
WHAT THEY WEAR
Typically, some female lawmakers wear bright colors so they will stand out on television. But this year, several Democratic women plan to wear black to protest sexual harassment after a season of scandals toppled male leaders across industries. Congress is no exception: Accusations have forced resignations and retirements in both parties. Trump, too, has faced sexual assault allegations.
YOUR NAME HERE
Looking for a little publicity? The speech will be a your-name-here opportunity for campaign donors. The Trump campaign said donors who chip in before the speech can have their names “displayed right under the livestream” of the speech on the campaign website.
Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts will deliver the Democratic response to the president’s address. He is the grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy, the senator and U.S. attorney general, and the son of former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, who served in the House from 1987 to 1999. Democratic leaders are pitching Kennedy as someone who can champion Democratic policies to the middle class.
THEN THIS HAPPENS
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is scheduled to appear on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! following Trump’s address. She said she had an affair with Trump shortly after he married Melania Trump.