Political Washington will celebrate one of its annual rites tonight when President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a bicameral session of Congress.
Despite the fact that it’s a week later than originally scheduled – due to the government shutdown – tonight’s SOTU will have all the pomp and circumstance of past addresses. There will be standing ovations. There will be paeans to bipartisanship. There will be pre- and post-buttals.
Here are 5 things to keep an eye on.
1. Does Trump use the word “wall”? The sticking point in the ongoing negotiations over funding for the Department of Homeland Security (and other parts of the government) comes down to this: Will Trump accept a deal that doesn’t provide money for a border wall? While he’s said in the past that he doesn’t care if it’s called a “wall” or “Peaches,” of late Trump has demanded money be earmarked for a “wall.” Does that change?
2. Do Republicans *not* applaud Trump at any point? Typically, these speeches are a cheer-fest for the party that controls the White House. If the President burps, his party gives him a standing O. But in recent weeks, congressional Republicans have broken with Trump – most notably over his plan to pull American troops out of Syria. If Trump touts that decision, do Republicans sit on their hands?
3. Does Trump make ANY policy concession to Democrats? “Bipartisanship” is just a word. It means nothing without action – or at least the possibility of action. Does Trump throw Democrats a bipartisan bone – maybe on lowering prescription drug costs or on infrastructure spending? Or just tell them to, uh, be more bipartisan?
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4. What’s Trump’s BIG idea for 2019? The SOTU is usually the chance for a president to take some big swings on issues he wants the Congress to focus on over the next year. What’s the one big ask Trump makes from a policy perspective? Space Force? (“Mars Awaits!”) Or is it the pre-leaked proposal to eliminate HIV transmissions by 2030? Something else?
5. Does Trump stray from the teleprompter? If there is one speech he gives every year where Trump has, generally, stuck to the prewritten text, it’s the SOTU. Freelancing is his way, but it’s hard to go too off-topic in a speech that usually runs for the better part of an hour. That said, Trump is an impulsive guy – and if he’s not getting the response he wants on, say, his wall proposal, he could call an audible.
The Point: Trump, for all his anti-establishment tendencies, loves the SOTU – because the eyes of the country (or at least the political world) are on him. For a performer like Trump, this is a HUGE opportunity.