What to expect from Trump’s State of the Union address

White House officials say economy and immigration issues to be addressed in his remarks.

Donald Trump
Polls show Trump's approval rating among women is almost twice as low as the three previous presidents one year into their presidency [File: Reuters]

United States President Donald Trump impressed a lot of people when he addressed Congress for the first time in February 2017.

His speech to lawmakers was measured, bipartisan and considered by many people to be a success.

It was a contrast to his inauguration remarks just a month before, which were criticised for their partisan, angry tone decrying things like, “the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives” and included this memorable, and controversial, line about the state of the country: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

On Tuesday, he will deliver his first State of the Union address to Congress.

Officially, the US Constitution defines the remarks as something the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress … and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

But over time, the televised speeches have become real snoozefests.

Presidents often list off their accomplishments and look to the year ahead to describe their priorities. In Trump’s hands, however, will that change?

In his first year, he has used public remarks to attack National Football League (NFL) players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality, railed against “criminal aliens” (undocumented immigrants) and even demanded people give him a standing ovation, as he did in Nashville in December.

“My guess is that he’ll largely stick to his script,” says Chris Galdieri, an associate professor of politics at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

“Trump being Trump, though, he’s likely to undercut that within a few days of the speech,” Galdieri said.

John Hudak, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, thinks this is a good time for Trump to put aside the bombast and name-calling that have been a hallmark of his first year.

“He needs to think about the broader American electorate with whom he has had a struggle in his first year connecting with,” said Hudak. 

One of those groups of voters is women. Polls show his approval rating amongst women is almost twice as low as the three previous presidents at the same point in their presidency. 

And, in spite of the burgeoning #MeToo movement, which has seen men in Hollywood, business and on Capitol Hill lose their jobs over charges of sexual misconduct, it is doubtful Trump will address those concerns. He has been accused of sexual harassment by at least 19 women.

“I think that’s a mistake,” says Camille Busette, director of the Race, Prosperity and Inclusion Initiative at Brookings.

“He’s going to neglect those people who are going to be pretty central when we come to the November midterm elections.”

One of the topics he won’t be avoiding, according to White House officials, is his $1-trillion plan to upgrade US roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. That could win him points on both sides of the aisle.

The historic tax overhaul, passed in December by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by Trump, will also be a theme. The new law lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent and increases the number of deductions individuals and families can make.

But it also repeals a key part of the health care insurance law passed under former President Barack Obama, known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or more commonly as “Obamacare”.

The repeal of the so-called individual mandate, which requires people to get health insurance, has been widely criticised as a death knell for Obamacare.

The booming US economy – including growth which has added an average of 174,000 jobs per month under Trump, decreasing unemployment (from 4.8 to 4.1 per cent) and a stock market that hit a record 26,000 points on the Dow Jones Industrial Average – will also make its way into his remarks, according to administration officials.

‘What he has done for markets is amazing’

Many of his supporters want him to focus on the economy, too.

“What he has done for the financial markets is amazing,” says Kathy Miller, a Canfield, Ohio real estate agent who campaigned for Trump.

“It has put a smile on my face and the faces of all my friends who have retirement accounts.”

Julie Pickering, 53, a retired registered nurse from Hattiesburg, Mississippi agrees, tying it to another important topic for his backers: immigration.

“We are giving breaks to people who are here illegally and not many breaks for Americans,” she said.

Indeed, illegal immigration, the subject of much debate in the US lately, tops many people’s lists of things Trump needs to address head-on.

According to officials, Trump will talk about his recent proposal that includes $25bn for his infamous wall along the southern border with Mexico to keep undocumented immigrants out. His plan also includes a controversial fix for undocumented children brought into the US illegally by their parents.

Under the current rules, anyone brought into the US before their 16th birthday can qualify for legal status under a programme called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme. Many Trump supporters and Republican lawmakers hate it and want it to end. Trump plans to do that in March, unless Congress can work out a deal.

But the issue is so contentious it forced the recent three-day government shutdown in the US. Trump has proposed a path to citizenship for DACA recipients who’ve been in the country 10-12 years.

On foreign policy, the president and the White House have made the defeat of ISIL a persistent theme and officials say it’ll be a centerpiece as well.

They also say Trump’s stand-off with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over his attempts to build a nuclear weapon will also make its way into his remarks.

But will Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem also be a highlight?

The announcement has caused widespread condemnation and protests from both Arab governments and the Palestinian leadership, who believe the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could effectively kill any chance for a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians.

In spite of that, Graeme Bannerman, a former State Department official and longtime adviser on Israel-Palestine issues, says there’s no reason Trump shouldn’t mention it.

“From his perspective, he has done what he said he was going to do,” says Bannerman.

The move, he adds, “opens the door for a serious peace process that hasn’t existed in 20 years.”

Source: Al Jazeera