Five things to watch for in Trump’s address

Five things to watch for in Trump’s address
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President Trump will address a joint session of Congress Tuesday night for the first time as president.

The speech isn’t an official State of the Union — that will come next year — but it’s a chance for Trump to set out his legislative priorities after a tumultuous first month that has at times rattled congressional Republicans.

Here are five things to watch for in Trump’s speech.

Will Trump stay dark or go light?

The president’s first major address to the American people offered a grim view of the country he was elected to lead.

At his inauguration, Trump painted a picture of a nation in decline, marked by “American carnage” such as “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape” and marauding criminal gangs plaguing major cities.

Stephen Miller, the influential White House aide who wrote that speech, has been tasked with authoring this one, too.

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But White House officials say the address to Congress will present “an optimistic vision” aimed at how his administration will help Americans of all races, parties and economic status.

He will also stress how his early actions, while controversial, have fulfilled campaign promises.

Offering a positive message that appeals to people outside his base could help bring together a country that remains deeply divided over a presidential election in which Trump lost the popular vote.

It would also break with the style that got Trump elected. And previous “pivots” telegraphed by his team have not panned out. Before the inaugural address, White House press secretary Sean Spicer, then a spokesman for the Trump transition effort, told reporters it would focus on “areas where he can unite the country.”

Will there be specifics?

After spending his first month handing down a flurry of executive orders, Trump looks ready to get down to business with Congress.

Trump is not a policy wonk, and the White House says he’ll reaffirm his desire to work on broad goals such as tax reform and repealing and replacing ­ObamaCare .  

But Trump will eventually need to take a side in specific policy debates if he wants to get his agenda passed.

For example, he’s been grappling with what to do about Medicaid if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

Millions of Americans gained coverage under the healthcare law’s Medicaid expansion. Figuring out if or how to provide coverage to those people if federal funds supporting the expansion are eliminated is a difficult question for the GOP.

The White House has largely left the specifics to congressional Republicans.

“Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated,” Trump said during a meeting Monday with a group of governors.

Will Trump challenge the congressional GOP?

Trump’s relationship with the Republican Congress has been far from perfect, from the rocky rollout of his travel ban to simmering disagreements over tax policy, infrastructure and trade.

Lawmakers have publicly and privately complained about Trump’s bombastic style and penchant to go it alone. And members are taking some heat themselves from the right.

“Republican party should be sued for fraud,” Matt Drudge, founder of the conservative Drudge Report, tweeted earlier this month. “NO discussion of tax cuts now. Just lots of crazy. Back to basics, guys!”

It’s unlikely that Trump will voice those same frustrations with the lawmakers he needs to pass his agenda. But they might not like what the president has to say on some issues.

For example, Trump has been reluctant to throw his support behind the border-adjustment tax that’s at the center of Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Ryan: Americans want to see Trump talking with Dem leaders Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE’s (R-Wis.) tax reform plan.

Trump also hinted Monday that he would make a “big” announcement on infrastructure spending during his speech, something that could give heartburn to fiscal conservatives.

Separately, GOP defense hawks said Trump’s plan to boost military spending in his 2018 budget didn’t go far enough.

Despite those disagreements, GOP leaders emerged from a meeting with Trump Monday afternoon insisting they are on the same page.

“We’re looking forward to a positive, upbeat presentation tomorrow night and then proceeding with our agenda, which is exactly the same as the Trump agenda,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters.

Will Trump break with protocol?

Trump has shown a penchant for shaking up staid Washington traditions, but it’s unclear whether he will veer from the usual format for State of the Union-style speeches.

The joint-address format has remained relatively unchanged for years. The president makes a dramatic entrance into the House chamber and then delivers his speech from the Speaker’s rostrum to members of both chambers, Supreme Court justices, military brass and handpicked guests, with tens of millions of people watching live on television.

Some past presidents have tinkered around the edges. Former President Obama released the entire text of his 2015 State of the Union on the online publishing platform Medium ahead of its delivery.

The White House has not yet indicated what, if any, changes it will make, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the former reality television star did something different.

“The Trump address won’t be boring, because Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE’s not boring,” counselor Kellyanne Conway said last week on Fox News.

How will Democrats react?

Democrats have vocally opposed nearly everything Trump has done in his first weeks as president. And the president has responded in kind by lobbing personal insults at top Senate Democrats.

Many are wondering whether that feud will boil over in his Tuesday night address. If it does, it would certainly break with the typically civil tone during presidential joint addresses.

Some Democrats are planning quiet forms of protests by filling the gallery with immigrants, ethnic minorities and LGBT individuals.

In 2009, Rep. Joe WilsonJoe WilsonGOP worries as state Dems outperform in special elections Navy official: Budget, readiness issues led to ship collisions Obama left nuclear waste in South Carolina, Trump can clean it up MORE (R-S.C.) shouted “You lie!” at Obama during an address on healthcare reform, a shocking moment at the time that earned him an official admonishment from the House.

Trump has shown no qualms about verbally confronting critics and protesters at his campaign rallies, so such a disruption could cause him to break from his prepared remarks and respond.

A typical speech to a joint session includes passages that win standing ovations from both parties, but it seems possible that some Democrats will sit for the entirety of Trump’s speech.

“I hope a very robust and applause-filled reception,” Spicer said Monday when asked how Trump hopes he will be received by Democrats.