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Five things to watch in Trump's third State of the Union

Five things to watch in Trump's third State of the Union
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President TrumpDonald TrumpLil Wayne gets 11th hour Trump pardon Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Trump expected to pardon Bannon: reports MORE will deliver his third State of the Union address on Tuesday night, giving him an opportunity to tout his policies and accomplishments while pushing for action on legislative priorities.

But the prime-time address will come under the cloud of impeachment, just a day before the GOP-controlled Senate is widely expected to acquit the president of allegations he abused his power and obstructed Congress.

The speech will also provide Trump a national platform to make his case for a second term, nine months before Election Day.

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Here are five things to watch as Trump delivers his third State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.


Does he mention impeachment?

This year’s speech stands apart for Trump, not only because it comes during an election year but also because he will address members of the legislative body that impeached him less than two months ago.

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill and his advisers have recommended he not talk about impeachment and instead focus on his administration’s accomplishments.

The White House has previewed Trump’s address as focusing on the economy, health care and other top issues of concern to working Americans, saying it will strike an optimistic tone.

White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters Tuesday that he had read the speech and that it didn’t explicitly mention “impeachment.” But he did not rule out the possibility of Trump referencing it in some capacity.

“I’ve read through the speech and I’ve not seen the word impeachment,” Gidley said. “As he likes to say, we’ll see what happens. But I haven’t seen it.”

White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamMelania Trump says she was 'disappointed and disheartened' watching Capitol riots Trump resignations gaining steam GOP senators urging Trump officials to not resign after Capitol chaos MORE said Tuesday morning she doesn’t think Trump should address impeachment, arguing voters are fatigued by the process.

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“I don’t think people want to hear that,” she said. “People want to hear what the president has done for this country and what he is planning to do for this country.”

Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTrump stock performance falls short of Obama, Clinton Press: Biden must go big and bold The challenge of Biden's first days: staying focused and on message MORE, the only other president to deliver a State of the Union address in the middle of an impeachment process, did not mention the word in his 1999 speech.

But Trump’s unpredictable style and penchant for using speeches to lash out at Democrats over what he has termed a “witch hunt” has left some convinced that he will mention impeachment in some capacity.


What’s his message to Democrats?

Trump and U.S. presidents before him have used the annual speech to press for bipartisan cooperation on areas of mutual concern, while laying out a vision for their administration’s agenda.

Still, Tuesday’s address comes at an unusually high point of tension between Trump and the Democratic-controlled House. There is also decidedly less promise for bipartisan cooperation in Congress during a presidential election year.

That backdrop has observers wondering whether Trump will focus on areas where his administration can work with Democrats or if he will strike a combative tone amid impeachment.

Trump’s rhetoric during the last two State of the Union speeches was notably toned down compared with his remarks at campaign rallies and other public events. Last year, he sought to appeal to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle by describing his agenda as not Democratic or Republican but one “of the American people.”

At the same time, Trump went on to advocate for some of his more controversial policies — on immigration and border security — while warning Democrats against pursuing “ridiculous partisan investigations.”


Does he roll out any major legislative proposals or surprises?

White House officials have been guarded about the specifics of Trump’s speech, leaving open the possibility he could deliver an unexpected announcement.

Trump could look to make a renewed push on pursuing an infrastructure package, lowering prescription drug costs or another area that has bipartisan support.

A senior administration official said in a preview of the speech last week that Trump would call on Congress to support a number of administration initiatives already in the works, such as offering school choice, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and eliminating “surprise” medical billing.

Asked if the speech would feature any “big ticket” policy items, the official said it would depend on one’s definition of “big ticket.”

One area where Trump may make news is foreign policy. The official gave few specifics about what Trump would cover in discussing national security and military efforts, but the president has spoken frequently about wanting to bring U.S. troops home from overseas.


How much does Trump focus on the 2020 election?

The November presidential election will loom large over Tuesday’s speech.

Trump will use his address to make the case to voters that his accomplishments and vision for moving forward warrant a second term. That message will be delivered in the presence of a handful of lawmakers vying for the Democratic presidential nomination and the chance to challenge Trump in November.

Others, however, will be on the campaign trail. Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump leaves changed nation in his wake Cori Bush dismisses concerns of being 'co-opted' by establishment The Memo: Biden prepares for sea of challenges MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden pick for Pentagon cruises through confirmation hearing Senate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act Biden consumer bureau pick could take over agency on Inauguration Day MORE (D-Mass.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act Senate Democrats make democracy reform first bill of new majority Google completes Fitbit acquisition MORE (D-Minn.) are expected to skip the address to campaign in New Hampshire ahead of that state’s Feb. 11 primary.

Trump may not mention any of the candidates by name, but he is likely to wade into the race indirectly by taking jabs at progressives such as Sanders and Warren and painting proposals like “Medicare for All” as socialist.

The president spent Tuesday morning repeatedly chiding Democrats for the Iowa caucus debacle, where the state Democratic Party cited issues with an app at precincts for the delay in releasing the final results. The majority of the caucus results are now expected at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, just four hours before Trump’s speech.

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How will the speech be received?

The partisan split in Washington means the reaction to Trump’s speech will largely fall along party lines, with Democrats picking out points of criticism and Republicans praising the highlights.

Trump is expected to mention some of his more controversial policy positions, such as his crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities — those that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities — and will draw a “sharp contrast” with health care proposals put forth by Democrats, according to the senior administration official.

Still, a more tempered address that makes a pitch for bipartisanship and does not include attacks on political foes may earn Trump some credit among Democrats — even amid soaring tensions and impeachment.

Trump will deliver the State of the Union address to a crowd of some of his most prominent critics in Congress, including House Democrats who played significant roles in his impeachment, chief among them Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Memo: Trump leaves changed nation in his wake New York court worker arrested, accused of threats related to inauguration GOP Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene referred to Parkland school shooting as 'false flag' event on Facebook MORE (D-Calif.), who will sit behind the president during the speech.

But the audience will also boast some of Trump’s fiercest congressional allies who have defended him amid the impeachment inquiry that began last fall.

Updated at 1:37 p.m.