House

Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents

When Donald Trump stands on the elevated dais and looks out onto the House floor Tuesday night, the 45th president will see the faces of a number of Democrats eager to unseat him in 2020.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who just launched his presidential bid, will be there at Trump’s State of the Union address, as will Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Last year, both aggressively grilled Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who likely will be sitting in the front row with his fellow justices.

Trump will also see Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand from his home state of New York, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whom Trump frequently mocks as “Pocahontas” for her claims of Native American heritage.

{mosads}Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)  is running, too, while Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are all weighing bids.

And during the speech, Trump might think that he’s seeing double: Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Júlian Castro won’t be on hand, but his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), probably will.

“It should be great theater as the 2020 hopefuls audition for their base,” freshman Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a Trump ally and former House member, told The Hill. “It would be fun to have a caption contest as the cameras pan the heckling section.”

Tuesday’s address in the House chamber will be Trump’s second official State of the Union and third major speech to a joint session of Congress. But it will mark his first State of the Union in a new era of divided government, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democrats took back control of the House in a midterms election seen as a referendum on the unpopular and unpredictable president.

A senior administration official nonetheless said Trump is planning to strike a “unifying tone” in his address.

Some issues could get bipartisan applause lines, like lowering prescription drug prices, infrastructure and pressuring China on its trade policies.

“Together we can break decades of political stalemate, we can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make,” Trump will say, according the official.

If all the 2020 challengers aren’t enough, Pelosi will be sitting just above Trump’s left shoulder, literally breathing down his neck as her committee chairs (sitting in the audience) prepare to launch a slew of investigations into his administration — and several individual Cabinet members who will accompany Trump down the center aisle.

It’ll mark a sea change from Trump’s last two addresses to Congress, where Vice President Pence and then-Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) smiled and applauded behind him throughout.

The two political heavyweights — Trump and Pelosi — have clashed for the past two months over the president’s demand that the Congress approve $5.7 billion for his wall on the southern border. The knock-down, drag-out fight shut down the government for a record 35 days — furloughing 800,000 federal workers, sparking delays at airports and delaying Republicans’ and Democrats’ annual policy retreats.

The State of the Union speech itself became a hostage in the Trump-Pelosi firefight. Pelosi invited and then disinvited Trump to deliver his annual address amid the shutdown. Trump threatened to come to Capitol Hill anyway on Jan. 29, launching an unprecedented standoff between the executive and legislative branches.

{mossecondads}When Trump reopened the government with no new wall funding, caving to Pelosi’s position, the Speaker extended an olive branch, and a second invitation, to Trump for Tuesday.

But the truce seemed to be over as soon as it began, with funding for a handful of federal agencies set to run out again after Feb. 15. Trump has continued to insist Congress deliver him money for his wall; Pelosi has continued to rebuff him.

The real, functional deadline for lawmakers will be on Friday, just three days after Trump appears in the House chamber. Lawmakers on the bipartisan, bicameral conference committee are aiming to complete a deal by the end of this week to give both chambers enough time the following week to send a bill to Trump by the Feb. 15 deadline.

Trump, however, has dismissed the bipartisan committee of negotiators as a “waste of time.”

The president told reporters at the White House on Friday that there is a “good chance” he will declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress and build a wall along the border with Mexico.

“I think there’s a good chance we’ll have to do that,” Trump said.

Trump said people should “listen closely” to his Tuesday address and indicated he’ll offer more details about his plan.

Pelosi scoffed at Trump’s dismissal of the conference committee.

“I mean, really, a president who wants to have Congress be completely irrelevant in how we meet the needs of the American people? No, come on,” Pelosi said Thursday.

Pelosi will sit behind him, but Trump will literally have to face the new House Democratic majority resisting his agenda as he speaks.

Scores of female House Democrats are expected to offer a sea of white in the crowd to show solidarity with suffragettes. A spokeswoman for the chairwoman of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), confirmed that female lawmakers are being invited to wear white.

They’ll represent the record number of women elected to Congress with the Democratic wave in November who ran against Trump’s agenda.

Other liberals will make a statement by not being in the room at all.

At least two House Democrats, Congressional Black Caucus members Reps. John Lewis (Ga.) and Hank Johnson, (Ga.) won’t be attending.

And it’s possible that others will announce boycotts closer to the date. Fourteen Democrats skipped last year’s State of the Union address, including some Democrats who have called for Trump’s impeachment like Reps. Al Green (Texas), Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Steve Cohen (Tenn.).

“I have a problem with defiling the Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  “I don’t want to see it lowered, as is what happens when Donald Trump comes to our floor and starts talking about groups of people, particularly Latinos, and disparaging them as a people.”

“I’d rather be somewhere else,” he added.

Other Democrats are trying to send a message with their guests, who will sit in the public galleries overlooking the chamber.

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.) and Jimmy Gomez (Calif.) invited two immigrants, Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz, who worked at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., golf club while they did not have legal status. Diaz is now a legal U.S. resident, while Morales was terminated from her job as a housekeeper in the aftermath of a New York Times report revealing her status.

“I hope that in his State of the Union address, Donald Trump will finally acknowledge the real face of immigrants in this country — women and children fleeing violence, law-abiding, tax-paying people who would do almost anything to be Americans. And if he can’t, I’ve invited Victorina so that he may look her in her eyes to tell his lies to a familiar face,” Watson Coleman said in a statement.

Swalwell, meanwhile, invited Parkland shooting survivor Cameron Kasky, one of the most outspoken student gun control activists since last year’s massacre. Kasky frequently criticizes Trump.

It’s been more than a decade since a sitting president delivered a State of the Union to an audience with so many people angling to unseat him.

When President George W. Bush delivered his address in 2003, he would have peered down at a handful of lawmakers hoping to oust him from power: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who eventually won the nomination, but also House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and Sens. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who was part of the Democratic ticket that lost to Bush in 2000 after a historic court battle.

Only three members of Congress, former Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Ron Paul (Texas) and Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), sought the 2012 GOP nomination to unseat then-President Obama.

But at Obama’s 2015 address, he had a cast of characters in the audience who wanted to succeed the two-term president. They included Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Trump, however, vanquished them all. In fact, during the 2016 campaign, Trump mocked Rubio’s now-infamous State of the Union GOP response where the senator — suffering from a dry mouth — took an awkward sip of water as the cameras rolled.

Those one-time 2016 GOP presidential rivals have now aligned themselves with Trump. And they likely will be applauding many of his lines on Tuesday.

Jordan Fabian contributed.

Tags Al Green Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Bonnie Watson Coleman Border wall Brett Kavanaugh Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Eric Swalwell Government shutdown Hank Johnson Jimmy Gomez Joaquin Castro John Kerry John Lewis Kevin Cramer Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham Lois Frankel Marco Rubio Maxine Waters Michele Bachmann Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan Rand Paul Sherrod Brown State of the Union address Steve Cohen Ted Cruz Tulsi Gabbard
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video