The Hill's Morning Report — Trump to deliver ‘unity’ speech to divided nation

The Hill's Morning Report — Trump to deliver ‘unity’ speech to divided nation
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From the well of the House tonight, President TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE will embrace tradition and declare the state of America’s union strong. 

In a setting freighted with 2020 aspirations, divided government and the uncertainties of criminal probes, the president will defend his policies and lay out a political challenge to his adversaries, many of whom will be in the audience.

As Niall Stanage reports, the State of the Union event takes place as a majority of voters say they oppose a second term for the incumbent president, disapprove of the recent 35-day partial government shutdown over a wall and worry the country is on the wrong track

Trump and his top advisers argue he will deliver a “unity” message, but as Politico’s Anita Kumar reports, there are disagreements about whether Americans will hear tonight from “teleprompter Trump” or “Twitter Trump.” Odds are they’ll recognize both in the 45th president.

The Hill’s Jordan Fabian analyzes what audiences should listen for in tonight’s speech, including how the president describes his executive authority ahead of another funding deadline on Feb. 15 tied to border security. Senate Republicans have warned Trump not to choose the national emergency route.

The Hill: Trump hints at new announcements in State of the Union speech.

The Hill: President will face an audience of political opponents.

Bloomberg: The president’s speech will implore Congress to compromise on issues including immigration and to “bridge old divisions.”

The televised Democratic response will be delivered by Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, who says she’ll decide by March if she’ll seek a Senate seat in 2020. She narrowly lost her state’s gubernatorial contest in November, and is considered a rising star in her party (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). 

Also responding tonight in Spanish will be California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraCampaigns accuse California AG of slanted descriptions of ballot initiatives California sues Trump administration to mandate undocumented immigrants are counted for apportionment OVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money MORE. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersProgressives soaring after big primary night 'Absolutely incredible': Ocasio-Cortez congratulates Cori Bush on upset victory over Lacy Clay Sanders supporters launch six-figure ad campaign explaining why they're voting for Biden MORE (I-Vt.) says he’ll deliver his own Trump rebuttal for a third year on Facebook Live, Twitter and YouTube.

The Hill: Democrats seek to demonstrate they’re challenging the president.

The Hill: Senate Dems seek to block use of military funds for Trump wall.

Seated behind Trump will be Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Negotiators remain far apart on coronavirus deal as deadline looms Top federal official says more details coming on foreign election interference MORE (D-Calif.), who forced the president to postpone his address until the government reopened and says Democrats will not approve new funds for a “wall” at the southern border.

Trump says he respects Pelosi’s legislative know-how and her ability to hold her conference together. But in recent weeks, he’s begun shaping a narrative that his new nemesis is so powerful, liberal and “rigid,” she’s a danger. 

“I think she is very bad for our country,” he said during a CBS News interview on Friday.

AddendumPelosi hits highest favorability rating since 2007, jumping 8 points since December in CNN poll (The Hill).Two years after inauguration, federal prosecutors subpoena Trump’s inaugural committee (The Associated Press). … How have Trump’s promises fared from last year’s address? (The New York Times). … Reminder: State of the Union speeches rarely fuel big bounces in opinion polls (Politifact). … The president and first lady’s guest list for the joint address to Congress (The White House). 



POLITICS & 2020: Virginia’s Democratic governor and lieutenant governor are embroiled in separate but simultaneous political dramas rarely experienced in state capitals.

Gov. Ralph Northam continues to battle charges of racial tone-deafness after the emergence of a 35-year-old snapshot on Friday showed two figures, one in blackface and the other wearing Ku Klux Klan garb on his medical school yearbook page. The governor says he is not in the photograph, and has turned aside an avalanche of assessments within his party that he can no longer lead as governor (The Hill).

Northam on Monday pleaded with his Cabinet for more time to clear his name to avoid being known as a “racist for life” (CNN). Not one of his Cabinet members has resigned, but Northam has done nothing publicly in the last 24 hours to change the dynamic. Allies and critics questioned Monday whether he would survive the week.

Meanwhile, Virginia Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax denies a woman’s newly surfaced but uncorroborated claims that he sexually assaulted her in 2004. He says the incident was a consensual sexual encounter (The Associated Press).

The Washington Post reported the woman approached the newspaper after Fairfax won election in November 2017 and before he was inaugurated in January 2018, saying she felt she had an obligation to speak out. The Post says it did not publish an article because reporters could find no evidence of a history of sexual misconduct by Fairfax and could find no one to corroborate the woman’s account, in part because she told no one about an assault (The Washington Post).

Virginia allows one term for elected governors, so if Northam resigns, the lieutenant governor could finish out the governor’s four-year term and then run for another term.

In 2020 presidential politics, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Trump outraises Biden in July, surpasses billion for the cycle Duckworth: Republican coronavirus package would 'gut' Americans With Disabilities Act MORE is close to making another White House bid, according to friends and colleagues, who say detailed campaign plans are in the chute to go “at a moment’s notice,” whenever Biden gives aides a signal (The Atlantic).

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is weighing a White House bid, faces key questions, including whether a centrist billionaire who has changed his political affiliation over the years can compete in a sprawling primary and among Democratic voters in America’s midsections (The Hill).

Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseDemocrats seek to exploit Trump-GOP tensions in COVID-19 talks On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP McConnell: 15-20 GOP senators will not vote for any coronavirus deal MORE faces a likely primary challenge for reelection in 2020, according to GOP sources, because his frequent criticism of Trump is unpopular. Would the senator challenge Trump in the GOP presidential primary? Nebraska’s law presents some complications (The Hill).



CONGRESS: For the first time in years, the House this week will hold not one but two congressional hearings on fighting climate change. The new Democratic majority is nudging climate and environmental issues to the top of the national debate after eight years of GOP opposition to legislating around greenhouse gas emissions (The Hill).

> Meanwhile, Trump said he’ll nominate ex-oil lobbyist and acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to succeed Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog MORE, who resigned last year under an ethics cloud. Environmental groups are urging the Senate to oppose the choice (The Hill). … In a letter to department staff last week, Bernhardt blamed the Obama administration for his department’s ethics problems (The Hill)



Lobbying jobs: Sure, there are Democratic chiefs of staff and senior congressional aides who have been snapped up by lobbying shops, law firms and government relations practices, but the K Street job market is leaner than many expected (The Hill).


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America is no longer in the top tier of democratic countries, by Michelle Goldberg, opinion columnist, The New York Times. 

Trump’s reelection challenge: His main trouble has come from the Trumpian exceptions on trade, immigration and polarizing temperament that motivate many of his supporters,” by The Wall Street Journal editorial board.


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program, starting at 8 a.m., features host Jamal Simmons with a preview of Abrams’s State of the Union response; a speech teaser aimed at Republicans by Marc Lotter, former press secretary to Pence; a preview for Democrats by Cole Leiter, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; and an update by Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

The House convenes at noon.

The Senate meets at 10 a.m. The Judiciary Committee holds a confirmation hearing at 10 a.m. for Neomi Rao, opposed by Democrats, who is nominated to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to fill a vacancy created by Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMcConnell has 17-point lead over Democratic challenger McGrath: poll Davis: My recommendation for vice president on Biden ticket Kavanaugh urged Supreme Court to avoid decisions on Trump finances, abortion: report MORE (The Associated Press).

The president delivers a State of the Union address at 9 p.m.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Esper says 'most believe' Beirut explosion was accident, contradicting Trump | Trump later says 'nobody knows yet' what happened in Lebanon | 61-year-old reservist ID'd as fourth military COVID-19 death Meadows defends Trump's description of Beirut explosion as an 'attack' Pompeo urges US companies to block downloads of Chinese apps MORE speaks at the MOKAN (Missouri-Kansas) Forum breakfast at 8:30 a.m. in Washington.


> Texas border wall: In the Rio Grande Valley, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin constructing a 25-mile stretch of concrete border barrier on federal land set aside for environmental and wildlife protection, tapping appropriations from Congress enacted last spring. Residents and local organizations, pointing to heavy earth-moving equipment on federal acreage on Monday, say they are turning to the courts to try to halt the wall (The Associated Press).

> Epidemic: A worsening Ebola outbreak in Africa alarms global health care responders after six months because they have not been able to halt the spread. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the disease has infected 774 people and 481 have died (The Hill).

> Death penalty: States across the country are moving to end the death penalty, led by Republicans who no longer see it as either cost effective or a deterrent to crime (The Hill).

> Tech: Silicon Valley's tech giants are enjoying record profits, despite a year marked by widely publicized controversies over privacy and transparency. The heft of Google, Facebook and Amazon raise eyebrows among industry watchers and lawmakers who favor tougher federal regulation (The Hill).

> The Hill’s In the Know: Comedian Samantha Bee on Monday teased her April 27 TBS event, "Not The White House Correspondents' Dinner," with a Twitter parody of The Washington Post’s Super Bowl message defending a free press and narrated by Tom Hanks (The Hill).


And finally … Watching Super Bowl 53 was an endurance test for some football fans, but for the Patriots, Tom Brady and CBS, it was a good night.

Here’s some business yardage: CBS took in $382 million from Super Bowl commercials, according to Kantar Media estimates, although ad spending fell short of levels in 2017 and 2018 (Reuters). To put the CBS bonanza in perspective, it’s a one-night haul larger than what some cable companies see in a year.

However, analysts think CBS is flirting with a price ceiling for commercials during what still remains the preeminent live television event each year. The average cost of a 30-second ad was about $5.2 million, which tends to force newer companies to think twice about jumping in.

The TV-only audience for the low-scoring game delivered fewer eyeballs — down about 5 percent from 2018 and at a 10-year low — averaging 98.2 million viewers. Add the streaming audiences on CBS, NFL and Verizon digital platforms and Spanish-language broadcast and streaming from ESPN Deportes, and the audience size was 100.7 million, according to Nielsen (The Hollywood Reporter).

Translation: About 45 percent of all households in America tuned into the game.



Comparison with State of the Union: The audience last year for Trump’s big speech measured a robust 45.6 million. Recent history suggests, however, that in today’s fragmented media environment, viewership shrinks for State of the Union addresses the longer contemporary presidents are in office. (Note: On social media this year, #BoycottSOTU is trending).