What Trump must achieve in his State of the Union address

What Trump must achieve in his State of the Union address
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Article 2, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution sets forth the obligation of the president of the United States to report to Congress on the State of the Union:

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them …”


Prior to the advent of radio, presidents would submit a written report to Congress on the State of the Union that would thereafter be reported to the nation by newspapers and magazines. When radio became popular in homes, the president would address a joint session of Congress and his address would be carried live on radio stations as Americans huddled around their receivers to listen. Thereafter, with the invention of television, the president had the added value of reaching citizens through TV, radio and newspapers. As a result, the magnification and reach of the State of the Union audience was an important tool for presidents to use to get their agendas before the American people, unfiltered and in real time.

The State of the Union has as much to do with tradition as it does with the mode of delivery and technology. The object is to reach as many Americans as possible.

Theoretically, a president today could “tweet” a State of the Union to Congress and be in compliance with his constitutional obligation. And, in fact, I fully expect that President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE will augment his address before a joint session of Congress in two weeks with tweets about it before and after — and maybe even during as well.

A State of the Union gives the president the opportunity to set forth his agenda for 2019 in his own words. It is aspirational, as well as a challenge to Congress to work with the president. And, if the shutdown were to be still going on, it will give the president a captive audience to lecture as well as to shame.

The start of a State of the Union is typically reflective on the prior year, with the president stating what was accomplished and then pivoting to unfinished work as well as new challenges for a new year.

A State of the Union always includes three main parts: a laundry list of domestic items, then a trip around the globe to identify international challenges, and then a review of America’s national security, including the need to maintain a strong military.

Great thought is put into every word contained in a State of the Union. How much is devoted to a topic and where it appears in the address is a roadmap to the priority and importance given to it.

Watch for President Trump to sprinkle the gallery with real people who will bring life to his words. President Reagan was masterful at weaving reality with expectations and challenges through real-life examples. If the standoff on the budget continues, look for the president to pack the gallery with examples of why border security is a national priority.


Unlike last year, when President Trump enjoyed majorities in both chambers of Congress, sitting behind the President this year on a return engagement as House Speaker will be Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNews media's sausage-making obsession helps no one Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-Calif.). She will be a stark reminder that 2019 will bring a divided Congress and more challenges for the president and his legislative agenda, as well as the temptation for Democrats to embark on endless investigations and hearings to slow things up, to harass and embarrass Trump. The budget-and-border showdown will be a prime example for the president to address head on. And, despite the rocky start to the year, the president must rise above bitter partisanship and offer alternatives to gridlock.

In order for the president to have a successful 2019 agenda, he must achieve two things:

  1. He must reach across the aisle and be content with “half a loaf,” to gain some Democrats’ support for his agenda items.
  2. He must use the “bully pulpit” of the presidency to advance his agenda by speaking directly to the people, and then embark on domestic travel to emphasize his agenda.

The president must not let gridlock overtake him. He must lean on Republicans in the House and Senate and court Democrats in both chambers, too. He must use carrots and sticks.

The stage awaits the president on Jan. 29.  What he will say, how he will say it and how it will be received will define his state of mind and the State of the Union — and perhaps the fate of his presidency in 2019, or even beyond.

Bradley Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George Bush from 2001 to 2004. A principal of the 1600 Group, a strategic communications firm, he is an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University and a contributor to Fox News and Fox Business.