State of The Union: Democrats, Republicans Brace for a Hostile Trump

February 4, 2020by Griffin Connolly, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
President Donald Trump attends the "White House Summit on Human Trafficking: The 20th Anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000" event in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republican lawmakers are bracing for a whole new level of partisan belligerence from President Donald Trump at the State of the Union on Tuesday, less than 24 hours before the Senate is expected to vote to acquit him of both articles of impeachment he faces.

“I’m expecting the worst,” Sen. Chris Murphy told reporters Monday, saying that he would not be surprised if Trump made pointed remarks about the press, Democratic lawmakers and the impeachment managers presenting the case against him over the last 2 1/2 weeks.

It is simply “not in his DNA to do anything more than boast and lie to us,” Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono said when asked about her expectations for Trump’s address. “I would love for him to talk about bringing the country together, but I think that’s asking too much of this president.”

A senior administration official declined Friday to say whether Trump plans to mention impeachment during his speech.

“It’s never safe to assume anything,” the official said.

Speechwriters have been preparing for the president to present a “vision of relentless optimism” and a largely upbeat speech focused on a handful of policy victories that, when pieced together, form a narrative of “the great American comeback,” the official said.

A significant part of the president’s remarks is expected to highlight victories on trade policy with China as well as the new trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

Health care policy goals, including reducing prescription drug prices, will also feature heavily, as will reprises of Trump’s support for paid family leave and expanded school choice, the senior official said.

But the president has a well-known propensity to veer into personal attacks on his political rivals. And while those diatribes have served him well at campaign rallies before thousands of supporters, they would be certain to meet a frosty response before Congress, at least with hundreds of Democrats in the chamber.

Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerald E. Connolly does not expect any “histrionics” from his House colleagues as long as Trump sticks to boilerplate talking points about the successes of his administration and resists taking political pot shots at his Democratic rivals.

“The president is our guest, and he will be treated with respect as our guest,” said Connolly, who sits on two of the House committees, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform, that investigated the president’s actions in Ukraine.

But if Trump uses parts of his speech to gloat about his impending acquittal, he could be walking into “a bit of a minefield,” Connolly warned.

Republicans advised the president from the Capitol on Monday not to harp on the last two weeks’ proceedings or brag about his imminent acquittal. But they acknowledged they do not know if the president will heed their caution.

“Does anybody imagine that they know (what the president is going to say)? Not me!” said GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

Sen. Kevin Cramer suggested that while he personally could not pull off a State of the Union address riddled with snipes at political rivals over impeachment, the president’s pugnacious personal brand could lend itself to such a speech.

“Donald Trump has been very successful being Donald Trump,” the North Dakota Republican said. “Most people that have suggested he be something different have never been president. And he has,” Cramer said.

Sen. Marco Rubio likewise advised Trump not mention impeachment since that aspect of his speech would dominate headlines the next day and ruin the chief executive’s signature annual opportunity to tout the achievements of his presidency.

“There’s no way that you talk about that and that not be the takeaway. As opposed to some of the other things that I hope we should focus on,” the Florida Republican said.

Rubio would prefer Trump to talk about the current state of affairs on international trade, school choice and relations with countries in the Middle East such as Iran and Iraq, among other issues, he said Monday.

Trump’s State of the Union speech is hardly the first to be delivered amid an impeachment investigation or trial.

During his final State of the Union address on Jan. 30, 1974, President Richard Nixon declared that “one year of Watergate is enough” and asked Congress to quickly conclude its investigations into the scandal so that the government could return to the people’s business without further distraction.

President Bill Clinton did not mention impeachment during his 1999 State of the Union address, despite White House counsel presenting his opening defense earlier that same day.

Virtually every lawmaker who commented on Capitol Hill Monday wants Trump to eschew attacks on his adversaries over impeachment.

“He has the opportunity to try to bring people together or further divide them,” Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said. “I’ll let you know after the speech is over with which one he did.”


Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.


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