Live blog: A SOTU of “relentless optimism” — or Trump’s revenge?



10:28 — Good speech, no mention of impeachment, but at least a few flashes of sharp partisan points. For the most part, though, this was a very well-delivered but rather standard State of the Union speech. It will serve as a good reference as the year’s agenda unfolds, but much of this — other than the personal stories and the action in the gallery — will go quickly out of mind. It’s almost surprisingly conventional, perhaps the start of Trump’s pitch about his presidential mien for the 2020 campaign. The biggest portion of the speech focused on the economy, about a third of it according to C-SPAN, but perhaps a bit less than one would have predicted. Republicans have lots of reasons to be pleased with Trump’s efforts tonight in the short run.

10:27 — Pelosi ripped up the speech at the dais. Classy.

10:23 — Not too many Democrats applauding American exceptionalism. Kyrsten Sinema was one of the few exceptions.

10:21 — Turning into the final theme of the speech. We’re just about done without a mention of impeachment … yet.

10:19 — Wow — what a great moment to bring back the husband and father of the family who’d been invited to show the sacrifice of military families. That’s the best reveal yet.

10:17 — Extends an olive branch to Iran, but let’s face it — they’re not looking for an olive branch.

10:14 — Another effective moment with the family of a slain American soldier, who was killed in a roadside bomb set by Iranian-linked militants in Iraq. Trump linked it to Qassem Soleimani and said that he finally ordered an “end to his evil reign of terror forever. … Our message to the terrorists is clear: You will never escape American justice. If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life!” Not everyone’s cheering this one.

10:09 — Took quite a while, but we’re back to foreign policy. He mentions the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan but only for one sentence, and then switches quickly to the end of ISIS’ al-Baghdadi. Kayla Mueller’s parents are in attendance, the girl who got kidnapped and enslaved by Baghdadi. Trump says Baghdadi murdered her, but I had thought she died in an air strike.

10:08 — This is a line for the campaign — “As long as I am president, I will always protect your right to keep and bear arms.”

10:07 — “And we have many in the pipeline” Trump says about judicial nominations, which gets a few chuckles. He then moves to religious liberty. “We celebrate faith,” Trump says.

10:04 — Celebrates the end of “catch and release” policies, hails his agreements with Mexico and Central American nations to rapidly cut border crossings. Introduces a Border Patrol deputy chief to highlight the gains and then asks Congress to work to support stronger legislation on immigration. Trump wants a merit-based system rather than the “randomized” system in place.  Shout out to Mitch McConnell on judicial confirmations.

9:59 — Slams sanctuary cities and highlights a rape-murder case committed by someone New York City released rather than detain at ICE request. Also cites a California murder spree by another man released under sanctuary policies. One of the victim’s brothers is in the gallery. Trump then pushes for legislation allowing victims to sue sanctuary cities/states over these cases.

9:58 — It’s Infrastructure Week! Democrats are cheering this section pretty enthusiastically.

9:57 — Family-leave policies getting a lot of applause, but it’s not necessarily as enthusiastic as the late-term abortion ban.

9:53 — An even more touching moment with an introduction of a girl who survived birth before the 22nd week of gestation. Trump then calls for a late-term abortion ban; Pelosi looking away and not happy.

9:51 — Surprise! Melania Trump presents him with the award rather than waiting for a later ceremony. Not sure that’s ever been done before. Long, sustained applause.

9:50 — Great shout-out to Rush Limbaugh and his battle against cancer. Very nicely done. Announces the Medal of Freedom award, and Rush looks taken aback by it, even though he was informed of it earlier. Very overcome by emotion; Pelosi remains seated and looking down.

9:49 — Pledges an end to the “AIDS epidemic” by the end of the decade.

9:47 — Several congresswomen started chanting something in protest, but Trump just rolls over it to talk about the opioid crisis.

9:46 — A quick detour to the wall, then back to health care. Says a bipartisan bill that lowers prescription drug prices will get his signature immediately.

9:45 — Not pulling any punches with this one: “If forcing American taxpayers to provide unlimited free healthcare to illegal aliens sounds fair to you, then stand with the radical left. But if you believe that we should defend American patients and American seniors, then stand with me and pass legislation to prohibit free Government healthcare for illegal aliens!”

9:43 — Goes frontally against Medicare for All and declares, “We will never let socialism destroy American health care.”

9:42 — Moves to health care and his “iron-clad promise” to cover pre-existing conditions, and pledges to protect Medicare and Social Security at the same time. He also suggests that his price-transparency EO will prove to be “better than health-care reform.”

9:40 — Pushes for more funding for vocational education, something Rick Santorum tried to move forward in his presidential run in 2012. Trump also called for more funding for historically black colleges and universities.

9:37 — Introduces a 4th-grader who got wait-listed for an Opportunity Scholarship, then tells her that her scholarship just came through. Big smile from the little girl and her mom, but not so much from Pelosi. Trump then demands that Congress pass his school-choice proposal “because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing school.”

9:35 — Now we’re turning into the agenda portion of the speech. First up: school choice.

9:31 — Cheers for the Space Force. Introduces another guest, a 13-year-old student who wants to go into the Space Force. Everyone’s cheering for Ian. Then introduces Ian’s great-grandfather, a 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman. Huge cheers — a great moment.

9:29 — “Socialism always destroys nations, but freedom unifies the soul.” This is an opening to discussing military policy, but he’s going to come back to this theme.

9:28 — Briefer than expected review of China policy; Trump is probably being careful not to derail Phase II talks. Instead, he shifts to Cuba and Venezuela, safer ground. Trump introduces Juan Guaidó as the “true president” of Venezuela, getting lots of cheers across the aisle.

9:24 — Takes a big victory lap on replacing NAFTA. “Unlike so many who came before me,” Trump says, “we kept our promise.” Big cheers for USMCA mention, emphasizes “fairness and reciprocity.” Not many Democratic cheers, which is puzzling given their support for it.

9:22 — Emphasizing energy and manufacturing expansion. Trump notes factory losses under “last two administrations”; Pelosi raised an eyebrow at the shot at the Bush administration.

9:21 — Shares credit on criminal justice reform with Congress; bipartisan applause on that declaration.

9:20 — First guest shout-out to a man who went through recovery through Trump’s policies. Nice story, well done.

9:18 — Very granular layout of the outcomes of his economic policies, gives Tim Scott a shout out regarding implementation of the tax cuts and reinvestment.

9:15 — Pelosi trying to keep a smile on her face, but drops it again when Trump criticizes the welfare expansion of the Obama administration. Grumbles from Democrats on these economic numbers and criticisms of the previous administration.

9:13 — Democrats groan when Trump cites the reversal of the previous administration’s economic policies, and again when he talks about low unemployment in minority communities. It was the sharpest line thus far in his speech, but still very mild by Trump’s standards.

9:12 — Thus far, it’s a more formal version of his rally material, well delivered, and effective, but not too much here we haven’t heard from Trump before.

9:09 — Genuinely nice touch by Pelosi to get her microphone out of the shot.

9:08 — “The years of economic decay are over.” Big applause. Trump also scorns “jobless recoveries” and excuses for “American decline.”

9:07 — Republicans chant “four more years”, a good reminder of what this speech is really going to be about.

9:06 — Did Trump just leave Pelosi hanging on a handshake?

9:05 — A short conversation with an uncomfortable looking John Roberts.

9:03 — Trump makes his entrance to massive cheers and applause, lots of handshakes, and the usual pomp.

8:58 — The First Lady enters and joins a very hale-looking Rush Limbaugh. Tiffany Trump is on hand for tonight’s event. The Cabinet follows immediately afterward.

8:56 — Someone’s wearing an “ERA Yes” button, and suddenly I expect Jimmy Carter to make an appearance.

8:53 — The Supreme Court makes its entry, led by John Roberts. In the 1999 SOTU, Chief Justice Rehnquist declined to appear due to his role as presider in the Bill Clinton impeachment trial. With everything over but the vote, though, it’s not much of a conflict.

Update, 8:46 pm ET: Nancy Pelosi just gaveled the chamber into session and is assigning the escorts to bring Trump into the chamber. Mike Pence does the same with the Senate. Get ready for the imperial stroll.

Original post follows …

Or should that be an and? Tonight at 9 pm ET, Donald Trump makes history by becoming the first president in the middle of an impeachment trial in the Senate and a national re-election campaign to deliver a State of the Union Speech to a joint session of Congress.

The surreality of the spectacle won’t get fully appreciated until Trump gets called into the chamber and advances to the dais in the quasi-imperial manner of these events. Bear in mind that the House managers and their Senate allies have spent the past few weeks accusing Trump of acting like a king or dictator. The very same chambers will, if they stick with tradition, treat him with more pomp and reverence than a Roman emperor coming home at the head of a triumph.

At that point, we will get a hint of what Trump has in mind with this speech. Will he attempt to berate Congress while they’re captive to his presence by tradition and precedent? The early word was that Trump will look past impeachment and make his big pitch for the upcoming election instead, using the spectacle as his 2020 launching pad:

The White House said last week to look for “can-do optimism in the face of unjustified pessimism we are hearing from some in Congress.” But how will he handle impeachment?

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said he’d seen the speech and “I’ve not seen the word ‘impeachment.’ But, as the president likes to say, we’ll see what happens.”

There’s no guarantee that Trump will stick to his speech. The president will be in the same room as his accusers at a moment of impending victory. He has a strong and often-stated sense of grievance and is known for going off-script.

Earlier today, however, Trump told news anchors that he plans to remain disciplined and on-message. His thoughts on impeachment can wait until after his acquittal, he said:

Despite delivering the prime-time address in the same room where House Democrats voted to impeach him on two articles — obstruction of Congress and abuse of power — less than two months ago, Trump said his tone Tuesday night would be “extraordinarily low-key.”

Instead of using the stately occasion to air his grievances — something Republican lawmakers privately expressed concern about leading up to State of the Union — Trump said he will wait to speak about impeachment until Wednesday, when he is expected to be acquitted by the Senate.

Meanwhile, Trump will use the annual address to contrast his economic policies and the current state of the U.S. economy with the costly policy proposals offered by Democratic presidential candidates. He told news anchors his speech would include a “modified” version of the anti-socialism shtick that’s become a staple of his 2020 campaign rallies.

“Schtick.” Nice work, Politico, but we’ll get back to the socialism issue in a bit. There actually is a nearly analogous precedent, the Associated Press points out. Bill Clinton delivered a SOTU during his Senate trial as well, and also avoided the topic altogether. Clinton used the speech to take credit for a bustling economy, although it would later deflate in the dot-com crash:

Look for Trump, like Clinton, to promote a strong economy. Trump is expected to lead with talk about what the White House calls a “blue-collar boom.” There have been gains in blue-collar wages under Trump, though some of those gains have faded as Trump’s trade war hurt manufacturing.

Watch to see if Trump can stick to the high road rhetorically, in his own style. Clinton ended his by asking the nation to envision a State of the Union speech 100 years from that night, from the “mountaintop of the American Century.”

“Let it be said of us then that we were thinking not only of our time, but of their time; that we reached as high as our ideals. That we put aside our divisions and found a new hour of healing and hopefulness; that we joined together to serve and strengthen the land we love.”

At the time, some said his rhetoric was over the top.

Yes, and … they were right. Trump will likely offer a similar theme, perhaps with less grandiosity, pledging to work with Congress to the extent they work on his own agenda. In that sense, most of tonight’s speech will likely be the same as any other SOTU. It will be a laundry list of achievements over the past year, and a longer laundry list of agenda items still left to be accomplished.

That would make Senate Republicans in particular very, very happy:

Trump will deliver his State of the Union address tonight, on the eve of the final impeachment vote in the Senate. But Republicans are hoping — and praying — that Trump resists the urge to even mention the “I” word during his speech. “We’re not done tomorrow and I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to bring it up,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “He is his own person, obviously he can bring up things as he chooses to … but I’m not coming into that speech to be able to hear more about impeachment.”

Instead, Republicans want Trump to focus on — you guessed it — the strong economy and his legislative successes. “My advice would be that in the State of the Union he should move on,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “The president’s got a good record when you look at the economy and lower taxes and fewer regulations and higher incomes and I think he’d be well advised to focus on that and let the impeachment trial speak for itself.” The president has been fairly restrained on Twitter throughout the trial, at least by his own standards. But, as they say: Trump will be Trump.

In the guest competition, Trump will likely have won that before it really get started. After hearing of the announcement of his cancer diagnosis, Trump made a last-minute invitation to Rush Limbaugh to attend as his guest. Trump will also announce that he plans to award Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom:

Trump told network anchors earlier Tuesday that he was saddened by the news of Limbaugh’s diagnosis and had extended a last-minute invitation for him to join the first lady in the gallery at the State of the Union, according to four people familiar with the conversation. The president also said he could award the Medal of Freedom to Limbaugh as soon as next week, adding that his preference would be to do it during the State of the Union, according to two of the people familiar with his comments.

One person at Tuesday’s lunch said Trump appeared to be “ shaken up” by the news, and kept mentioning that he and Limbaugh had seen each other in West Palm Beach, Fla. as recently as Dec. 22, when the president was in town for an extended holiday stay and had lunch with Limbaugh, professional golfer Jim Herman and his son Eric Trump.

“He said he told Rush, ‘You look great – like you’ve lost weight,’ but that Limbaugh didn’t say anything at the time about his health,” this person said.

That will generate an avalanche of applause and cheers, at least from one side of the chamber. That moment alone will make this SOTU worth watching, but our friends at Issues & Insights argue that Trump will make this one notable for another reason. One of his major themes tonight will be to attack the rise of socialism as a political force in the US:

State of the Union addresses are tedious, pointless, and quite often irksome. But this year’s promises to be none of that. President Donald Trump is going to do what no U.S. president has ever had to do before: He will denounce socialism in America. …

Even if we’re talking about the welfare statism or “democratic socialism” of some European nations rather than the socialism of Cuba, East Germany, Venezuela and the retired Soviet Union, the heart of any system based on collectivism still requires coercion, punitive taxation, and a varying disregard for property rights. Its benefits have to be financed by market economies, which are rejected by Sanders, Warren, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other Democrats in favor of centrally planned economies.

Will Trump use strong words rather than watered-down political language to remind America of socialism’s gulags, inherent violence, and forced conformity; of planned economies’ abuse of liberty, smothering bureaucratic traps, and the oppression of the many through the power of a few?

It’s not his style to go soft. So it’s likely the country is going to hear what it needs to.

And hopefully that’s all the country will hear, too. The show starts at 9 pm ET, so find C-SPAN on your dish or cable guide and stick with it rather than tune in to the inanities that accompany the event on other channels. If you can’t find them or if you are watching on terrestrial TV alone. If you can’t get it anywhere else, watch it on the Wall Street Journal YouTube stream below.

I’ll be live-blogging my thoughts starting just a bit before the speech, so be sure to watch the top of this post for updates in reverse chronological order (latest on top). Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer drew the short straw and will deliver the Democratic response, so stick around for that, too. If Trump doesn’t mention impeachment, Whitmer almost certainly will anyway.





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