President Trump delivered his 2019 State of the Union address starting at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Washington Post opinion writers and cartoonist Ann Telnaes commented along in real time. See a transcript below; the most recent opinions appear first.
Read the Editorial Board’s reaction: Trump’s State of the Union gave us the same old polarizing demagoguery — at length
STEPHEN STROMBERG, 10:45 p.m.: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when President Trump makes a series of outrageous claims about illegal immigration, but it still somehow shocks me that the president of the United States can be such a brazen, unhinged fear-monger. His description of a “tremendous onslaught” on the “very dangerous southern border” is supposed to promote unity? It’s not reality. It also continues to amaze me that Trump’s immigration obsession takes up so much of his mental space — at least as measured by the number of words he devoted to it tonight. There is so much more the country needs to face — climate change, education, global competitiveness. Instead, he imposes crisis after unnecessary crisis on the country in service to his weird fixations. This presidency is one interminable own-goal.
DAVID BYLER, 10:42 p.m.: It’ll be interesting to watch the Trump team interpret this. Trump is due for an uptick in job approval — the shutdown is over, and when a long string of bad news cycles ends, he typically gains in the polls. If they mistakenly believe the (probable) bump is from the speech, they might make some bad strategic moves.
E.J. DIONNE JR., 10:38 p.m.: I know what Trump was reaching for, but I liked it better in the original: “Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado ...” — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
KAREN TUMULTY, 10:38 p.m.: Though Henry hears echo of Reagan imagery of a shining city, let’s not forget that our 40th president’s farewell address explicitly rejected walls: “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace — a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
MOLLY ROBERTS, 10:36 p.m.: I would say that, actually, this was pretty much what we expected, because we’ve seen the same thing twice before. What comes out in the governing has been the exclusionary filling of the sandwich, not the bipartisan overtures or patriotic paens on either side. I guess the proof will be in the eating, though. Mr. President: Prove me wrong.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 10:34 p.m.: Lots of people are observing how much of the speech was about the 1940s. Perhaps Trump sees that as the last time the country was united (... against Nazis)?
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:33 p.m.: Just kidding. But this was a far more temperate speech than the one I had braced for. I was intrigued by how often the speech looked forward into space or backward toward the Greatest Generation, a sense of history and uplift I don’t usually associate with Donald Trump.
HUGH HEWITT, 10:33 p.m.: Long but well delivered. Controversial but peppered with humor. Strengthened by the inspiring stories of heroes young and old, President Trump and his supporters have to be very pleased with the State of the Union, the Democrats wholly unmoved, and the Americans in the middle perplexed by the apparent rejection by many in the chamber of what was once considered routine: American exceptionalism and abundant faith in the future.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:33 p.m.: This is the night Trump finally became president.
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, 10:32 p.m.: Nancy Pelosi said the House would be in order, and it largely was. In the end, the symbolism of the sea of white suits was far more powerful than any outburst could have been.
HENRY OLSEN, 10:32 p.m.: Ronald Reagan spoke of America being a “shining city upon a hill.” Trump ends his speech by alluding that America is a light unto the nations. Easily his best, and most Reaganesque, speech to date.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:29 p.m.: “Keep America First In Our Hearts” is possibly an even worse slogan than the prior?
MOLLY ROBERTS, 10:28 p.m.: A Gettysburg Address for our time, except opposite.
CATHERINE RAMPELL,10:28 p.m.: I can think of someone who squandered his great inheritance.
KAREN TUMULTY, 10:28 p.m.: “Think of this Capitol — think of this very Chamber, where lawmakers before you voted to end slavery.” The Capitol was also built by slaves, which is part of our national shame.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:27 p.m.: I have begun to dream of this speech ending.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:26 p.m.: Not petty at all. It’s worth noting that every time the audience started paying attention to someone not him, he either frowned or tried to redirect back to himself.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 10:24 p.m.: Trump says, “They wouldn’t do that for me,” after an admittedly nice moment of Congress (tunelessly) singing “Happy Birthday” to a Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivor. Am I petty to be annoyed that he made even this about him?
HENRY OLSEN, 10:24 p.m.: What a wonderful touch, the survivor and the liberator sitting next to one another.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:23 p.m.: It’s difficult to take Trump seriously when he’s telling stories about the Holocaust; one can’t imagine much real feeling behind them. He avoided military service and has had the cushiest of lives. And remember, this was the guy who said that there were good people on both sides when neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville.
KAREN TUMULTY, 10:21 p.m.: It’s past mine.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 10:20 p.m.: Surely it is past many of these lawmakers' bedtimes.
DAVID BYLER, 10:20 p.m.: I tend to think this age gap on socialism polling has a lot to do with who was (and wasn’t) politically conscious during the Cold War. But that’s a tangent we can get into some other time.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:20 p.m.: Trump’s exaggerated posture when addressing real heroes — neck extended, chin up, performative nodding — only serves to highlight how artificial he seems in comparison.
KAREN TUMULTY, 10:20 p.m.: Longest SOTU in modern history (measured by time, not words) was Bill Clinton 2000, which clocked in at 1 hour 28 minutes. We are approaching a new record tonight.
E.J. DIONNE JR., 10:18 p.m.: “America will never be a socialist country,” Trump said. The right has always demagogued socialism. But this line also reflects the remarkable fact that “positive views of capitalism among 18- to 29-year-olds dropped from 68% in 2010 to just 45% in 2018.”
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:17 p.m.: “A radical regime that does bad, bad things.” Iran or Michael Jackson song?
DAVID BYLER, 10:15 p.m.: There’s obviously a partisan divide on socialism (Democrats view socialism more positively than Republicans). But, interestingly, there’s a big age divide there with younger generations generally feeling more positive about socialism.
JENNIFER RUBIN, 10:12 p.m.: Great nations do not bail out and undercut negotiators.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 10:12 p.m.: The sandwich is gaining layers! We now have an attack against “socialism,” which shows how much ground redistributive policy has gained in the Democratic Party. Trump’s explicit condemnation of the Abolish ICE movement earlier was another example of this “Overton window” shifting — these have become serious enough debates now to merit mention in the State of the Union.
JACKSON DIEHL, 10:11 p.m.: Latin American leaders breathe a sigh of relief as Trump spends more breath attacking socialism in the United States than in Venezuela. They were worried he would help the Maduro regime by blustering about military intervention.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:11 p.m.: Loved that extended and anachronistic riff about fending off the Red Menace. As I’ve written before, there’s a real generational (and political) divide in how the concept of “socialism” is understood.
HENRY OLSEN, 10:11 p.m.: It was stunning to see how few Democrats applauded the line “America will never be a socialist country.” That used to be a sentiment that left, right, and center could proudly affirm.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 10:10 p.m.: America was not founded on government coercion, domination or control — except when it comes to your womb.
HENRY OLSEN, 10:10 p.m.: Trump’s claim that we would have been at war with North Korea unless he had been elected was a blunder — and a blemish on an otherwise outstanding speech so far.
HUGH HEWITT, 10:10 p.m.: Bravo President Trump for saluting President Guaidó and the people of Venezuela. I cannot believe Speaker Pelosi is sitting this one out. Ours is the Freedom Hemisphere. There should be no message that can be misread by Maduro and his thugs.
JENNIFER RUBIN, 10:09 p.m.: A “good” relationship with a brutal dictator who has given up nothing. How weak.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:08 p.m.: (But who am I to criticize? Unlike some people, I didn’t singlehandedly avert war with North Korea by the very fact of my election.)
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, 10:08 p.m.: It’s interesting that this is the first part of this speech where Trump has really alluded to his supposed prowess as a dealmaker.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:07 p.m.: “We will outspend others by far” doesn’t seem like the most thoughtful strategy.
JACKSON DIEHL, 10:07 p.m.: The idea that we would be in a “major war” with North Korea without Trump is simply preposterous. It was Trump who risked war with his talk of “fire and fury.” And the threat from NK nukes has not changed.
E.J. DIONNE JR., 10:06 p.m.: The visible split in the chamber when Trump mentioned late-term abortion may have been the starkest of the evening.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 10:06 p.m.: My sandwich analogy no longer holds up after the baby-execution segment, though maybe it’ll end up being a double-decker.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:06 p.m.: That intense segment on abortion, filled with movement phrases such as “culture of life,” seems like a very calculated attempt to appeal to his evangelical and religious base. The president might as well start cultivating that again, as his support elsewhere begins to peel away.
JENNIFER RUBIN, 10:05 p.m.: He is speaking so slooowwly . . . he almost comes to a stop.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 10:05 p.m.: And now an equally bizarre transition from late-term abortion to national security.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 10:02 p.m.: Oof, this segue from paid family leave to “executing a baby” is ... aggressive.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 10:01 p.m.: Trump says his new budget will reflect a commitment to eliminate HIV. His previous two budgets proposed HIV funding cuts.
ERIK WEMPLE, 10:01 p.m.: When was the last time President Trump spoke for nearly an hour without bashing the media? Just wondering.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:58 p.m.: I have to say, it’s hard to fault being against childhood cancer. Grace Eline is adorable.
DAVID BYLER, 9:58 p.m.: Henry brings up a good point on health care. The same YouGov poll I referenced earlier said 24 percent of Democrats think health care is the most important issue. YouGov asked about a large battery of issues in that question, so the 24 percent number is pretty striking.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:57 p.m.: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not look enthusiastic about taking on big pharma. Thankfully, plenty of Democrats are — and Trump could work with them to actually get something done.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:56 p.m.: So far this has been a sandwich, with bipartisan(ish) rhetoric as the bread and the dog whistles Trump is known for as the filling. A mixed metaphor, but oh well.
HENRY OLSEN, 9:54 p.m.: Pelosi sits and shakes her head “no” when Trump talks reciprocal trade, but jumps to her feet on health care. Speaks volumes about priorities.
HENRY OLSEN, 9:54 p.m.: It’s about time Trump started to talk up his NAFTA renegotiation. That, and his trade policy more generally, are big pluses for him going into 2020.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:54 p.m.: I liked it better when the White House was floating these ideas as the “Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act.” (That acronym!)
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:54 p.m.: Is Pelosi checking how much more of this speech there is to go? Distressingly, the answer is a lot.
DAVID BYLER, 9:53 p.m.: So far this speech has been a lot like last year’s SOTU.
E.J. DIONNE JR., 9:52 p.m.: In my column yesterday, I asked of Trump: “Will he be able to stay away from his staple references to ‘criminal aliens,’ ‘drug dealers’ and those coyotes he loves to summon?” Didn’t think so.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:52 p.m.: In a way, Trump is not entirely wrong to take credit for the fact that we have more women serving in Congress than ever before ...
KAREN TUMULTY, 9:52 p.m.: “We also have more women serving in Congress than ever before.” Number of Republican women serving in the House dropped after the 2018 election, from 23 to 13.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:51 p.m.: The chant is part and parcel with Democratic attempts to turn the “Make America Great Again” slogan on its head.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:50 p.m.: Reclaiming their time?
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:50 p.m.: Reclamation! (Re: Christine’s comment)
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:49 p.m.: And the Dems are using his “USA” chant against him — and he is NOT pleased.
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, 9:49 p.m.: The great irony of these employment numbers for women is that they’re exactly the kind of things Men’s Rights Activists like to cite to say that men are the ones who are truly oppressed. I actually think that there’s a really interesting political platform to be built around these shifts in gender roles, but the Trump administration is never in a zillion years going to be the one that actually makes all of those connections.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:49 p.m.: As soon as Trump delivered that line about more women serving in Congress than at any time before, the smile slid off his face completely.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:48 p.m.: We have more women in the workforce than ever before because there are more women alive than ever before. Women’s labor force participation rate peaked in 2000.
DAVID BYLER, 9:48 p.m.: Also worth noting Gallup published some polls showing the majority of respondents opposed “significantly expanding the construction of walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.”
HENRY OLSEN, 9:46 p.m.: San Diego — Sen. Kamala Harris. El Paso — Beto’s old congressional district. Coincidence? Methinks not.
KAREN TUMULTY, 9:46 p.m.: Forty-five minutes in, and he’s not even halfway through the speech.
E.J. DIONNE JR., 9:46 p.m.: Trump’s call for an end to division consumed a lot less time than his divisive, inflammatory, hyperbolic and fear-inducing rhetoric about immigration.
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, 9:45 p.m.: Oh, so a “a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier” is the hot product Trump’s pushing now, not some lousy old concrete wall. The slipperiness of Trump’s evolving rhetoric here will never cease to amaze me.
HUGH HEWITT, 9:45 p.m.: The president’s remarks on the dangers posed by the southern border going unsecured are powerful and are made more so by the presence of victims. It will be a flashpoint for the debates of tomorrow on whether such rhetoric is divisive and destructive or necessary and illustrative. Where you sit determines what you see. If the conference committee does not produce a compromise this is a debate that will intensify for the next two years.
KAREN TUMULTY, 9:44 p.m.: Here it is. First mention of the wall. About 40 minutes into the speech.
JACKSON DIEHL, 9:44 p.m.: We’re hearing two speeches — the thin sheen of “unity” rhetoric proposed by his political advisers — and the familiar hardcore demagoguery of a Trump rally. It’s easy to tell which bits Trump actually authored.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:44 p.m.: “I will never abolish our heroes for" ... mice? I know he’s trying to push back at the “Abolish ICE” meme that has gained traction on the left, but that line came out very garbled.
KAREN TUMULTY, 9:43 p.m.: William Howell, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, notes in an email to me: “Still no mention of a wall. This is quite a buildup.”
JENNIFER RUBIN, 9:41 p.m.: Why is Trump speaking so sloooowwwwly? No energy!
E.J. DIONNE JR., 9:41 p.m.: The demagoguery hits new levels: Trump strains to make the wall a class issue. Rich people, he says, live behind “walls and gates and guards.” (His tax cut may help them pay for all three!) Is his border wall is a form of wall redistribution?
GREG SARGENT, 9:41 p.m.: It’s remarkable to watch Republicans applauding Trump’s demagoguery on immigration. Right now, they are frantically scrambling to figure out how to avoid either another government shutdown or a declaration of a national emergency. They don’t know how or whether they can’t meet Trump’s wall demand, and have no clear way out. Their applause is just theater for the base, even as they’re hurtling towards disaster.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:39 p.m.: Rep. Ilhan Omar has her head in her hands and looks legitimately pained as Trump sings the evils of immigration from Mexico.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:38 p.m.: Trump has a consistent fascination with these women and girls who are supposedly being smuggled across the border — perhaps taped up with duct tape? — to be sexually assaulted and then sold into prostitution. Rumors of white slavery have a long history, and it’s bizarre how often — and in how much detail — he references this trope.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:38 p.m.: “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” The bill he endorsed last year cutting legal immigration in half suggests otherwise.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:37 p.m.: Immigrants are less likely to use the safety net than native-born Americans — in part because immigrants are less likely to be eligible for safety-net services.
DAVID BYLER, 9:37 p.m.: I’m not surprised about that he goes straight from the economy (where he has better numbers than in other issues) and bipartisanship to immigration. YouGov recently found that 28 percent of Republicans thought immigration was the most important issue. That’s a pretty high number considering YouGov also asked about the economy, jobs, health care and other important issues.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:36 p.m.: “I want more people than ever to come into our country, but they have to come here legally.” And they have to come from Norway, maybe ...
HENRY OLSEN, 9:36 p.m.: “Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways”. Had Trump said this over and over in 2015 and 2016, he would be much stronger today. His challenge will be to make this his mantra for the next two years when he speaks about illegal immigration, and about immigrants more broadly.
HUGH HEWITT, 9:35 p.m.: Hmm. Cutaway to Sen. Kamala Harris shaking her head at the president’s denunciations of coyotes who prey on would-be immigrants. Unfortunate timing. She may not approve of the border barriers and the president’s immigration policies, but I suspect she loathes the human traffickers as much he does.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:35 p.m.: Is he going to repeat the plot to Sicario 2 again?
E.J. DIONNE JR., 9:35 p.m.: I knew he had to mention the coyotes.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:34 p.m.: Pelosi holds her hand up, presumably signaling to the caucus to stay silent. No “You lie!” moment here.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:34 p.m.: Here comes the red meat along with ... cheering from Republicans?
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:32 p.m.: An urgent national crisis! Here we go.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:32 p.m.: To E.J.'s comment: It’s an exercise in contrast to hear Trump touting these tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy in front of Democrats, who have recently proposed a 70 percent marginal income tax above the $10 million threshold (Ocasio-Cortez) and a 2 percent wealth tax on assets above the $50 million threshold (Warren).
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, 9:31 p.m.: Every time Trump talks about criminal justice, I think of the Central Park Five and his role in demagoging the case. I interviewed Raymond Santana, one of the Five, six years ago, and he told me how disorienting it was to feel the difference between the way he and his co-defendants in the case saw themselves, and the way they were portrayed in the media, including in the newspaper ad Trump took out to condemn them. “Maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done,” he said at the time.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:31 p.m.: “More people are working now than at any time in the history of our country — 157 million people at work.” Completely coincidentally, we also have more people alive now than at any time in the history of our country.
HENRY OLSEN, 9:30 p.m.: Master stroke to have Alice Johnson in the gallery and tell her story. Message: I care, and this is what we can do when we work together.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:30 p.m.: To recap, things that won’t stop the “economic miracle”: pointless trade wars, threats to independence of the most important central bank on the planet. Things that definitely will: federal investigators doing their jobs.
E.J. DIONNE JR., 9:28 p.m.: Trump calls for ending partisanship. Then he calls the Democratic Party the “Democrat” Party. And he attacks "ridiculous partisan investigations.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:28 p.m.: “I heard through friends”? Is this the same friend who doesn’t go to Paris? Or maybe the “they” who didn’t believe it could be done. Or “everybody,” who is always saying nice things about the president.
E.J. DIONNE JR., 9:27 p.m.: “A massive tax cut for working families.” Really? “If you look at the richest 1 percent, they’re getting more than the bottom 60 percent of Americans,” said Steve Wamhoff, director of federal tax policy at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:26 p.m.: Merrick Garland might take issue with that comment about nominations stuck in the Senate.
HUGH HEWITT, 9:26 p.m.: A smattering of golf claps from Democrats for 300,000-plus new jobs. Another memorable visual.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:26 p.m.: Aaaaand there goes all that unity.
KAREN TUMULTY, 9:26 p.m.: “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations.” Echoes Nixon in 1974: “One year of Watergate is enough.”
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:25 p.m.: Pelosi gently shakes her head when Trump says the traditional line: The state of our union is strong. Once again, extremely cold.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:25 p.m.: “The State of Our Union is strong” — Vice President Pence stands up to broadcast his “approving uncle” smile, while Nancy Pelosi sits and shakes her head. That about sums it up.
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, 9:24 p.m.: I’m pretty sure Nancy Pelosi just stifled a laugh on “America is winning each and every day.” Given the chant of “USA! USA!” that broke out in the chamber, I don’t blame her. American politics are just so silly these days, and this is no exception.
HENRY OLSEN, 9:22 p.m.: “Right to Try” originated in Arizona — very smart politics for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to stand and applaud that line!
ERIK WEMPLE, 9:22 p.m.: President Trump, the fellow who on the day after the midterms ridiculed losing Republicans who failed to stand with him, tells the country we must end the “politics of revenge.”
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:20 p.m.: The quick pans to a sea of skeptical women in white act as great punctuation to Trump’s unusually agreeable rhetoric. They are not buying it, not at all.
DAVID BYLER, 9:19 p.m.: It makes sense that Trump is highlighting the economy early in the speech — it’s one of the areas where his approval rating is highest. The RealClearPolitcs average puts his approval numbers on the economy at 48.6 percent and his overall approval is only at 41.2 percent.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:19 p.m.: Trump says, using one of his favorite phrasings, that “many people said” it was “impossible” to add as many jobs as the economy has under his administration. I am not so sure anybody actually said this.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:19 p.m.: “The hottest economy?” Go away China, you can’t sit with us.
HUGH HEWITT, 9:18 p.m.: “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution” and a call for the common good gets a bipartisan standing ovation. That is a great visual. “Tonight I ask you to choose greatness” does not get the same response. Puzzling.
JENNIFER RUBIN, 9:17 p.m.: Rejecting the politics of revenge takes real chutzpah for this president.
KAREN TUMULTY, 9:17 p.m.: A choice of “vision or vengeance” is interesting, coming from a president who never seems to let go of a grudge.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, 9:17 p.m.: “Pointless destruction” sounds a lot like Trump’s governing philosophy.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:14 p.m.: “This year, Americans will go back to space on American rockets.” Have we heard anything about the Space Force recently?
HENRY OLSEN, 9:12 p.m.: “Victory is not winning for our party; victory is winning for our country.” Even some Democrats had to applaud that.
GREG SARGENT, 9:12 p.m.: Seems weirdly #LowEnergy.
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, 9:10 p.m.: I maintain, as I’ve written before, that it’s actually more unnerving to watch Trump behave like a normal president than it is to see him unleashed. Given that the platitudes he utters in situations such as this bear no relationship to the way he actually behaves as an individual or governs as president, watching him stick to the Teleprompter feels like watching a deepfake, or like we’ve fallen into the uncanny valley. It’s not comforting or encouraging in the slightest.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:10 p.m.: “All Americans” has been the theme of the past two years' speeches. The theme of the past two years' actions has been pretty much the opposite. That said, the prescription drugs point might be an area for real bipartisan compromise.
HENRY OLSEN, 9:09 p.m.: “Not as two parties, but as one nation.” Nice opening line and the right tone to take.
JENNIFER RUBIN, 9:09 p.m.: He begins in his quiet, indoor voice but with a stilted delivery, despite reportedly plenty of practice.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:08 p.m.: “I stand here ready to work with you.” Is this the first Pinocchio of the night? Fact check, please.
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, 9:08 p.m.: Nancy Pelosi’s ability to calibrate her clapping so that it’s technically polite but obviously completely unenthusiastic is magnificent. We should all take lessons.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:07 p.m.: Trump’s tie seems to be askew! Let’s see if it stays that way for the hour (or more ...) ahead.
KAREN TUMULTY, 9:07 p.m.: Someone should straighten the president’s tie.
JENNIFER RUBIN, 9:07 p.m.: The sea of women in white is quite striking, a sign things are different.
GREG SARGENT, 9:05 p.m.: With many of Trump’s acting Cabinet members now entering the chamber, it’s worth recalling why Trump prefers their status to remain “acting.” As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Trump believes they are more beholden to him that way.
MOLLY ROBERTS, 9:04 p.m.: Only Roberts, Kagan, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh? That’s interesting. Justices already sometimes skip out on the State of the Union because they have to sit stone-faced and refrain from showing any partisan support. But this year, after the Kavanaugh confirmation battle, things are particularly fraught, and showing up as a united front would have sent the signal that all is well among justices of different ideological persuasions. Instead, we have three conservatives and one liberal. Perhaps Kagan is eager to show the court hasn’t been torn asunder by this fall’s fight.
CHRISTINE EMBA, 9:03 p.m.: Did Nancy Pelosi literally grind her teeth as the president was being introduced? I look forward to the rest of her reactions.
KAREN TUMULTY, 9:01 p.m.: Some House members arrive in the chamber hours in advance, just to grab those center-aisle seats and a brief moment of national TV time. People on Capitol Hill snicker that on this evening every year, the center aisle becomes “ass-kissers alley.”
ALYSSA ROSENBERG, 8:49 p.m.: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may not exactly be looking forward to Trump’s address, but she’s definitely having a little bit of fun with her outfit for her first State of the Union. She’s wearing a cape blazer, a fashion-forward choice that’s also a nice little nod to her superhero status in the Democratic freshman class. A lot of folks seem to think it’s this Zara piece, which retailed for $99.99 before it sold out. Politicians who would like to steal some of AOC’s thunder should take note: One way to seem appealing to the public is to look like you’re having fun. AOC always does, and tonight, her ensemble is both a nod to the suffrage movement and a reminder that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to look sharper than most members of Congress manage.
KAREN TUMULTY, 8:48 p.m.: I’m a little nostalgic for the old days, when then-speaker John Boehner sat there, behind the president’s shoulder, clearly craving a cigarette.
BEFORE THE SPEECH: SETTING THE SCENE
HENRY OLSEN: President Trump needs to expand his support by about 4 percent to be in a good position for reelection. Tonight’s speech is his best chance to strike the more conciliatory tone that will get him there.
MOLLY ROBERTS: President Trump is supposed to appeal to American unity tonight, but few will believe him. The devolution of the State of the Union address under this president into pure partisan spectacle gives viewers an opportunity to ask a bigger question: At its best, what value does this annual speech have?
ALYSSA ROSENBERG: Washington is a city more known for substance than style, but tonight I’ll be watching for both. Beyond the inevitable weirdness of President Trump’s attempts to play normal, he’ll be addressing a group of lawmakers who have used fashion to state their intentions for this new Congress and accompanied by his wife, who knows how to make a statement of her own. Tonight, the outfits, the guest lists and the facial expressions will tell us as much, if not more, than the words on Trump’s teleprompter.
DAVID BYLER: The State of the Union usually isn’t very exciting — it often reads like a giant list of legislative priorities. I’m not watching for memorable lines or gripping moments; I’m planning on using the speech to track how President Trump’s ideology has shifted over time and see whether his strategy has changed now that Democrats are in charge of the House.
HUGH HEWITT: I hope the president opens — after a generous and good-natured congratulation to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on her achievement of being not just the first female speaker but now also the first woman to ever reclaim the gavel — and closes his remarks on the need for the world to rally around freedom-seeking people of Venezuela, their leader Juan Guaidó, and the goal that the Western Hemisphere become the Freedom Hemisphere, with the people of Cuba and Nicaragua quickly following Venezuela’s courageous move toward rejecting their police states.
The negotiations over border security and immigration reform will get their paragraphs, as will a review of President Trump’s policy triumphs — especially the tax cuts and economic boom — but if his theme is freedom for Venezuela and the world, he can’t go wrong. In fact, the speech could become a lever with which to catapult Nicolás Maduro out of power and into exile.
CHRISTINE EMBA: The current state of the union is a shambles, and it’s difficult to imagine this speech convincing us of anything different. From President Trump, I’m expecting the usual mix of border fear-mongering and unwarranted self-congratulation — it’s the Democratic response that has the most potential to surprise.
CATHERINE RAMPELL: I’ll be listening for whether President Trump’s talk matches his walk — on “unity” (which he is expected to call for, hours after cyberbullying Chuck Schumer and demonizing immigrants); HIV prevention (after proposing funding cuts in his last two budgets, dismissing the presidential council on HIV and leaving it vacant for nearly a year, etc.); prioritizing infrastructure and fiscal responsibility; and so on.
CHARLES LANE: One of the few rays of light in the shutdown struggle was the brief possibility that the State of the Union address would not take place this year. Alas, we will go through this political ritual, which manages every year somehow to be both hollow and overstuffed. Particularly grotesque is the “tradition” of trotting out “ordinary” Americans as political props, which originated with President Ronald Reagan but which successor presidents and now members of Congress have adopted, as well. The strategic invitations of various point-making guests harks to another Washington fest, the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, which is moribund, just as the SOTU should be. Let the president send a written message and be done with it.
JACKSON DIEHL: Latin American leaders will be hoping President Trump does not have too much to say about Venezuela. U.S. bluster and (mostly empty) threats of military intervention risk undermining what has been a Latin American-led campaign (with help from Canada) to delegitimize the Maduro regime.
E.J. DIONNE JR: I expect a strange and bifurcated speech because President Trump will be calling for civility and shared goals (on infrastructure, for example), even as he continues to divide the country by insisting on his wall and a hard line on immigration. In any event, we have learned that whatever warm words Trump speaks about the opposition are quickly overtaken by subsequent lines of attack on Twitter. A few friendly-sounding paragraphs do not a “presidential” persona make.
JENNIFER RUBIN: If tonight contains a plea for unity, it’s about three years too late, coming from the most divisive politician in history.
GREG SARGENT: Tonight, President Trump will offer empty paeans to “unity” and finding “common ground.” But these are really about seducing centrist commentators into claiming he has “pivoted.” Let’s not forget that he already did the very same thing during his last two addresses to Congress — after which he reverted carrying out the most polarizing and divisive presidency in modern memory. The same thing will happen again.
KAREN TUMULTY: State of the Union addresses, by and large, have not been memorable for soaring rhetoric or defining moments. That is not the point of them. Presidents are required by the Constitution to give Congress a regular status report of how the country is doing and, in modern times, they have used these speeches to spell out their priorities as sort of a checklist against which voters can measure the progress of their agendas. Far more important than anything President Trump says tonight is how well he follows it up.
Visit the contributors' Post archives: David Byler, Jackson Diehl, Christine Emba, Hugh Hewitt, Charles Lane, Henry Olsen, Catherine Rampell, Molly Roberts, Alyssa Rosenberg, Jennifer Rubin, Greg Sargent, Stephen Stromberg, Ann Telnaes, Karen Tumulty and Erik Wemple