President Trump intends to offer an “aspirational” and “visionary” path for the nation at the State of the Union on Tuesday, White House aides said, even as his relations with lawmakers have soured over his threats to use executive power to bypass them.
In his third prime-time address to the nation from the House chambers, Trump will call on Congress to work with him on initiatives around infrastructure and health care, while also reaffirming his strategy to toughen immigration enforcement, confront China on trade and actively intervene in the political upheaval in Venezuela, aides said in previewing the speech Friday.
Trump will make an appeal for bipartisan support, the aides said, despite the heightened acrimony in the nation’s capital as the White House has engaged in a fierce standoff with Democrats over the president’s efforts to build a border wall. The speech comes after Trump began his third year in office last month during a partial government shutdown that ended only after the president set a Feb. 15 ultimatum to get his wall — with a threat to declare a national emergency if he is rebuffed.
“Together we can break decades of political stalemate,” Trump plans to say, according to an excerpt of his prepared remarks offered by a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make.”
Earlier Friday, Trump was coy about his plans for a potential national emergency, which advisers have said could allow him to redirect some Pentagon funding to build the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I don’t want to say,” Trump said at a midday photo op, when asked about that possibility. “You’ll hear the State of the Union, and let’s see what happens.”
The president intends to highlight his immigration agenda, the senior administration official said, but the speech is not intended as a sweeping, lengthy complaint on that topic. The aide described the address, in length and tone, as in line with traditional State of the Union speeches from Trump.
Among the key points, the president intends to call on lawmakers to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement that his administration signed last year. That pact is intended to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump called unfair to American workers.
The president also will discuss his national security and foreign policy initiatives, including his “determination to bring an end to U.S. foreign wars,” the official said. Trump has initiated a withdrawal of troops from Syria, though aides have emphasized that it will be done in a deliberate fashion as the United States continues to battle threats from the Islamic State. The president has suggested that the Islamic State has largely been defeated, but national security analysts say the group remains a potent threat in the region.
The administration also has negotiated the outlines of a tentative peace deal with the Taliban, which could lead to a drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Trump’s speech had been scheduled for Jan. 29, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called it off because the shutdown was underway, leading to an angry response from the president, who denied her and several other Democrats access to a military plane to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives who narrowly lost the gubernatorial race last fall, is slated to deliver the Democratic rebuttal to Trump.
A joint negotiating committee on Capitol Hill is trying to work out a spending deal to keep the government open past Feb. 15, which is when the three-week continuing resolution that ended the shutdown is set to expire. Pelosi has said there will be no money for a wall in any deal, and in an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, Trump called the talks a “waste of time.”
Asked if Trump would acknowledge the shutdown in his speech, the administration official said the president will “definitely talk about immigration and about where we are in that debate and present a path forward. The totality of the speech will address it because in some ways, he will offer a vision forward.”
Last year, Trump used the State of the Union to admonish North Korea and build public support for his maximum-pressure campaign on dictator Kim Jong Un. That helped lead to a summit between the leaders in Singapore in June, and a second summit has been tentatively planned for the end of this month, perhaps in Vietnam.
Trump has said an announcement of an exact date and location is imminent, but the administration official declined to say whether the president would talk about his engagement with Kim in the speech Tuesday.
White House officials said the guest list for the first lady’s viewing box will be released Monday, but they said the speech likely will be worked on through Tuesday.
“We’re always capable of incorporating things at the last minute,” the official said, “and we will be ready this time as well.”