“Whatever happens he claims that it’s a victory for him, in many instances when it’s far from it. So that’s what he’ll say,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential contender, said during a break in Monday’s closing arguments by the prosecutors and the president’s defense team.
“For a while he might almost be like a cartoon-figure president,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), comparing the president to the Incredible Hulk breaking off chains holding him down. “The guardrails are gone.”
A day shy of the one-year mark since the 2019 presidential address, this speech will have some of the similar trappings in a political landscape that is far different.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will again being wearing white, sitting behind Trump and next to Vice President Pence, in honor of the suffragist movement, according to an adviser. Dozens of Democratic women will also be wearing white, an echo of last year’s address when they celebrated their record numbers following the 2018 midterm elections and the new Democratic majority.
Trump, having just been embarrassed over a 35-day partial shutdown of the government, took a moment to praise the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment and how there are “more women serving in Congress than at any time before.”
Pelosi gave Trump an almost mocking clap at one point, an instant viral moment.
Now, however, the president comes to the House chamber having been impeached by Pelosi and House Democrats and on the verge of an acquittal in the Senate — with the added bonus of the majority of senators voting to acquit and possibly one or two Democrats.
Pelosi seems to be expecting the worst. “Does the president know right from wrong? I don’t think so. That’s all I can say to you,” she told reporters Thursday, when asked if Trump would be humbled by impeachment or empowered by the acquittal.
Pelosi’s guests for Tuesday’s speech are expected to be symbols of soaring health-care costs and victims and survivors of gun violence. In a sign they want to move beyond discussing impeachment, most Democrats who have announced their guests are similarly focused on health care as the issue they want to put forward.
Republicans do not want Trump to use his State of the Union platform as a grievance cudgel against Democrats, but they also know that their views of decorum are often ignored by this president. “We’re not done tomorrow, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to bring up,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. “But he is his own person.”
Lankford wants Trump to keep the impeachment talk to political rallies. “At official events, not so much,” he said. “I don’t think the State of the Union is the place for it.”
Some Republicans and Democrats held out hope that Trump would use the annual address in a manner similar to Bill Clinton, who in 1999 delivered the address in the middle of his presidential impeachment trial.
Over 77 minutes Clinton focused entirely on policy, never mentioning his trial. Trump will not formally have been cleared, but the president knows the outcome is preordained. He has usually stuck to the script in his prepared remarks at his first three joint addresses to Congress, relishing the chance to have the political stage all to himself.
He could choose to seize the moment and air his frustrations with Pelosi for leading the House to make him only the third president to have ever been impeached.
“The vote will not have occurred yet. I hope not, I hope he doesn’t do that. I think that would simply inflame things further, but I have no idea,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats.
Regardless, King is expecting Trump’s next few weeks to be particularly outlandish.
“Principally because he’s expressed no remorse or understanding that he did anything wrong,” he said. “So why should he hold back? That’s what worries me.”
As he closed out the House managers’ case, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) made that point to a cast of Senate Republicans who had already rejected his pleas to bring witnesses and documents sought in the trial. Schiff said that “even a single vote” by a Republican to convict Trump would be a victory, at least sending a signal that some GOP senators were willing to defy the president.
Otherwise, he said, “He will not change, and you know it.”
Schiff warned that a full acquittal by Republicans would give Trump free will to encourage other foreign powers to help his 2020 reelection.
“He has done it before, he will do it again,” Schiff said.
Klobuchar, however, said that her experience on the campaign trail had given her a level of optimism about voters. At Monday night’s Democratic caucuses in Iowa, two former GOP state legislators will be supporting her campaign, a sign that, she believes, shows the difference between Republicans in Washington and those across the country.
“Maybe in this place a bunch of the Republicans, when he says jump, they say how high. That’s not true of regular people out there,” Klobuchar said.
These Republicans, in her mind, have given Democrats a chance to win the case against Trump before the ultimate jury, voters in the 2020 election, and they support what Democrats have done so far.
“They think this is going to be a decency check on this president, a patriotism check,” Klobuchar said. “So he can claim victory all he wants, depending on what happens Wednesday, but I think people know what went on here.”