President Donald Trump plans to set aside his fire-and-fury rhetoric to deliver a conciliatory message in his first State of the Union address, using the televised speech to reach voters beyond his base in an election year marked by intense polarization and a troubled electoral map for Republicans.
Early versions of Trump’s speech indicate the president, facing an in-house congressional audience grimly divided along ideological lines, will adopt a unifying tone with the theme of a “safe, strong and proud America.” The approach marks an attempt to shift the national conversation from Trump’s dismal public approval ratings, an election year that threatens Republican control of Congress and a White House consumed by an investigation into Russian campaign meddling.
Trump will tally a year of notable accomplishments that have been overshadowed by scandals, investigations and his own quick temper. And he’ll offer a legislative agenda to appeal to Republicans and Democrats, including an ambitious infrastructure package, common ground on immigration reform and an America-first trade policy, a senior administration official told reporters.
“The tone will be one of bipartisanship and will be very forward-looking,” the official said. “It will be an attractive message.”
The bar for success is low. A year ago, a newly elected Trump calmed an anxious electorate and won praise from some Democrats when he addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time after a volatile and ugly campaign. He was calm, controlled, compassionate — and even to some skeptics, he was presidential. Trump, obsessed with media coverage of his presidency, loved the adulation.
His challenge Tuesday night will be to deliver a repeat performance to a more skeptical national audience that has now experienced a year of Trump’s America.
To put it simply, “he has to be normal,” said Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary to President George W. Bush. “People knew he was 100 percent different from every politician who came before, but they thought he could go to Washington and get things done. He’s entering the must-get-things-done part of his presidency and a big part of that can be driven by a State of the Union speech that’s normal and gets bipartisan support.”
The president’s speechwriters completed a full draft of the speech last week, but it is still being edited and tweaked, with Cabinet secretaries and senior White House aides reviewing and offering suggestions. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have offered feedback on the national security portion of the speech, the White House official said.
Trump will continue to review the speech through the weekend and into next week. White House aides are also planning practice sessions on Monday and Tuesday in which the president will read the address off a teleprompter while standing at a podium, an effort to replicate the conditions in the House chamber.
The White House was scheduled to brief surrogates about the speech on Saturday afternoon and distribute taking points.
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