After the protracted shutdown standoff between Donald Trump’s GOP and Democratic lawmakers threatened to derail the president’s second State of the Union address, Trump is headed into Tuesday’s high-profile speech armed with a simple plea to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and other Democrats on Capitol Hill:
Please. Don’t. Hurt. Me.
On Friday afternoon, a senior Trump administration official briefed reporters on some of the planned contents of the upcoming address, which is set to include themes of “American greatness,” Trump’s standard talk of immigration and violent crime, NAFTA and China-bashing, and “endless foreign wars.”
One element the senior official repeatedly touched on during the background briefing was Trump’s plans to emphasize the virtues of “cooperation and compromise,” and to try to rhetorically dissuade Democrats from giving themselves over to “resistance and retribution.”
The official also read excerpts from a draft of the State of the Union speech, which had Trump speaking against “political stalemate,” and imploring Democratic politicians to help “build new coalitions” and to find “new solutions” across the aisle on several policy fronts, such as prescription drug pricing and infrastructure spending.
This was, essentially, the Trump White House telegraphing a coming public overture—however much in bad faith—in the name of bipartisanship and harmony amid various political standoffs. And it’s all coming from a president and a White House that have made owning the libs a cornerstone of their rhetoric and policy-making over the last two years.
The difference being that this will be Trump’s first State of the Union delivered with a Democratic House speaker perched just over his shoulder during the televised event.
The “blue wave” of the 2018 midterm elections came with a Democratic congressional majority promising a wave of investigations, subpoenas, and political resistance to numerous facets of the Trump and Republican agenda—resistance that the president has routinely knocked as mere bitter “obstruction.”
And as evidenced by Democrats emerging unified and in a more politically advantageous position from the long, bruising shutdown and border wall fight, the opposition to the president likely sees plenty incentive to continue on a path of “resistance and retribution,” instead of playing nice with a deal-cutting Trump.
“I would challenge them. I don’t think the Congress is going to do anything for the next year except pass CRs,” Barry Bennett, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, told The Daily Beast on Sunday. “So I would challenge Democratic leadership. The hard part for [the president] is that Democrats are going to be very rude to him. They’re going to boo him. So we’ll see how he reacts.”
One way in which President Trump’s conservative allies hope he will challenge liberals during Tuesday’s speech is by addressing and condemning the abortion legislation in New York and Virginia that expands access to legal late-term abortion in certain cases.
Three sources familiar with the discussions say that there have been a number of conversations between the Trump White House and conservative Christian activists over the past week pushing the president to highlight the issue not only during the State of the Union, but as often as possible.
“I have made that recommendation, as have many Christian leaders,” said Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor and Trump ally, describing a conference call with senior White House officials that he was on last week.
He added, however, that “no one’s opinion, including my own, on what he should say in the speech, in the end, means a whole lot. President Trump is going to talk about what he wants to talk about… I don’t even want to predict what he is going to talk about... I know President Trump, and knowing him, he does not allow other people to navigate him in the kind of speech he is going to give. He is going to talk about what is important to him and what is a priority for the country.”