State of the Union Preview: Trump Will Focus on 'Roaring' Economy as Uniting Force

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President Donald Trump speaks to the media after arriving for a meeting at the Pentagon, on January 18, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump plans to use Tuesday evening's State of the Union address to unite Americans around a message of economic renewal. At the same time, he will discuss legislative proposals, including immigration and infrastructure, that have already drawn criticism from Republicans and Democrats.

The message of the address will be "building a safe, strong and proud America," said a senior administration official during a Friday afternoon briefing with reporters at the White House. The official was only authorized to speak on the condition of anonymity.

"You can expect that the president will be speaking from the heart," the official said.

Trump's first address to Congress was widely lauded for its presidential tone, which marked a break from the divisive tone of his campaign rallies — and of his inaugural address, with its invocation of "American carnage." The senior official indicated that Tuesday's address, delivered to Congress, will be similarly sunny, focusing on a "roaring" economy energized by last year's tax reform package.

Although critics have charged that the tax cuts in that bill inordinately favor corporations and wealthy individuals, the White House has been forcefully making the case that blue-collar and middle-class Americans have benefited from wage increases and bonuses, not to mention the stock market's continuing ascent.

"President Trump cares about all Americans," the White House official said at Friday's briefing. He suggested that first lady Melania Trump's guests at the event would include Americans who are thriving in the Trump economy. Democrats, conversely, have said they plan to invite dreamers, as young people who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents at a young age are known.

The case of the dreamers — and the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that protects them from deportation, but which expires in March — was highlighted during the recent shutdown of the federal government. It will also be one of five major themes Trump plans to mention during the hour-long prime-time address.

The five themes of the speech, the senior official said, will be the robust state of the economy, the president's $1.7 trillion infrastructure plan, immigration, "fair and reciprocal trade," and a national security policy that seeks to project "peace through strength."

Notably, the senior official declined to say whether the State of the Union address would include mention of climate change. The United States is now the only nation in the world that is not a signatory to the Paris climate accords, a non-binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions. Syria, the only other holdout, joined the agreement last November.

The senior official would also not say whether Trump would discuss the Affordable Care Act, which the president has frequently called a "disaster." Efforts to repeal the health law, President Obama's signature achievement, took several months of grinding toil by both the White House and congressional Republicans — and ultimately came to naught. There seems to be little chance that the president, or congressional leaders, will try again ahead of the 2018 midterm elections next November.

The legislative imperatives the senior official outlined will likely prove challenging enough.

During the presidential campaign, Trump said his infrastructure plan would cost $1 trillion; that estimate has since nearly doubled. The cost — $1.7 trillion over the next decade — could frighten spending-averse conservatives, especially in the House of Representatives. At the same time, Democrats in the Senate who may be seeking the presidential nomination in 2020 have no incentive to cooperate with Trump, since they would likely be punished for doing so by the party's liberal base. Their intransigence, even on something as seemingly popular as infrastructure repair, would doom the plan.

Immigration could prove even more vexing. A desire to protect the dreamers led, in good part, to the government shutdown earlier this month. At the same time, the speed with which Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, ended the shutdown suggests an unease among centrists in his caucus with such bold measures.

While protecting dreamers from deportation is a broadly popular stance, shutting down the federal government to do so was not. As legislators on Capitol Hill begin to grapple with Trump's plan, the goal for both parties will be to appear humane while signaling to their most ideological supporters that they haven't compromised on core promises: border security for Republicans, compassion for undocumented immigrants for Democrats.

The White House released an immigration plan on Thursday that would protect about 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, the dreamers principal among them. However, the plan also calls for $25 billion for a barrier along the border with Mexico, along with more vigorous deportation of the undocumented and significantly more restrictive legal immigration.

For many Democrats, the bill goes too far in the direction of enforcement. Schumer announced his displeasure on Twitter. "This plan flies in the face of what most Americans believe," he wrote.

Conservative legislators were also displeased, though for different reasons—for them, the protections offered to some undocumented immigrants amount to "amnesty," which they have long fought as a solution to the nation's immigration conundrum.

"I have some concerns," said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, a member of the influential Freedom Caucus, whose 30 or so members could potentially defeat the bill.

Selling the bill—and the rest of the White House agenda—will fall to Trump's director of legislative affairs, Marc Short—and to Trump himself. That effort begins with Tuesday's speech, whose contents the White House sought to brand as "common sense agenda items that all Americans can unite around."

Near the end of the briefing, a journalist asked if Trump's tone on foreign policy would echo his "fire and fury" warning to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, famously issued last year during an event otherwise devoted to opioid abuse.

But it was impossible to ignore the innuendo: Fire and Fury is, as millions of readers know, journalist Michael Wolff's exposé about the tumultuous first several months of the Trump presidency.

The other journalists chuckled. The senior White House official smiled.

"I won't comment on that," he said.

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