What To Expect From Trump's 2nd State Of The Union Address

Feb 5, 2019
Originally published on February 5, 2019 10:04 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When President Trump delivers his State of the Union address to Congress tonight, it will be his first time doing so under a divided government that was ushered in by the Democrats' takeover of the House. White House aides say the president will present a message of unity and bipartisanship. That kind of message is sharply at odds with our recent political experience, namely a bitter partisan fight over Trump's insistence on a border wall. That position led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now from the White House to talk about what to expect tonight. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: The White House says tonight is supposed to be about unity, but it does not seem like we've been living in a time of unity. What do you think the president can actually accomplish in this speech?

LIASSON: I think the president can accomplish a lot in the speech. I think after tonight, we'll have a sense of whether he wants a big debate with the Democrats about his top priorities, like immigration and a border wall, or whether he wants to really get things done, which would mean compromising with Democrats.

He has an example of that. The big bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that passed last year. That was something Congress had been working on on a bipartisan basis for years. The same is true - could be true for infrastructure or lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

But you're right. This is not a time of unity. Just look at the pre-speech back-and-forth between the president and the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer. Schumer went on the floor of the Senate, said the president can't really call for unity because he's been undermining unity with his divisive tweets and attacks. And then, as if perfectly on cue, President Trump replied with a tweet...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

LIASSON: ...Saying that Schumer was just upset he didn't win the Senate majority in 2018.

SHAPIRO: All right. As we mentioned, this is going to be the president's first time delivering this speech before a House that is controlled by Democrats. So Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be behind him. And, as you mentioned, we are expecting bipartisan proposals like infrastructure. But this is not the first time he's proposed that. This is from last year's State of the Union address.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Tonight, I'm calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs.

SHAPIRO: And here we are a year later, Mara. No infrastructure package has been passed. Is getting anything bipartisan through Congress really realistic?

LIASSON: Well, the safe bet and answer to that question is no, but in the past, divided government has produced results. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich got welfare reform. And the Democrats have an infrastructure plan on the shelf.

They also have a prescription drug pricing plan ready, which, among other things, would allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices, a position Donald Trump actually supported when he was a candidate. Now, Republicans in Congress don't like that idea. So on drug prices, if Trump wants to accomplish something, he'd have to triangulate and cut a deal with Democrats instead of his own party.

I think the big question is, has polarization gone so far that for the president and the Democrats even sharing victory with the other side is not in their political interests? I think we're going to get the first clue to that question next week when we find out whether the conference committee that's negotiating border funding, whether it's able to come up with a compromise or not.

SHAPIRO: Presidents have used the State of the Union to make big announcements, and Trump has teased a possible announcement on North Korea, maybe the specifics of a second summit with Kim Jong Un. There's been talk of him maybe declaring a national emergency to build a border wall. Do those things seem likely tonight?

LIASSON: I think I'd be surprised to hear him declare a national emergency tonight, even though he's already undermined the congressional negotiators by saying their negotiations are a waste of time. But they do have a deadline of February 15, and I'd be surprised if he didn't at least let them try until then. Also the national emergency is still the subject of a big internal debate inside the Republican Party and the White House.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Mara Liasson speaking with us from the White House. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.