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What to watch during the State of the Union

Feb 4, 2020, 6:59 AM
State of the Union...
FILE- In this Jan. 28, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center Oceanfront in Wildwood, N.J. Trump will be facing his accusers Tuesday night during his State of the Union speech. The impeached president was acquitted by the Senate Wednesday. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)
(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Who’s clapping now?

On the brink of his Senate acquittal, President Donald Trump will be unleashing “relentless optimism” during his third State of the Union address, a speech designed to pivot from his impeachment to his drive for reelection. President Trump is speaking from a position of strength, with nearly complete control of the Republican Party. The theme of his speech: “The Great American Comeback.”

It’ll be a different experience for Democrats, nearly all of whom voted for Mr. Trump’s impeachment in the House. Where Mr. Trump will point to GOP unity ahead of the 2020 elections, Democrats and their difficult nomination will be on display after a long night of uncertainty in Iowa’s kickoff caucuses.

The contrast with President Trump’s State of the Union address last year will be stark. Then, Democrats were triumphant just a few days after taking control of the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had forced Mr. Trump to reopen the government. Her smirking clap, eye-to-eye with him, mocked the president of the United States in front of the world.

What to watch during President Trump’s speech at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday:

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TRUMP AND PELOSI

They haven’t spoken since Pelosi stood up, pointed at Mr. Trump across a table at the White House and bluntly suggested he is controlled by the president of Russia. “All roads lead to Putin,” she said, before stalking out.

The extraordinary moment last October was captured in a now-famous photograph that Mr. Trump released and Pelosi slapped across the top of her Twitter page. At other times, she’s questioned his “manhood” and he’s called her “crazy.”

Impeachment has only inflamed things. Pelosi last week said Mr. Trump will never have a true acquittal because the Senate did not hold a real trial with witnesses. But, she’s said with relish, “He’ll be impeached forever.”

President Trump, meanwhile, is poised to claim vindication in yet another “witch hunt” by Democrats who, he says, just wanted to overturn the 2016 election.

Watch them for any spark of civility. Pelosi and many Democratic women are expected to wear suffragette white to the speech.

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TONE

The White House said last week to look for “can-do optimism in the face of unjustified pessimism we are hearing from some in Congress.”

But officials would not guarantee that Mr. Trump will stick to his speech. The president will be in the same room as his accusers at a moment of impending victory. He has a strong and often-stated sense of grievance and is known for going off-script.

Look for roaring applause and cheers from Republicans, who have almost completely stuck with the retribution-loving president.

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THE BIG PICTURE

PresidentTrump is sure to use the speech to try to remind the country of what he’s accomplished.

The White House would not say whether it is modeling Mr. Trump’s speech on President Bill Clinton’s in 1999, amid his own impeachment trial. Clinton never mentioned the I-word.

Look for President Trump, like President Clinton, to promote a strong economy. Mr. Trump is expected to lead with talk about what the White House calls a “blue-collar boom.” There have been gains in blue-collar wages under Trump, though some of those gains have faded as Mr. Trump’s trade war hurt manufacturing.

Watch to see if Mr. Trump can stick to the high road rhetorically, in his own style. Clinton ended his by asking the nation to envision a State of the Union speech 100 years from that night, from the “mountaintop of the American Century.”

“Let it be said of us then that we were thinking not only of our time, but of their time; that we reached as high as our ideals. That we put aside our divisions and found a new hour of healing and hopefulness; that we joined together to serve and strengthen the land we love.”

At the time, some said his rhetoric was over the top.

____

UKRAINE?

Will Mr. Trump even mention Ukraine? Republicans have started to come out and agree that the president had “inappropriately” tried to get political help from that country while he held up military aid.

The House impeached him for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his actions in response to the House investigation.

The issue clearly puts Republicans in a bind. Several have said that House prosecutors proved their case, but even so, the wrongdoing didn’t rise to the level of impeachment or removal from office.

___

CORONAVIRUS

Will he make any mention of the new coronavirus?

“We’ve offered China help, but we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus,” Mr. Trump said Sunday. At the same time, the president has tried to avoid angering China by being too outspoken, according to confidants.

Under new rules, U.S. citizens who have traveled in China within the last 14 days will be re-routed to one of 11 designated airports, where they will undergo enhanced health screening procedures.

___

MIDEAST PEACE

President Trump is focused on re-introducing himself to Americans as a president who has made the country — and voters’ lives specifically — better. So listen for any mention of foreign policy and national security issues.

Mr. Trump’s Mideast peace plan is a good test. The President said that his efforts to solve the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would gain support because it’s a “win-win” for both sides. In fact, Mr. Trump’s plan favors Israel on key contentious issues and attaches nearly impossible conditions for granting the Palestinians their hoped-for state. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the plan as “nonsense.”

If Mr. Trump says nothing about the plan during the speech, that could signal that he knows it’s in trouble.

___

IRAN

Listen for how harsh Mr. Trump is on Tehran in the wake of Iran’s bombing that injured U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The attack was retribution for the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. In the month since, an uneasy quiet has settled over the region.

Will Mr. Trump suggest he’ll eventually want to sit down and talk with the Iranians, signal the door is closed for talks, or poke Tehran?

The White House said to expect Mr. Trump’s tone to be “determined” and “forceful.”

___

AFGHANISTAN

Will Trump announce a troop withdrawal?

The Taliban want U.S. and other coalition forces to leave. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says a deal is close, but it won’t happen without a reduction in violence and a pathway for talks between the Taliban and other Afghans about a peaceful way forward for the nation.

___

IN THE ROOM

There’s always some suspense over who shows up and who stays away.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s campaign said late Monday it was unlikely that the Massachusetts senator will attend Trump’s speech, coming the day after the Iowa caucuses. Another Democratic contender, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, has an event in New Hampshire scheduled earlier Tuesday evening.

Other legislators have their own reasons for attending — or not.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said she’ll attend “to bear witness.”

“That means that I do not clap. I do not acknowledge. I’m just there as a witness,” she said.

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Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.

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Follow Kellman at http://www.Twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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