State of the Union to Focus on Infrastructure, Immigration

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump will deliver his first State of Union address on Tuesday and use his appearance before a joint session of Congress to roll out a $1 trillion plan for nationwide infrastructure improvements and solicit support for proposed changes to the nation’s immigration system that has been roundly criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

According to the White House, Trump, who last addressed a joint session of Congress in February 2017, will attempt to reach beyond his base of supporters to promote an immigration plan that will please conservatives in most respects, but also grant citizenship to as many as 1.8 million so-called Dreamers.

The speech comes after a tumultuous year from the Trump administration. Since he last appeared before, Trump and congressional Republicans have tried and failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the administration has controversially pulled out of both the Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

The president has also continued to be dogged by the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and has had to weather several high profile departures from the administration, the most recent coming Monday, with the resignation of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

But for all that, Trump continues to look ahead, touting the benefits of the tax cut plan the Republicans passed just before Christmas and his successful trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week.

“There’s already a great deal of optimism ahead,” a senior White House official said during an off-camera briefing with reporters on Friday.

While the official refrained from delving into the specifics of the president’s speech, reporters were told Trump will likely focused on the nation’s “record low unemployment and record high stock markets.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate holds at roughly 4 percent, the lowest level since December 2000. Closing out 2017, only a modest 148,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy for December. This contributed to the seventh straight year of annual employment growth over 2 million but overall, it was still slower growth than President Barack Obama’s final year in office.

The Dow Industrial Average also hit record highs in early January. Over 2017, the Dow saw a 25 percent gain overall.

A leaked copy of the administration’s proposed infrastructure package circulated online last week. It offered scant insight into investment totals but does indicate a move to reduce cost-sharing for infrastructure projects. During a meeting with mayors at the White House last week, President Trump told reporters the $1 trillion investment could increase to  $1.7 trillion.

The administration is also poised to ask Congress for $200 billion in federal spending for infrastructure, a request which is expected to meet far fewer obstacles in Congress than the administration has seen on others issue like  immigration.

On Jan. 20 after Democrats and Republicans doggedly disputed the future legal status of participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program, or DACA, the government shut down through Jan. 22.

After reopening, the White House announced a proposal for immigration framework offering  DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants pathways to citizenship in exchange for a $25 billion investment in border security. The deal would deliver on Trump’s promise of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It also features more immigration restrictions like end to the visa lottery program.

On Twitter, the president was divisive on immigration, criticizing  Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York,  blaming him for the shut down. Tuesday’s speech is expected to be a measured affair.

“We’re very optimistic and this is going to be very unifying in the sense that it is about unifying around greater opportunities for all Americans,” a White House official said.

The State of the Union may be billed as a chance for the president to achieve consensus in Congress and among the public, but Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, whom the Democrats have selected to deliver their response to Trump’s comments, has already suggested “consensus” will be a tall order.

“From health care to economic justice to civil rights, the Democratic agenda stands in powerful contrast to President Trump’s broken promises to American families. Our vision for this union is guided by a simple belief that equality and economic dignity should be afforded to every American,” Kennedy said in a written statement.

Virginia delegate Elizabeth Guzman will speak after Kennedy to deliver a Spanish-language Democratic response to the president’s State of the Union. Guzman is the first Latina elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

Of course, critiques from the party not in power, is nothing new when it comes to that State of the Union address, said Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington, D.C.

But Trump does face one unique challenge, he said during an interview with Courthouse News on Monday.

“Our nation’s politics have never been more tribal … the current divide between Republicans and Democrats is a chasm that even soaring presidential rhetoric will struggle to overcome,” he said. “President Trump also faces the challenge where the dysfunction in our political system doesn’t lead to not only skepticism of his policies—but also a lack of confidence in our political institutions.”

Almost every modern president has used the State of the Union to push his agenda from “the bully pulpit, but Mahafee said the number of open-minded people sitting out in the figurative pews is getting smaller all the time.

“ The impact of the speech appears to be increasingly blunted by an environment where the outcome is filtered through a partisan media landscape, as those on the left and right will apply it to their existing narratives,” he said.

 

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