WASHINGTON (CN) — Roughly 24 hours before his expected acquittal at a trial where neither new evidence nor witnesses were heard, the third president impeached in U.S. history will deliver a State of the Union address Tuesday night to a nation deeply divided over whether he should remain in power.
President Donald Trump is expected to focus the annual remarks not on impeachment but instead on what the administration has dubbed “the great American comeback” since the 2016 election.
What Trump touts as unparalleled economic growth, job creation and trade stood at odds last week, however, with an announcement by the Commerce Department that U.S. GDP hit just 2.3% in 2019.
That figure is the worst growth performance by the U.S. economy to date under Trump. It also falls short of the 4-6% bump Trump said was easily within reach after the start of his presidency. While the U.S. economy has seen growth under Trump, GDP growth has yet to break 3% since his election.
Trump with the State of the Union meanwhile finds a chance to stump for re-election in November. His remarks on Tuesday night are expected to touch on subjects ubiquitous to his time on the campaign trail like border control, national security and immigration laws, specifically, those his administration deems too lax.
Remarks are also anticipated on the administration’s continued pursuit to dismantle the federal health care and other legislation crafted under former President Barack Obama. Trump may try to strike a more harmonious chord with Democrats when he calls out the rising cost of prescription drugs on Tuesday night, but having made little headway on the issue, the play for political harmony could be pointless.
House Democrats passed a critical drug-pricing bill in December that put Medicare in the negotiating seat and was projected to reduce drug prices drastically for consumers while saving the federal government billions. But that bill, like many others passed in the House in recent years, has languished in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Calling the current schism between Republicans and Democrats palpable would be a gross understatement in light of the bitter public impeachment battle that has raged over Washington. Lawmakers like Representative Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., acknowledged as much on Monday night when considering what sort of unifying message the White House may try to extend.
“It’s hard not to talk about unity without it implying that there isn’t any,” Cramer said. “So you know, to what degree he takes it head on and what degree it’s implied, we’ll see. And he may not even know yet. And that’s one of the things that’s magical about Donald Trump. He’ll be Donald Trump, for sure.”
Other Republicans voiced hope late Monday that Trump will steer clear of impeachment in the national address and stay on message by merely championing what it considers GOP legislative victories.
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said if he were president he would focus on the economy, initiatives on school choice, and the recent conflicts in Iran and Iraq — but definitely not impeachment.
“I just think there’s no way you talk about that and then that’d be the takeaway,” Rubio said.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week showed 52% of voters believe Trump abused his power when he held back U.S. military aid to Ukraine while soliciting Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his expected 2020 rival.
The same poll revealed 53% of voters believe Trump obstructed Congress by issuing blanket directives to government officials across numerous agencies that they defy all congressional subpoenas and oversight. Illustrating the ideological divide further, the poll found too that where 84% of Democrats polled want to see Trump ousted from office, 91% of Republicans want to see him stay.
While public opinion is steeped in conflict, Senator John Tester, D-Mont., expressed hope for the future of bipartisanship among lawmakers. Tester told reporters Monday there are still Republican colleagues with whom he wants to work. Trump, he added, now has the opportunity to bring the country together or further divide it with the State of the Union.
Though a single speech is unlikely to bridge the gulf that opened between Republicans and Democrats during the monthslong impeachment process, Senator Marie Cantwell, D-Wash., told reporters she hopes both sides will prioritize issues on election security.
For his part, Trump appeared to broadcast a preview of his State of the Union when he took to Twitter to rally support.
“Market up big today on very good economic news. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!” he tweeted (emphasis in original).
Under an hour later, Trump then boasted of a presidential approval rating he claimed reached a “new high” of 53%.
Without “phony witch hunts and hoaxes,” he added, it could be up to 20 points higher.
It is unclear what polling source the president cited in the tweet. A Feb. 3 poll from Rasmussen Reports/Pulse Opinion Research poll shows Trump’s approval rating at just 48% before adjustment and 42% approval after adjustment. A representative from the White House did not immediately return request for comment.
Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is expected to vote to acquit Trump on Wednesday, told reporters she hopes Trump will avoid bringing up the elephant in the room during the State of the Union.
“We’ve got a great strong economy, our military is finally being rebuilt under this administration,” Ernst said. “There are a lot of really great things he should talk about and stay away from maybe what the proceedings are, again, we’re not voting until Wednesday.”
Trump’s address begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. The vote on whether to acquit or remove Trump hits the Senate floor Wednesday at 4 p.m.