Tomorrow, President Trump will make his third address to Congress since being elected.
Tomorrow, President Trump will make his third address to Congress since being elected (he has previously made one address to a Joint Session of Congress and one State of the Union address). His speech this year will likely follow the same framework of most State of the Union addresses throughout history – a portion dedicated to highlighting successes over the past year, a portion dedicated to new policies for the coming year, and a portion dedicated to the broader theme of the administration (in this case “Making America Great Again”).
Of course, it is never easy to predict what a President will say when given the largest and most prominent platform to speak to the nation, especially when it comes to President Trump who has (better than others) leveraged these moments to solidify his core messages. But a review of his past two addresses to Congress, and recent developments on some of his ongoing priorities, provides a potential roadmap for what he may say at this year’s address. Here are areas to watch for tomorrow:
A Focus on Immigration (and especially the border wall): A wall along the southern border has been a priority of President Trump’s since announcing his candidacy for President. His last two addresses to Congress focused more on immigration than any other issue and given the recent shutdown over border wall funding, it is likely to dominate tomorrow’s State of the Union as well. In his 2017 address to Congress, President Trump announced that “we will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border” and in 2018 he highlighted “building a wall” as one of four pillars of his immigration plan. This year he will likely renew his call to quickly fund a border wall as a key message of his speech.
A Victory Lap on the Economy, Criminal Justice Reform, and Opioid Legislation: President Trump proudly highlighted strong economic trends in his last speech before Congress. He associated a strong economy with several of his policies and will likely do the same this year, especially around robust employment data. In doing so, he will probably focus on the middle class and may even renew his call from late last year for a new middle-class tax cut. He will also likely highlight two bipartisan bills he signed into law this year that are focused on criminal justice reform (The First Step Act) and combatting opioid abuse (SUPPORT For Patients and Communities Act).
An Update on Trade: There are few policy shifts since the Obama Administration more dramatic than President Trump’s focus on our trade relationships. Last year, the President told Congress that “we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal and we will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.” He is likely to call on Congress to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (the renegotiated NAFTA) and provide an update around ongoing negotiations with China, especially given that the new tariffs in place on products imported from China were not on the radar when he spoke last to Congress, new tariff increases are expected in early March, and he will be meeting with President Xi Jinping soon.
A Call for Congress to Produce an Infrastructure Package: There are few policy areas where Congress and the White House are aligned, but modernizing our infrastructure is one of them (although how to pay for it remains a point of contention). In 2017 the President said, “the time has come for a new program of national rebuilding” and called on Congress to produce legislation with a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure. The following year, he called on Congress to produce legislation that generates a $1.5 trillion investment in infrastructure, noting “I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.” During his address this year, he will likely renew his call for an infrastructure package that spurs additional investment.
A Call to Reduce the Price of Prescription Drugs: With the new House Democratic Majority, the President will likely return to the issue of prescription drug costs – a priority for the new majority and for his own Administration. During last year’s State of the Union address, the President said, “one of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. That is why I have directed my Administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down.” Democrats embraced the concept and have listed the issue as a core agenda item for the 116th Congress. He will likely provide an update on the work of the Administration and potentially call on Congress to pass new policies around drug prices.
An Update on Foreign Policy Priorities: President Trump will likely provide an update on North Korea, especially given the looming talks on the horizon. During last year’s State of the Union, the President noted that “no regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea. North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.” The President has since opened a dialogue with North Korea in a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy, which will likely occupy some time in tomorrow’s address. He may also mention other timely foreign policy and national security topics, including the battle against ISIS, the recent elections in Venezuela, and troop withdrawals in Syria and Afghanistan. It is also very likely he will highlight record spending on national security and recent pay increases for the Armed Forces.
Without question, this State of the Union address comes at an interesting time – just after the longest shutdown in history, weeks before federal funding is scheduled to expire again, a point of significant transition in the Administration, a new majority in the House of Representatives, and several issues developing now that were mere talking points in President Trump’s past addresses to Congress. While these speeches are, in part, aspirational policy goals, they also provide good insight into the White House’s direction for the next year and policy areas where the President may have shifted his priorities since last year.