President Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address is on Tuesday night.
There’s been a great deal of drama surrounding the address in which Trump is expected to outline his agenda for the year, while also touting what he feels his administration has accomplished thus far.
Trump heads into the address with a lot up in the air on multiple major issues — most notably immigration, US troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, and denuclearization negotiations with North Korea.
The theme of Trump’s address is reportedly “CHOOSING GREATNESS.”
The address almost didn’t happen
In recent weeks it wasn’t clear if Trump would deliver the address as he quarreled with Democrats over funding for a wall he wishes to build along the US-Mexico border.
The border wall fight and broader debate over how the US should address undocumented immigration catalyzed the longest government shutdown in the country’s history, culminating in late January.
Amid the shutdown, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disinvited Trump from delivering the State of the Union. The address is traditionally given to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber, over which the Speaker has control.
Trump’s address was originally set to occur on January 29 until Pelosi effectively cancelled it. The move was viewed by Republicans as a petty political slight, but Pelosi justified it by citing security concerns linked to the shutdown.
During the back and forth over the address, Trump cancelled a government trip of Pelosi’s to Afghanistan.
But facing growing criticism and pressure, Trump effectively ended the shutdown on January 25 by agreeing to a deal that temporarily funded the government — but didn’t provide funding for his wall. Some conservatives seemed to feel Trump had capitulated to Democrats by agreeing to a deal without border wall funding, and he’s since faced criticism on that front from erstwhile Trump-supporting right-wing commentators like Ann Coulter.
Immigration and foreign policy are set to dominate Trump’s speech
The wall was one of Trump’s biggest campaign promises and he seems determined to deliver it by any means necessary.
Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency to obtain the necessary funds, which would be highly controversial and likely face opposition in the courts. However, Bloomberg reports the president will not call for a state of emergency during the State of the Union address.
The president may offer a definitive plan on immigration and the border wall, or he could use the national stage to pressure Democrats to give into his demands.
Trump will also reportedly focus heavily on the issue of abortion.
The president is seemingly looking to capitalize on an incendiary debate over late-term abortions that started in Virginia and was quickly signal-boosted by conservatives nationwide. Trump has pegged himself as a fervently pro-life president, nominating two Supreme Court justices with similar views.
The president also has much to discuss regarding withdrawing US troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Trump hastily announced his intention to pull out all of the 2,000 troops in Syria and roughly half of the approximately 14,000 troops in Afghanistan late last year. But there’s not been much movement on this as Trump has faced widespread criticism, including from top Republicans in Congress, over these plans.
There are broad concerns withdrawing US troops from Syria will open the door for ISIS to make a major comeback. Trump has in recent weeks falsely claimed ISIS is defeated, publicly feuding with his intel chiefs who’ve contradicted him on this and an array of other issues.
The president on Tuesday night will also likely discuss his impending meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The summit will mark the second time the two leaders have met to hold talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea in June pledged to work toward denuclearization but intelligence suggests there hasn’t been much progress on this front, and there are doubts Pyongyang will ever truly get rid of its nukes. The second meeting is set to occur sometime in February.
According to reports, Trump will also take some time to discuss health care and trade during Tuesday’s speech.
Trump’s special guests emphasize his immigration agenda
Trump has invited a number of special guests to the address, including family members of people killed by undocumented immigrants.
The president has attempted to portray undocumented immigrants as a violent threat to the US, despite data that shows native-born Americans are more likely to commit violent crimes. Some of Trump’s other guests also have backgrounds that are linked to his immigration agenda.
The president has also invited Matthew Charles, who was recently freed from prison under the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill Trump signed and supported.
Additionally, Trump has invited survivors of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018.
A boy named Joshua Trump, who has reportedly been bullied over his last name, will also be in attendance under the president and first lady Melania Trump’s invitation.
Democrats’ special guests mark their anti-Trump agenda
A number of Democrats have invited special guests to make points about their anti-Trump agenda, including some 2020 contenders.
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris has invited an air traffic controller who was furloughed during the government shutdown and lost her home during a 2017 wildfire in California. Trump has in recent months made controversial remarks on wildfires in California and has been accused of being insensitive to those affected.
In a similar move seemingly meant to be a jab at Trump, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand invited Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann, a transgender service member affected by the president’s ban on transgender people in the US military.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez invited an activist who famously shouted at former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake amid the chaotic confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Rising star Stacey Abrams will deliver the Democratic response
Following Trump’s speech, Stacey Abrams will deliver the Democratic response, marking the first time in US history a black woman has done so.
Abrams gained a national profile in a heated gubernatorial race this past November. She narrowly lost under chaotic circumstances, including allegations of voter suppression against her Republican opponent Brian Kemp.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is reportedly poised to join the pack of 2020 contenders in the near future, will also offer a response to Trump’s speech on Tuesday.