Trump’s State of the Union Message: It’s (Still) the Economy, Stupid

Expect president to use economic growth to pressure Democrats

President Donald Trump listens to applause as Vice President Mike Pence (left) and Speaker Paul D. Ryan applaud during his address to a joint session of Congress last February. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump listens to applause as Vice President Mike Pence (left) and Speaker Paul D. Ryan applaud during his address to a joint session of Congress last February. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 30, 2018 at 5:05am

President Donald Trump on Tuesday is expected to use an upbeat assessment of the performance of the U.S. economy in his first State of the Union address to pressure congressional Democrats into helping him pass legislation he contends will produce even more growth.

Trump will argue that the slew of Obama-era federal regulations he rolled back during his first year and the Republican-crafted tax package he signed into law are fueling growth in the gross domestic product and the value of the stock market.

Passing an immigration overhaul measure and a massive plan to rebuild the country’s aging infrastructure would only further boost economic growth, the president will say. But he needs skeptical Democrats to help him pass both.

White House aides used words such as “unifying” and “forward-looking” to describe his address, saying it will strike a “bipartisan” tone while looking back at the president’s first year — one that saw him pass major legislation without a single Democratic vote.

Watch: Three Things to Look For During Trump’s First Official State of the Union

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Aides have made clear in recent days that Trump will issue a call for the two parties to work together this year. But initial comments from senior Democrats show both parties remain far apart on pending legislative items.

Expect the president to tie the performance of the stock market and 401(k) retirement accounts under his watch to what he wants to do in 2018. After all, as he told a Pennsylvania crowd on Jan. 18, “we keep it like this, we’re going to win a lot of elections.”

“It’s the economy, stupid,” he said that day, borrowing a line coined by former Bill Clinton aide James Carville.

‘Big speech’

The president’s top spokeswoman predicted Trump’s prime-time address will be “must-watch TV,” and Trump himself told reporters it will “cover a lot of territory.” The major theme of the address will be “building a safe, strong and proud America,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

“I hope it’s going to be good,” Trump said. “It’s a big speech and an important speech.”

The president said he wants to use the address to press Democrats to come to an agreement with Republicans and his White House on an immigration bill that, among other things, would fund a Southern border wall and legalize the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that protects from deportation around 690,000 individuals brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

“For many, many years … they’ve been talking immigration, never got anything done,” Trump told reporters after a swearing-in ceremony Monday for new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “We hope it’s going to be bipartisan because the Republicans don’t have the votes to get it done in any other way.

“Hopefully, the Democrats will join us, or enough of them will join us,” he said, “so that we can really do something great for DACA, and for immigration generally.”

Infrastructure push

Additionally, Trump will try to “get the country excited about the urgency” to rebuild America’s “depleted” roads, bridges, airports, tunnels and seaports, a senior administration official said Friday.

Trump is expected to pitch $200 billion in federal funding for the package, and another $1.5 trillion from state, local and private sources. Top Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have doubts.

“It’s a really bad deal for state and local government, instead of doing ‘Build America Bonds,’” Pelosi said Monday, referring to a program of taxable municipal bonds that offered tax credits and subsidies as part of the 2009 economic recovery law.

Advocates on both sides are already casting judgments about the president’s speech.

Watch: What You Won’t See On Camera at the State of the Union

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“The president may lack the eloquence of John F. Kennedy, or the ideological drive of Ronald Reagan, but he has demonstrated an uncompromising willingness to defend the interests of his country, reassure allies, aggressively confront America’s enemies and ensure the United States continues to lead as the world’s superpower,” said Nile Gardiner of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

But the liberal Center for American Progress said Monday that Trump “inherited a strengthening economic recovery. … In 2016, President Trump promised to fight for American workers, but his first year in office has shown that he is decidedly not on their side.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.Watch: Trump’s 2018 Legislative Agenda Is Already Slipping

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