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State of the Union viewing guide: Trump expected to strike a less contentious tone

Posted at 7:40 PM, Feb 04, 2019

When to watch

The State of the Union will air Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. PT. Trump’s one-hour, 20-minute address last year was the longest State of the Union address since Bill Clinton’s final State of the Union in 2000. It is unknown exactly how long Trump’s address on Tuesday will last.

The State of the Union address was originally scheduled for Jan. 29, but was put on hold during last month’s government shutdown. At the request of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the State of the Union would be given after the end of the government shutdown. Trump originally pushed back, but relented and agreed to wait to deliver the State of the Union.

What is the State of the Union?

The President is obligated to occasionally update Congress on the functions of the executive branch. The State of the Union can be delivered both in writing or orally. For most of the 19th century, the State of the Union was delivered by presidents in writing. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson controversially opted to deliver the State of the Union orally in person in House Chambers.

Democratic response

The Democrats are opting to use a non-office holder to deliver the party’s official English response. Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia state representative and candidate for governor, will follow Trump. Last November, Abrams lost a contentious race for governor against Republican Brian Kemp.

Abrams accused Kemp of unfairly overseeing an election he was involved in.

Democrats boycotting the speech

So far three Democrats have announced they will not attend Tuesday’s address. They are Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. Last year, 14 Democratic members of the House of Representatives skipped the address.

The invitation list

Each member of the House of Representatives are allowed to invite a guest to sit in House chambers during the State of the Union.

Some Democrats are using their guest list to send a political message. For instance, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California has invited Cameron Kasky to the address. Kasky was a survivor of last year’s massacre in Parkland, Florida, and has since become an anti-gun violence advocate.

Sandra Diaz and Victorina Morales, former Trump business employees who were fired by his company, received invitations. They were undocumented immigrants while they worked for Trump.

Also, four Democratic representatives invited transgender service members to the address. Trump has established a ban on openly-transgender citizens from joining the military.

Issues at stake

As of Monday afternoon, the White House has not released the talking points for Trump’s address but it is highly likely Trump will continue building a case for a border wall along the United States’ southern border. The State of the Union comes during a three-week window while Congress debates border security funding while the government is funded.

Funding for the federal government will run out on Feb. 15, and Trump has suggested that he will issue an emergency declaration if Congress fails to provide more than $5 million for a border wall. Democrats have remained steadfast in their opposition to funding a border wall.

Other issues Trump is expected to address are national security, the United States’ role in Venezuela, the cost of prescription drugs and the strength of the US economy.

It is unclear on whether Trump will address his administration’s decision to withdraw from a Cold War-era nuclear arms treaty with Russia. It is also unclear whether Trump will address other hot-button topics in society such as gun rights and plans for healthcare.

Applause lines

As with every State of the Union speech, watching what gets applause and what does not often indicates the mindset of the members of Congress in attendance. When Trump builds his case for a border wall, he will clearly not get much applause from the Democrats, but whether Republicans will fully applaud the President remains questionable.

Some Republicans, like Utah Senator Mitt Romney, have expressed their displeasure with Trump’s strategy for border wall funding.

On Monday, Senate Majority Whip John Thune confirmed that his caucus has concerns about Trump issuing an emergency in order to obtain border funding.

Trump’s tone

An official told CNN that Trump will attempt to deliver a less contentious tone with his address.

"Well the State of the Union is unlike other occasions in the year. And one tries to, in that occasion, when you have 60 -- 60 to 70 unfiltered minutes to the American public you get a chance to explain your whole agenda," the official said.

"And you get to strike the tone and optimism that you think is appropriate in that venue."