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October 20, 2018

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In State of Union, Trump to make case that America is back

WASHINGTON — Seeking to move past the shadow of the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump is aiming to use his first State of the Union address to note the economic progress under his watch while pushing for bipartisanship with Democrats on issues such as rebuilding roads and bridges.

The White House said Sunday that the president would point to a robust economy and low unemployment during his first year and the benefits of his major tax overhaul during Tuesday's address to Congress. The president was expected to set aside his more combative tone for one of compromise and bipartisanship, aides said.

"The president is going to talk about how America's back," said White House legislative director Marc Short. "The president is also going to make an appeal to Democrats ... to say we need to rebuild our country. And to make an appeal that to do infrastructure, we need to do it in a bipartisan way."

Short said Trump would also urge Democrats to support additional military spending in light of "dramatic threats on the global scene."

White House officials have said the theme of the annual address will be "building a safe, strong and proud America." They said the president was looking to showcase the accomplishments of his first year while setting the tone for the second.

Trump's speech will coincide with an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible obstruction of justice and Trump campaign ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The probe has often distracted from this president's message. Trump's address to financial and global leaders in Davos, Switzerland, last week followed reports that he ordered a top White House lawyer to fire Mueller last June but backed off when the lawyer threatened to resign. Trump called the report "fake news."

Immigration remains an immediate flashpoint for Trump and Congress. In the speech, the president plans to promote his new proposal for $25 billion for a wall along the Mexican border and for a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Trump's proposal includes billions for border security and significant changes to legal immigration long sought by hard-liners within the Republican Party. But some conservatives have warned that the deal would amount to "amnesty" for the so-called Dreamers, and many Democrats and immigration activists have outright rejected it.

"I think all of us realize that it's going to take a compromise on this issue for us to get something done and to protect the Dreamer population, which is certainly a goal of mine," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "But I think the president is also right about border security, that we do need to beef up our border security."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called Trump's proposal "a good starting point."

"Let's see if it's something that we can agree on, something we need to adjust, something we can negotiate with," he said.

The annual prime-time address gives Trump an unfiltered opportunity to reach millions of Americans. The president remained behind closed doors at the White House over the weekend as he prepared.

Part of Trump's goal in the speech is to set the course of the debate as Republicans look to retain their majority in Congress. He is expected to laud the changes to the tax bill as unleashing economic growth and prompting a number of companies to provide their employees with $1,000 bonuses and other benefits.

Trump also plans to outline a nearly $2 trillion plan that his administration contends will trigger $1 trillion or more in public and private spending on roads, bridges and other public works projects.

On trade, Trump will note his preference for one-on-one deals instead of multilateral agreements, building on his speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

And he will offer an update on the fight against terrorism and his view of international threats, including North Korea. A senior administration official providing a preview of the speech said Trump probably would avoid the taunts of "Little Rocket Man" for Kim Jong Un and "fire and fury" that he used before. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The address comes at a critical point for the president. He is battling poor approval ratings and is trying to move past the government shutdown that coincided with the anniversary of his inauguration. He's also preparing for a grueling midterm election season that has tripped up other first-term presidents.

Trump was not expected to embark on an extensive sales pitch around the country after the speech. He plans to address a Republican congressional retreat in West Virginia on Thursday. Vice President Mike Pence will attend a tax overhaul event in West Virginia on Wednesday and speak to the GOP congressional retreat later in the day. Pence will hold events in the Pittsburgh area Friday.

Short spoke on "Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation." Collins spoke on CNN's "State of the Union," and Manchin spoke on CNN's "State of the Union" and NBC's "Meet the Press."