Tuesday 25 September 2018

Melania, fashion and more: What to watch for in the State of the Union address

Will the hyperbole-loving president tone down his bombastic speaking style a bit?

First lady Melania Trump will face extra scrutiny this year (Danny Lawson/PA)
First lady Melania Trump will face extra scrutiny this year (Danny Lawson/PA)

By Laurie Kellman, Associated Press

Donald Trump will defend his accomplishments and lay out his plans before a chamber packed with members of Congress, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court plus a few choice guests on Tuesday — and with millions of Americans watching on TV.

It will be the former reality show star’s first State of the Union speech, a formal report to Congress that the Constitution requires of the president “from time to time”.

For any president, the prime-time speech is a high-stakes statement of purpose.

A year into his presidency, Mr Trump stands before the nation to account for his promise to “make America great again” amid talk of a rising threat of nuclear war and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of the president and his 2016 campaign.

For both parties, the speech operates like the pop of a starting gun for the midterm elections, when Republicans will defend their majorities in the House and Senate.

Here’s a look at what to watch for:

– How superlative?

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Susan Walsh/PA)

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders previewed the speech on Monday by describing the state of the union as “incredible”.

But will the hyperbole-loving president tone down his bombastic speaking style a bit?

The White House is setting expectations as close to “yes” as possible – but only for as long as the speech itself lasts.

Expect the president to cast the tax overhaul he signed in December and the strong economy as Trump initiatives that help all Americans.

Thematically, he is expected to speak of having built the foundation for a safer and stronger nation.

But can Mr Trump stay on message — and off Twitter — after the reviews come in?

– The elephant in the chamber

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Robert Mueller (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Will Mr Trump make any mention of Mr Mueller’s probe of Russian connections and obstruction of justice, or his own expressed willingness to be interviewed under oath?

The president told reporters last week he would “love” to be interviewed under oath about the matter.

However, his lawyers did not seem as enthusiastic and are still negotiating.

– Flotus

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Donald and Melania Trump (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

First lady Melania Trump will face extra scrutiny this year — and not just because of the former model’s fashionable couture.

Mrs Trump’s movements have been closely watched since The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the president’s lawyer had arranged a payment to an adult film star, Stormy Daniels, to keep her from talking about an alleged 2006 affair with the future president.

The couple’s 13th wedding anniversary passed without public comment last week, and Mrs Trump abruptly announced she was skipping a trip with her husband to an economic summit last week in Switzerland.

– Who’s there

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Ryan Holets holds his newly adopted daughter (Russell Contreras/AP)

Often who is in the chamber reflects the president’s priorities.

Seated around Mrs Trump will be more than a dozen guests, including small-business owners, beneficiaries of tax relief, victims of gang violence and a police officer who adopted a baby from parents addicted to opioids.

Democrats are strategically populating their guest lists, too – with faces of the immigration debate that is roiling Congress and vexing Mr Trump.

Their guests will include immigrants who are among the nearly 700,000 people who received protection from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme.

Mr Trump cancelled the programme last year but gave Congress until March to come up with a legislative fix.

– Who’s not

Traditionally, one member of the Cabinet stays away from the address for security reasons.

One question is whether Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom Mr Trump nominated for the Supreme Court, will attend the speech.

Justice Samuel Alito, who shook his head and mouthed “not true” at Barack Obama during the 2010 State of the Union speech, has not attended a presidential address since.

Some Democratic lawmakers plan to boycott the president’s address.

– What they wear

Typically, some female lawmakers wear bright colours so they will stand out on television.

However, this year, several Democratic women plan to wear black to protest against sexual harassment after a season of scandals toppled male leaders across industries.

Congress is no exception: Accusations have forced resignations and retirements in both parties.

Mr Trump, too, has faced sexual assault allegations.

– Rebuttal

Representative Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts will deliver the Democratic response to the president’s address.

He is the grandson of the late Robert F Kennedy, the senator and US attorney general, and the son of former Representative Joseph Kennedy II, who served in the House from 1987 to 1999.

Democratic leaders are pitching Mr Kennedy as someone who can champion Democratic policies to the middle class.

– Then this happens

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Stormy Daniels (Arely D Castillo/The News-Star via AP)

Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is scheduled to appear on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! following Mr Trump’s address.

She said she had an affair with him shortly after he married Mrs Trump.

Press Association

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