A president hardly looks more "presidential" than when he's standing behind a podium, flanked by his Vice President and the Speaker of the House, with members of Congress as his audience and tens of millions of Americans watching from home. President Trump will have his turn on Tuesday evening when he delivers his first State of the Union Address, a chance to highlight last year's accomplishments and preview the year ahead.
Tuesday night's address is also an opportunity for Trump to put some distance between himself and the headlines that haunted his first year in office, from his attacks on rivals, to his tweetstorms, to the Russia investigation that's hung over his White House. And it's an opportunity for him to mend fractured relationships with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, whose bitter divisions led to a government shutdown a bit more than a week ago.
The recent shutdown is fresh in lawmakers' minds as they consider the 2018 agenda, including a deal to grant legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Trump is looking to add measures to combat illegal immigration and cut legal immigration, and to add funding for his long-promised border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Beyond that, the President may drum up support for a bipartisan infrastructure deal, funding for disaster-ravaged parts of the country, a plan to combat the opioid epidemic, and increased defense spending.
While Trump has shown himself to be most energized by rolicking, free-wheeling, campaign-style speeches, Tuesday's address is traditionally measured and policy-driven, and delivered via teleprompter in the cavernous U.S. Capitol. Will Trump stick to the script? Will he appeal to his base, or will he endeavor to win back the share of Americans who voted for him but have since become unhappy with his job performance? When he lays out his 2018 agenda, will he demonstrate a mastery of the issues that critics say he lacks? Will we see the optimistic Trump who told heads of state and business leaders in Davos that "America is open for business," or will the Trump who vowed to end "American carnage" on Inauguration Day take center stage?
As Trump kicks off his second year in office, here's what we'll be watching for during the President's 2018 State of the Union Address:
1. Bragging About 2017's Wins
Republicans closed out the calendar year with a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax cut, marking Trump's signature achievement during his first year in office. Couple that with a remaking of the judiciary branch with the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and ten waves of judicial nominees.
The Trump Administration has also succeeded in rolling back significant portions of the Obama Administration's environmental protections, including opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. And though the GOP failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, look for Trump to repeat his declaration that by eliminating the individual mandate, Obamacare is dead.
The President is likely to try to combat the perception that his first year in office was lighter on wins than would be expected in a Republican-controlled Congress, and may point to Democratic obstruction as the source for stagnation, and the sole cause of this month's shutdown.
2. Rallying Support For New Immigration Policies
The White House's proposed immigration plan offers a path to citizenship for nearly twice the number Dreamers who enrolled in DACA — an olive branch to Democrats who've prioritized finding a way to keep them in the country. But providing "amnesty" to 1.8 million undocumented people has immigration hard-liners in his own party up in arms.
Meanwhile, deep cuts to legal immigration by eliminating the diversity visa lottery and severely limiting family-based migration isn't winning points with Democrats. And the President's demand for $25 billion dollars to build his promised wall between the U.S. and Mexico is more than double what Democrats consider to be a reasonable price tag, and a far cry from Trump's campaign trail assurance that Mexico would pay for it.
Expect Trump to rally enthusiasm for the White House proposal, and an attempt to show that it is supported by a majority of Americans. A poll being touted by the White House claims that 65 percent of Americans agree with the broad tenets of Trump's immigration plan.
3. Pressuring Congress Carve Out More Military Funding
The budget for this fiscal year, which is already underway, has been a months-long sticking point for Congress — so much so that members have punted its due date four times. Democrats are pushing for parity between domestic and military spending, while Republicans argue that by doing so, Dems are handicapping the military by withholding needed funding.
Expect Trump to point to the decline of ISIS-held territory as a major military success, and to the recent spate of violence in Afghanistan as a show of why more money is needed to keep the military strong.
4. Courting Cooperation On Infrastructure
In a polarized Congress, infrastructure could be one bright spot for bipartisanship and a chance for Trump to elicit a smattering of applause from Republicans and Democrats alike. Aiming to rebuild the country's crippling roads, bridges and tunnels is popular with lawmakers and with voters for its utility, its necessity, and it's ability to create new jobs.
6. Growing The Economy Bigly
The President trumpeted strong markets and a growing economy during a speech in Davos last week, and the low unemployment rate is one of his favorite talking points. Expect the president to highlight the extra cash flowing into Americans' pockets this year as a result of the new tax law, remembering that come election season, many Americans vote for the party that will benefit their own bottom line.
7. Making America Great Again (Again)
From his decision to pull America out of the Paris Climate Accord, to putting the Iran nuclear deal on ice, to firing warning shots at lopsided trade deals with China, to calling Jerusalem Israel's capital, Trump has shown a pattern of upending years (at times, decades) of U.S. and international policy. Expect a strong "America First" theme in this year's State of the Union.
8. Challenging North Korea
With more than a week to go before the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in PyeongChang, South Korea, look to see whether Trump rocks the boat or preaches clam with regard to his nemesis, Kim Jong Un, the provocative dictator across the border in North Korea.
Will Trump take credit for recent diplomatic gains between North and South Korea ahead of the Games? Will he deride any cooperation with "Little Rocket Man?" Or will be strike the middle ground, by calling new sanctions against North Korea proof that the U.S. is taking a hard line against the Hermit Kingdom?
9. Trumpeting A Domestic Agenda
With nearly half a million Puerto Rican residents still without power four months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, look for Trump to bring awareness to their plight, and call for more funding for parts of the U.S. that were ravaged by storms and wildfires last year.
Trump is likely to also call for funding to combat the opioid crisis that's sweeping communities across the country, though his administration will have to answer for charges that it hasn't lived up to its promised action in Year One.
10. Taking Jabs At Political Enemies
While the State of the Union wouldn't be the place to name-drop some of Trump's favorite insults against his rivals in House and Senate (Cryin' Chuck Schumer, Dicky Durbin, Lightweight Kirsten Gillibrand, Sneaky Dianne Feinstein, and Liddle Bob Corker, to name a few), look for Trump to push back against some of his rival's most pointed criticism. Any move to take a personal shot will get attention.
11. Insisting Upon His Own Credibility
After challenging lawmakers to bring him a bipartisan immigration plan, then ripping up one such proposal while slamming immigrants from "s—hole countries," Trump has a long way to go with regaining his credibility as a dealmaker among some influential lawmakers. And during a month where he's defended himself as a "very stable genius" and bragged that his nuclear launch button is "bigger" than Kim Jong-un's, a turn toward more measured language and sticking to the script would go a long way toward that end.
12. Making False or Misleading Statements
Fact-checkers will be on overdrive Tuesday night. While Trump is expected to read from a prepared text, false or misleading statements, or those lacking crucial context, will get attention.
13. Talking, Or Not Talking, About Russia
Any mention of Russia will draw attention back to the investigation that's embroiled West Wing staffers and former campaign officials throughout the year. With the midterms right around the corner, watch to see whether Trump sends a warning to Russia specifically or to any foreign adversaries generally about attempting to influence an election.