President Donald Trump will cap off the first 40 days of his presidency by addressing a joint session of Congress tonight at 9:10 pm Eastern in the Capitol, in his first major speech since his inauguration.
The speech will look a whole lot like a State of the Union address, since the president will deliver it to an audience that includes the vice president, members of the Senate, the House, the Cabinet, and probably the Supreme Court. Technically, though, it isn’t one, since by tradition the president doesn’t do that so soon after taking office.
Still, all of the pomp and circumstance associated with a usual State of the Union will be in evidence here, and the speech will serve similar purposes. The president will try to get his preferred message out to the American people, brag about what he’s achieved so far, and call on Congress to do more.
It will also be followed by a Democratic response — from former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who was a staunch promoter and defender of Obamacare in his deep red state. Vox interviewed Beshear here, and you can expect him to make the case for keeping and improving the Affordable Care Act as Republicans try to put it on the chopping block.
What to expect from President Trump’s speech to Congress
During an appearance on Fox & Friends, President Trump was asked to give himself a letter grade on what he’s done so far, and he made a revealing comment betraying some unhappiness with his administration.
“I think I get an A in terms of what I’ve actually done, but in terms of messaging, I’d give myself a C or a C plus,” he said. “I think I’ve done great things but I don’t think I — I and my people — I don’t think we’ve explained it well enough to the American public.”
Indeed, Trump’s initial weeks in office have been intensely controversial and have resulted in approval ratings that are unprecedentedly low for a new president. With his travel and immigration order tied up in the courts and no evident progress on his legislative priorities, he’s tried to shake up his messaging strategy by returning to an unscripted style and strategically attacking the media. Now, the address to Congress gives him another high-profile opportunity to get his preferred message out to viewers across the country.
An outline of the planned speech was given to conservative outlets like the Resurgent, and a few main themes jump out.
First, Trump’s team is very focused on arguing to his supporters that he is keeping his promises, by reviewing what he’s done so far and arguing that it’s terrific. They clearly want to retain Trump’s unique appeal to his core followers, and want to avoid him being either being tagged as just another politician who has sold out, or as an ineffective leader who can’t achieve big things.
Second, the White House has put out the word that this speech will be “optimistic” — an apparent response to the tone of the inaugural address, which pundits dubbed overly dark and negative. Per the outline, the speech will “invite Americans of all backgrounds to come together,” while again stressing “the forgotten men and women.”
Finally, as most presidents do when they address Congress, Trump plans to ask Congress to take action on various matters. Traditionally, presidents are very strategic about which priorities they give top billing to, because they want to send a clear signal about what Congress should do first. And, unable to make much progress on health reform or tax reform, many Republicans in the House and Senate have been eager to hear a clearer signal about what Trump wants beyond vague generalities — so watch to see if he gets specific.
How to watch:
When: 9:10 pm Eastern
Where: The Capitol, Washington, DC
TV: CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS, Univision, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN, etc.
Online: At the top of this page!