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Trump’s State of the Union address: How to watch online and what to expect

The annual address comes in the midst of the president’s impeachment trial.

President Trump during the State of the Union address in 2018.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Sigal Samuel is a senior reporter for Vox’s Future Perfect and co-host of the Future Perfect podcast. She writes primarily about the future of consciousness, tracking advances in artificial intelligence and neuroscience and their staggering ethical implications. Before joining Vox, Sigal was the religion editor at the Atlantic.

President Trump will deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, February 4, at 9 pm ET in the Capitol. The speech comes just one day after the Iowa caucuses and in the midst of the president’s impeachment trial, promising to make it an especially fraught event.

Trump will likely use this occasion to focus on his reelection campaign, emphasizing his achievements — like low unemployment rates and a pair of new trade deals — rather than his grievances. Senior officials in his administration say he plans to avoid the topic of his impeachment trial, which is expected to end in acquittal.

Delivering a State of the Union amid impeachment drama is not without precedent: In 1999, President Bill Clinton delivered his State of the Union address within hours of his lawyers defending him at his impeachment trial. Clinton didn’t talk about the trial hanging over his head; instead, he rhapsodized about the booming economy and budget surplus.

If Trump can do the same, resisting the temptation to lash out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other impeachment-effort leaders in attendance, he can leverage the SOTU speech to appeal to millions of Americans watching from home as they prepare to cast their ballots in the primaries.

But Democrats have already got their response lined up. Gretchen Whitmer, the first-term governor of Michigan, and Veronica Escobar, a freshman Congress member representing El Paso, Texas, will deliver a rebuttal. Whitmer will speak in English, followed by Escobar in Spanish. Expect them to lambast Trump’s policies on immigration, among other issues.

It’s the last SOTU address of Trump’s term. He’s got a lot to talk about.

Because SOTU falls the night after the Iowa caucuses, Trump was expected to go into this address with a slightly clearer sense of which Democratic candidates he’ll need to focus on beating in order to win a second term (and maybe have a few choice words for the frontrunners). Early on Tuesday, however, there were no official Iowa results to be had.

He will almost certainly boast about the health of the US economy under his leadership. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, he credited himself with “an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before.” (In truth, the economy grew at a 2.3 percent rate in 2019, the slowest rate since 2016.)

And he’ll want to talk about the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, the new trade deal he just signed as a replacement for NAFTA. Getting that done was one of the promises of his 2016 presidential campaign, and he’ll probably point to it as a major achievement as he heads into the 2020 election.

Likewise, odds are he’ll hype the trade deal he signed with China in January, which he’s said will bring the US and China closer together in many ways.

Trump will also likely mention the Wuhan coronavirus, which has spread from China to nearly 20 countries, including the US. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a global health emergency, and it has sparked fears of a potential global pandemic.

Some senators voiced a wish to reschedule SOTU this year so it wouldn’t butt up against the impeachment proceedings. “I think it would be awkward to have the State of the Union in the midst of such a trial,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

But it’s happening anyway. With so many issues coalescing around the president at once, and coming a day after the Iowa caucuses and in the wake of the impeachment drama, this year’s SOTU is bound to be more interesting, and potentially raucous, than normal.

When to watch: 9 pm Eastern time

Where: The Capitol, Washington, DC

On TV or livestream: ABC, CBS, C-SPAN, NBC, and other major outlets