With Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi standing behind him, President Donald J. Trump is set to deliver his State of the Union address tonight on the House floor in Washington, D.C. The speech will give Trump an opportunity to rally his Republican base, but at the same time, it will reflect a new political reality for the president: it will be his first State of the Union address since the 2018 midterms, which found Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives with a net gain of 40 seats. The last time Trump gave a State of the Union speech, only Republicans (Pence and former House Speaker Paul Ryan) were standing behind him. But Pelosi’s presence tonight will underscore the fact that Trump must now contend with a Democrat-controlled House.
Here are some things to look for when President Trump delivers his 2019 State of the Union address tonight.
1. Trump will reassure his far-right base that he is still with them
Whenever Trump demands funding for a border wall, he is stressing to his far-right supporters that he hasn’t abandoned them. And tonight, the president will no doubt use his State of the Union address to reassure them that he hasn’t given up on his promise of a U.S./Mexico border wall. Trump will likely paint the United States’ southern border as being in a state of emergency, insisting that his wall is a matter of national security and that only a wall can prevent an invasion of gang members, caravans, drug cartels and terrorists.
2. Pelosi’s presence will be a constant reminder of Washington’s new political landscape
The fact that Trump’s State of the Union speech is taking place on February 5 rather than on January 29 illustrates the power that Pelosi now has in Washington, D.C.: during the partial shutdown of the federal government, Pelosi played hardball and made it clear that for security reasons, there would be no State of the Union address on the House floor until the government reopened—and Trump would not be speaking on the House floor tonight had he not agreed to reopen the government until at least February 15. Gone are the days when the House speaker, Paul Ryan, was a Trump sycophant; Trump must now work with a Democratic House speaker who isn’t shy about standing up to him. Tonight, Trump’s speech will reflect the fact that he has to work with a Democrat-controlled House under Pelosi’s leadership whether he likes it or not.
3. Trump will, in effect, be campaigning for reelection tonight
Despite his low approval ratings, Trump could be reelected in 2020 if he rallies his base and aggressively drives turnout in the swing states and blue states that he carried in 2016. And when Trump speaks tonight, he will, in effect, be giving a campaign speech and trying to give his hardcore supporters reasons to vote for him again. Trump will not only be reaching out to the Bible Belt during his State of the Union address—he will also be trying to convince Rust Belt voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio that they need to support him again in 2020.
4. Trump will falsely take credit for the United States’ economic recovery
When President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, he inherited the worst economic conditions that any president had faced since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. But the Great Recession ended during Obama’s presidency, and Trump inherited a much better economy (even though, truth be told, most of the recovery has been at the top). Nonetheless, Trump has claimed that the economic recovery in the U.S. is all his doing, and that misleading claim will likely be made again during his 2019 State of the Union address. Tonight, Trump will try to make the case that if Americans favor low unemployment, prosperity and a healthy stock market, they need to reelect him next year.