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What To Expect When President Trump Addresses The Nation Tuesday


Ralph Northam is eating up much of the political news today. But this week, some of the focus will shift back to President Trump. He delivers his delayed State of the Union address Tuesday. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to preview it. Good morning, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are you expecting?

LIASSON: I'm expecting the president, as past presidents have done, to talk about peace and prosperity, his good economic record, the fact that he's bringing U.S. troops home from abroad. And he is, according to White House officials, going to deliver a message of bipartisanship and unity.

One of the excerpts they released, he will say, together we can break decades of political stalemate, bridge old divisions, heal old wounds. And that, you could say, is off-brand for the president. Maybe he will make a pivot to triangulation and compromise, or maybe he won't.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. What are you going to be paying attention to?

LIASSON: What I'm looking for is how the president uses this speech, which is his first big chance to talk about the 2020 campaign. Does he lay the groundwork, lay out his case for re-election? And I'm wondering if he will go after Democrats, after he delivers the bipartisan unity part of the speech, and start defining them in the way that he's been trying to do in tweets and photo ops, talking about them being the party of late-term abortion and crime and open borders.

And I'm wondering if he can restrain himself from talking about Ralph Northam, talking about third-trimester abortion and blackface, kind of everything from A to B. So I'll be watching to see if he does that in addition to the bipartisan message.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course, the shutdown still looms, right? Are we still expecting him to declare a national emergency? He's been flirting with that.

LIASSON: Yes, he's been flirting with that. And he even said on Friday, when asked whether he would use the State of the Union speech to declare a state of emergency - he says, I don't want to say; but you'll hear the State of the Union, and then you'll see what happens right after the State of the Union. And he said - he also has said, I think there's a good chance we'll have to do that. Not necessarily announce it at the State of the Union, but it sounds like he's heading toward declaring a state of emergency.

What's interesting about that is many Republicans still think that's a very bad idea. Some of them privately are hoping he will take the whole wall-immigration-shutdown issue off their plate and declare an emergency and try to build the wall himself. But others think it's a very bad idea because it sets a precedent for future Democratic presidents to declare an emergency around gun safety or climate change or health care.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. Let's briefly go back to Northam. Obviously, that's taking a lot of oxygen out of the Democratic Party. What do the Democrats do if he does not resign? They don't want the focus to be on Northam, I'm sure.

LIASSON: No, I think they're going to shove him out the door if they don't resign. One of the things that we were waiting for were the two Democratic senators from Virginia. They did finally weigh in, Tim Kaine and Warner, who said that he should step down. I think that there will be tremendous pressure on the governor to vacate his position.

And meanwhile, Donald Trump has started tweeting about this. He said that Ralph Northam's Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, would have won the governor's race by 20 points, if only his opposition research staff had found those photos in time. And I think it's just a matter of time before he steps down.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some people, though, are noting what could be a double standard. I mean, you have President Trump tweeting about this. But let's not forget a couple weeks ago, Republican Congressman Steve King spoke in favor of white supremacy.

LIASSON: There is a double standard. Democrats and Republican voters have different standards when it comes to these issues. They have different beliefs about what politicians should do when these things are unearthed. Ralph Northam has to go, but Steve King, Donald Trump, Cindy Hyde-Smith get to stay. And if voters don't like this double standard, they certainly can do something about it at the ballot box.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.