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Before A Divided Congress, Trump To Give State Of The Union


The television star who burnished his fame with the phrase you're fired tonight goes on TV to face several hundred people he cannot fire. In the State of the Union speech, President Trump faces an illustration of the difference between being a business executive and a president. He faces lawmakers who were elected on their own who constitute a coequal branch of government and aren't going anywhere. The very date of the speech is a demonstration. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will sit behind the president during the speech, delayed this event until the president ended a partial government shutdown. So what's the president have to say now? NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is here. Good morning.


INSKEEP: So what are you hearing at the White House about what the president plans to say?

RASCOE: So this president is known for breaking traditions, but the White House is stressing that this State of the Union will be pretty traditional. Trump is going to deliver a unifying message, according to officials. And here's how Trump framed the speech when he was asked about this last week.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it's unification. I think it's industry. I think it's about the people that you see right here. It's also working with these people 'cause they've been incredible. We have had some incredible rapport, and we've had incredible Republican support.

INSKEEP: Who's he referring to there, Ayesha, when he talks about the people you see right here, working with these people?

RASCOE: So I think those were just some government officials that he was talking to - kind of his administration. But I've been...

INSKEEP: Business group as well, I suppose. He's talking...

RASCOE: Yeah, business group. Yeah, business group.

INSKEEP: All right. Go on, go on.

RASCOE: Yeah. And so there's going to be talking - talk of bridging old divisions and healing wounds. And this is supposed to be Trump kind of at his most optimistic. There will be a pitch for border security, and he will almost certainly advocate for a wall. But the White House is pointing to these areas where they think there can be agreement - infrastructure once again...


RASCOE: ...And also lowering health care costs.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see what happens there. Now, you mentioned the wall discussions. Some of the lawmakers, who we expect would be in the room tonight, are lawmakers who've been working on some kind of border security compromise. Republicans and Democrats have hinted or explicitly said that among themselves they could more or less agree on this, but the president doesn't expect them to give any money or enough money to satisfy him on his wall.

RASCOE: And that's the whole issue. And the White House acknowledges that there are some real differences on a border security policy between the president and Democrats. And so you - and you also have this threat of President Trump declaring a national emergency that he's been hanging out. It's not expected that he would do that at the State of the Union, but the fact that he has this kind of in his back pocket and that he's been kind of teasing that he might do this will probably maybe undercut some of the ideas of unification that he's going to put forward tomorrow night because it's such a polarizing idea.

INSKEEP: It is a polarizing idea among Republicans. You can look at a quote from Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who's saying, the president should bypass Congress, bypass my own institution and declare a state of emergency. But you can also hear John Cornyn who is a Republican. And nobody would say he's not partisan, but he's saying, listen, there's a constitution; there's a Senate; there's a system, and it would be a bad idea to go for a state of emergency. It's not clear that Republicans are unified behind that idea.

RASCOE: And they're not. They're not necessarily unified. And that's part of the issue - is that if he goes ahead with this, he may have some pushback from his own party. And so that's what he's going to have to figure out going forward. Is he willing to take that risk?

INSKEEP: Ayesha, thanks very much as always.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.