How Congress Is Preparing For Trump's 2nd The State Of The Union Address

Feb 5, 2019
Originally published on February 5, 2019 11:04 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It was on. It was off. And now about a week and a half after the 35-day government shutdown ended, it is on. It would be the State of the Union. And President Trump delivers the address for the second time tonight.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

His second State of the Union but the first time that the president speaks to a newly divided Congress. Democrats are now in control of the House. And the new majority is preparing to do battle with the Trump administration for the next two years. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now.

Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How is the House Democratic majority positioning itself ahead of tonight's speech?

DAVIS: You know, it's become a bit of a tradition to pick State of the Union guests that are meant to send a message. And I think Democrats have picked guests sending a confrontational message to the president. There are guests that highlight all of the Trump administration's policy positions that they have been very vocal in opposing. Guests include a mother and child who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border last year, students who were involved in school shootings who now advocate for gun control, climate change experts and even transgender veterans to oppose the president's decision to ban transgender service members in the military.

I think all the guests sort of remind us how much differences there are between the president and the new Democratic majority. I think there's good reason to be skeptical that going into this room, the president is going to face a very receptive audience and that he's going to change many minds on the Democratic side of the aisle.

SHAPIRO: It's going to be a powerful image tonight, where just over the president's shoulder we're going to see the newly anointed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. So far, the relationship has largely been defined by the government shutdown. It's been fairly hostile. Any chance that changes tonight?

DAVIS: There is a lot of historical precedent here. The - each of the last three presidents all lost the House majority in their first midterm elections. All of those presidents were gracious to the conquering party and to the new speaker in their first State of the Union. This is one of the things I'm really curious to see about tonight. How does the president approach the speaker? Is it a hand or is it a fist that he extends when he turns around and greets her when he comes in?

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

DAVIS: I think this president, more than a lot of presidents, understands a TV moment. This is certainly a chance for a TV moment and how he uses that - going into the speech, I should say, he has, actually, been very antagonistic still towards Democratic leaders. On "Face The Nation" on Sunday, he described the speaker as being very bad for the country. He was mocking Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer today on Twitter. Of course, we're going to have a real test of this soon. They, again, still have to come up with a border security agreement by February 15 or we're back in another shutdown situation.

SHAPIRO: So you don't think any big, bipartisan breakthroughs - no infrastructure week in 2019.

DAVIS: (Laughter) I am holding out. You know, miracles do happen.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

DAVIS: There is always some talk of bipartisanship. I'm not sure this is the moment for bipartisanship. It's hard to make the case that this is going to be a time of compromise. What is also really important that does start happening this week after the State of the Union is Democrats kick off a series of high-profile hearings. It's a reminder that they intend to use their majority to look into every nook and cranny of the Trump administration.

SHAPIRO: And those oversight hearings could turn hostile. What are Democrats hoping to accomplish with those hearings?

DAVIS: You know, there are dozens and dozens of hearings Democrats plan to take. They're going to start this week looking at three main things. There's going to be hearings on that family separation policy. There's a lot of opposition to what has been going on at the border and what they're going to do there. The Ways and Means Committee is going to start a series of hearings on the president's taxes, which is part of a Democratic effort to ultimately try and force the president to release his tax returns, which he's never done.

And the House Intelligence Committee will also be meeting this week behind closed doors with the president's longtime fixer Michael Cohen to get a sense of more information they'd like to hear from him. And the message from Democrats is, we are just getting started.

SHAPIRO: Lots to look forward to - NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, following it all for us. Thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.