AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump will deliver his State of the Union speech tonight. It comes in between two major political events, the Iowa caucuses last night and the Senate vote on articles of impeachment tomorrow. So how will the president use this moment? Joining me now are White House correspondent Tamara Keith in studio - welcome back, Tamara...
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
CORNISH: ...And congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hey there, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: Tamara, I want to start with you. This is one of the biggest television audiences the president will have for a speech. Are there signs that he's going to use it to talk about impeachment?
KEITH: You know, he will stand before Congress impeached but not yet acquitted. He will also stand with the highest approval rating of his presidency - 49%, according to a Gallup survey released today. Now, by way of context, that is 20 points lower than Bill Clinton's approval when he gave a State of the Union address in the midst of impeachment in 1999. Clinton, in that speech, didn't mention impeachment. The White House is signaling strongly that Trump won't either. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham was asked about it this morning on "Fox And Friends."
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STEPHANIE GRISHAM: I don't think people want to hear that. People want to hear what the president has done for this country and what he's planning to do for this country. So it will be very forward-facing. It will be very optimistic. The president's not focused on impeachment either. He wants to tell the American people what he's going to do going forward for them.
KEITH: Now, this comes with the grain of salt that you can never be certain what President Trump will say until he says it and also that every year, the White House promises that he will deliver an optimistic speech, and it doesn't always turn out that way.
CORNISH: So the State of the Union speech is often used as a moment for lawmakers and the president to at least give the appearance of goodwill, but he'll be standing in the House - right? - in the House chamber where he was impeached. So how likely are we to see any unity?
DAVIS: Well, I talked to a Democratic source today on what they were expecting to hear tonight, and they responded to me, for the president to rub our faces in it. So I think it tells you Democrats are not exactly expecting a bipartisan message. I think, you know, the State of the Union has often been used as ways to send these signals of bipartisanship. You'll recall several years ago, there was lots of bipartisan seating at the address. This time around, there are some Democrats boycotting it. One of them is Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. He said in a statement he didn't want to attend so as not to, quote, "dignify Trump's parade of lies."
Audie, I'll tell you one thing I'm watching for tonight is to see how President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi interact. You know, she's - the Speaker's always seated right behind the president during the State of the Union address. Trump and Pelosi have had pretty intense battles over the past couple of years, but they've also shown an ability to work together. I'm watching to see if the president does try to extend a hand to her and, if he does, on what.
CORNISH: And then, Tamara, the other people who might be seated in the audience are senators who are running for president - right? - those Democrats. It's not clear whether any of them will be in the crowd or - frankly, they're all in New Hampshire. But what dynamic does the 2020 race give this speech?
KEITH: You know, a State of the Union at the start of an election year will inevitably highlight the president's campaign themes. And a senior administration official and others at the White House have said that the theme of tonight will be the great American comeback, which is also the theme of the president's campaign. They've also not so subtly hinted that President Trump could go after Democrats who are running to replace him. In a section of the speech dedicated to health care, an official said that you can expect President Trump to contrast his vision with, quote, "radical proposals on the left," saying socialism is a force in the Democratic Party. This is President Trump's strategy for the campaign. No matter who Democrats end up nominating, he's going to try to paint them as socialist. He's also going to talk in the speech about the economy and immigration, which are two recurring themes in his re-election campaign.
CORNISH: Looking ahead to tomorrow, that impeachment vote happens in the Senate. It's expected the president will be acquitted. Susan Davis, what happens next?
DAVIS: You know, this is the big question mark on Capitol Hill. There really isn't much of a legislative agenda for 2020 to speak of yet, certainly not in the Senate, which has been focused almost exclusively on judicial nominations in this Congress. I talked to a lot of Senate Republicans who see tonight as an opportunity for the president. Senate Majority Whip John Thune had this to say.
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JOHN THUNE: Talk about the economy and jobs and things he wants to do in this next year and areas in which we can find common ground and kind of get off the subject of impeachment and onto other things, which is what I think most people in the country want to see.
DAVIS: Republicans really just want the president to move on.
CORNISH: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, thank you.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
CORNISH: And Tamara Keith covers the White House.
Thanks so much.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.