WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump has begun delivering his third State of the Union address touting his economic achievements as he seeks reelection later this year.
Trump, who ran in 2016 on the election slogan “Make America Great Again,” told Congress as he took the podium on Capitol Hill that he wanted to recap what he claimed is the nation’s “comeback” under his leadership.
“Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging, and our country is thriving and highly respected again,” he said, before rolling off wage, employment and stock market statistics.
Trump touted the economy during the first 25 minutes of his speech.
Republicans chanted “four more years” seconds before he launched his address and gave a standing ovation after each pause. Democrats sat stone-faced with some shaking their heads as if questioning the accuracy of the statistics from Trump, who is known for making false claims and providing inaccurate figures.
This year’s address comes amid a Senate impeachment trial — only the third in U.S. history — that has sharpened the already bitter partisan divide.
Trump is speaking before a House of Representatives whose Democratic majority approved two articles of impeachment against him in December, and to a Republican-majority Senate that is expected to acquit the Republican president of those charges the day after his address.
Trump’s address comes as he potentially faces a tough reelection bid later this year. The race to determine the Democratic candidate who will face Trump on November 3 kicked off yesterday in Iowa.
Trump has a job approval rating of 49 percent, according to a poll published by Gallup before his address. It represents his highest rating since taking power in 2017.
However, only 7 percent of Democrats approve of his performance compared with a 94 percent of Republicans. That is the widest gap ever recorded by Gallup for a sitting president and underscores the nation’s sharp partisan divide.
Behind Trump on one side is Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker who oversaw the House impeachment vote and whose “clap back” at Trump during last year’s address became a popular meme.
The two have reportedly not spoken since October.
Pelosi told The New York Times before his speech that Democrats would treat him “as a guest…and we hope he will behave as a guest.”
But, she added: “I think the spotlight that is on him will be very hot for him to handle.”
Senior Democrats expressed doubts over the sincerity of a call by Trump for unity. Many have accused him of creating an atmosphere of disunity with his taunting and attacking tweets against critics, his immigration bans, and what they call his reluctance to take a tougher stand against the rise of white-supremacy advocates.
Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) said: “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t bombastic and self-congratulatory. I’d be surprised if he didn’t take potshots at the press and Democrats and the impeachment managers. My expectations are so low these days.”
Another Connecticut Democrat, Senator Richard Blumenthal, added: “I expect the president will be in full campaign mode, probably pretty bellicose and boasting. I wish it were otherwise because I think my Republican colleagues are hoping for a more conciliatory approach.”
On the other side will sit Republican Vice President Mike Pence, who said last week in Iowa — where the opposition campaign went into full swing on February 3 with the Iowa caucuses — that the Democrats were trying to “run down” Trump because they know they cannot beat him in November.
Pundits are not dismissing the possibility that Trump will take the opportunity to turn around and blast Pelosi and other adversaries over his impeachment for pressuring Ukraine to investigate potential Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
But while the president has made clear he believes his impeachment is the result of a “witch hunt,” he told reporters on February 2 that “we’re really looking to giving a very, very positive message” during his address.
He will likely emphasize the positives: the strength of the economy, low unemployment, and a recently negotiated trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, as well as the first phase of a deal with China that could signal the end of a lengthy trade war.
Gallup’s poll showed that 63 percent of Americans now approve of the way Trump is handling the economy, an increase of six points from the prior result in November.
Gallup said it is the highest economic approval rating not only for Trump, “but for any president since George W. Bush” enjoyed a boost following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In his effort to highlight unity, Trump is expected to talk about “American values” and tout religious liberties and support for the military.
Plans to improve the country’s infrastructure should appeal to many of the nearly 50-million television audience.
And national security will be in the spotlight, with the assassination of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in January serving as example of Trump protecting American interests.
But he is also expected to wade into contentious topics like health care, which he pledged to improve during his 2016 election campaign, by criticizing calls by some Democrats for universal coverage and highlighting his efforts to reduce drug prices and fight the opioid epidemic.
The politically divisive wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico may also come up again, with Trump lauding the construction of kilometers of new fencing as a way of emphasizing his efforts to counter illegal immigration.
In attendance will be most members of Congress as well as members of the Cabinet and justices of the Supreme Court.
Democratic female lawmakers will be dressed in white, in honor of suffragists. And the Democrats’ traditional responses to the State of the Union Address will be delivered by women: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer will give the rebuttal to the address in English, while Representative Veronica Escobar of California will give the Spanish-language response.