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5 things to watch for in Trump’s State of the Union address

President Donald Trump speaks in the White House's

President Donald Trump speaks in the White House's Roosevelt Room in Washington on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. Expect to hear a unifying message in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, an administration official said. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address on Tuesday in which he is expected to offer a message of cooperation and bipartisanship just weeks after an impasse on immigration reform led to a three-day government shutdown.

As lawmakers look to avert another shutdown before a looming Feb. 8 budget deadline, the president’s aides say Americans can expect to hear a “unifying” message from the commander in chief, even as he has taken to Twitter in the past few days to deride Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as “Cryin’ Chuck” and to peg Democrats as “only interested in Obstruction!”

“The tone will be one of bipartisanship and it will be very forward looking,” said a senior Trump administration official who briefed reporters on the speech last Friday.

The prime-time speech comes as Trump looks to define his second-year agenda in a critical midterm election year.

Trump addressed a joint session of Congress last February, a month after his inauguration, but Tuesday’s speech will mark his first formal State of the Union.

Here are five things political analysts say they’ll be tracking when Trump takes the podium at 9 p.m.:

Economic message

Trump, according to the senior administration official, will use the speech to highlight his administration’s legislative victories — including passing a new tax plan in December and approving a slew of deregulation measures favored by business groups.

“The smart political move would be to emphasize the positive, emphasize his message of how he’s made America better and how much better off Americans are, and will be, especially when his new tax plan kicks in,” said Bruce Miroff, a political scientist at the University at Albany, and the author of several books on the American presidency.

It’s been a month since Trump’s tax plan passed the GOP-controlled Congress, but he has credited the tax code rewrite with spurring more companies to invest in new U.S. jobs and provide employee bonuses.

Meanwhile, a report released last week by Moody’s, one of the nation’s largest credit rating agencies, said it does “not expect a meaningful boost to business investment” spurred by the plan.

“U.S. nonfinancial companies will likely prioritize share buybacks, [mergers and acquisitions] and paying down existing debt,” according to the report.

Infrastructure plan

White House officials have signaled that passing a $1 trillion infrastructure plan to rebuild and modernize the country’s roads, bridges, transit hubs and information systems is top among the president’s legislative priorities for the upcoming year and will be a key talking point in Tuesday’s speech.

While Democrats, including Schumer, initially expressed a willingness to work with the president on a sweeping infrastructure package soon after his election, they have since been critical of Trump’s proposed structure for the plan, which calls for only $200 billion in federal spending over the next decade, with local governments and public-private partnerships making up the difference.

“The question is does he promote it as simply public-private partnerships, or does he put real money behind it?” said Elaine C. Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based policy think tank. “Democrats are very skeptical about his approach to infrastructure.”

Immigration proposal

Days before his address, Trump has laid out the framework for an immigration bill he hopes will break through the gridlock that spurred this month’s short-lived government shutdown.

Trump’s plan would give 1.8 million young immigrants living in the U.S. illegally a path to citizenship, in exchange for $25 billion in funding for border security including a wall and an overhaul of the visa system.

Democrats and immigrants rights groups have panned the proposal, as have some conservative Republicans who favor a more hard-line approach to immigration. Meanwhile, some moderate Republicans have described the proposal as a good starting point.

Tuesday’s speech will be the first time Trump addresses lawmakers on his immigration plan since calling on Congress to pass an immigration “bill of love” during a televised meeting with a group of bipartisan lawmakers about three weeks ago.

“State of the union messages don’t necessarily move negotiations forward, but they tend to set an even keel for discussions,” said Meena Bose, director of Hofstra University’s Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency, speaking on how his remarks might play with lawmakers.

Room dynamics

With Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, Trump will be speaking to a largely friendly audience, but already some Democratic lawmakers have indicated plans for symbolic protests.

The Democratic Women’s Working Group, a coalition of Capitol Hill lawmakers, has said several of its members plan on wearing all black to the State of the Union, in solidarity with the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. The lawmakers are taking a page from celebrities who donned black at this year’s Golden Globes to protest sexual harassment.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told NBC News in a recent interview: “This is a culture change that is sweeping the country, and Congress is embracing it.”

At least five Democratic lawmakers have said they are boycotting the address after Trump reportedly described Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” during a closed-door White House meeting on immigration.

“I cannot in all good conscience be in a room with what he has said about so many Americans,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the lawmakers not attending, in an interview with MSNBC.

Unscripted moments

State of the union addresses are largely scripted affairs, with weeks spent crafting each section of the president’s speech. But experts note that Trump, the real estate mogul turned reality star, is known for speaking off the cuff.

Will he denounce the Russia probe as he so often does on Twitter? Will he veer off-script often to acknowledge lawmakers and allies in the audience?

“There may not be surprises, but I think we’re primed to expect there will be with such a pronounced character,” as Trump, said Vanessa Beasley, a communications professor at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, who focuses on examining presidential rhetoric.

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