The President will use his remarks to argue for bipartisan cooperation while trumpeting the roaring stock market and low unemployment, aides have said. He told advisers he wanted to strike a unifying tone after a year of stoking divisions on race, politics and gender.
A president’s State of the Union is typically his highest-profile platform of the year, and viewership is generally higher in the first part of a presidency. But television ratings for the speech have steadily fallen over the decades, and Trump has shown a penchant for bypassing traditional communication channels in favor of Twitter.
If the State of the Union has assumed a reduced importance, however, there were no signs the White House was taking it any less seriously. For months, Trump fed handwritten notes with lines for the speech to his team of speechwriters, a White House official said.
Trump practiced delivering the address from the Map Room on Monday, the official said. Trump’s predecessors also rehearsed their addresses from a mock podium and teleprompter set up in the White House basement room.
A team of speechwriters and top policy aides helped Trump craft his address, White House officials said. They included National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and staff secretary Rob Porter.
Trump first reviewed a draft of his State of the Union address in December, and has made handwritten edits in recent days with black felt tip pens. In the last several weeks, Trump has workshopped ideas for the speech or edited certain sections while in the residence at night, handing over his changes to staffers the next day.
Trump told a gathering of TV news anchors Tuesday ahead of his address that he would like to see the country “united” and hopes to help rally the country around a sense of national unity.
The President said he would consider unifying the country a great achievement and that he would like to achieve national unity without a “major event,” such as a national tragedy or major terrorist attack.
While Trump acknowledged that the country is currently very divided, he also said he believes the country was more divided during the Bill Clinton impeachment, citing a conversation he had with a Democratic lawmaker.
The speech is not likely to touch on the Russia matter, people familiar with it said, opting instead to focus on policy. Trump hopes a serious-minded message can help improve his standing in the polls.
Democrats selected Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, to deliver the traditional response to the President’s speech. A number of other responses are also planned, including by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who ran for President in 2016. A number of Democrats have planned to boycott the speech.
The White House announced on Monday that 15 guests would sit above the House floor in the first lady’s box, a tradition that past presidents have used to illustrate their successes. This year’s guests include a firefighter who helped battle blazes in California and the parents of children killed by the MS-13 gang.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Kaitlan Collins, and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.
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