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Psaki: Trump and GOP have one night to get their act together

Our expectations have sunk so low that a major victory for the Trump team at the State of the Union speech on Tuesday...

Posted: Jan 30, 2018 10:01 AM
Updated: Jan 30, 2018 10:01 AM

Our expectations have sunk so low that a major victory for the Trump team at the State of the Union speech on Tuesday night would consist of the President successfully walking down a long hallway and then reading for an hour from prepared remarks without going off script.

If he can accomplish those two things, you can anticipate that the speech will be lauded by many pundits and commentators as a "bright moment in his presidency" and a possible "turning point."

After all, Trump will be entering the chamber with an approval rating hovering in the high thirties. And hovering over that is an ongoing investigation of many of his advisers and possibly himself by Special Counsel Robert Mueller; the resignation Monday of the deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, whom Trump has publicly derided; and a House Intelligence Committee vote to release a controversial partisan memo that accuses the FBI of misusing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Despite the opposition of the Department of Justice, Trump has said he's inclined to release it.

In summary: he is facing some serious headwinds.

The test for Trump and the White House is not whether he can read from a Teleprompter and look "presidential," but whether he and his team have the discipline and the capacity to use this as a moment to reset. Here are the three real questions the White House should be judged on:

1. Does the speech provide clear policy marching orders?

For any State of the Union, the policy is the meat of the sandwich and the focus is almost always domestic. Typically, the process of preparing begins months in advance with large binders and lengthy meetings in the Roosevelt room, as the policy and communications team determines which policies to include.

First, what is new and will make headlines and drive an agenda. Second, what Congress might be open to taking up in the year ahead.

The White House has already put forward a dead-on-arrival immigration proposal written by none other than Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller. This was supposed to be a framing piece for the State of the Union, and may still show up in the written remarks, but cutting legal immigration back by an estimated 50% and going back to the age of immigration quotas in the 1920s is not going to sail through Congress.

Even conservative hardliners hate the proposal because it includes what they perceive as "amnesty" for Dreamers. Members from both parties have already moved on to negotiate on a much narrower package focused on DACA and border security that is not based on the President's proposal.

The White House has also hinted that infrastructure will be a central focus of the speech. On the surface, that sounds reasonable and it would be hard for Democrats to remain seated during the obligatory standing ovation. But deficit hawks including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan may not be eager to put a big package of spending on the table, especially after the tax reform bill. A good applause line, but hard to see the path forward.

So where does that leave the policy marching orders?

The big encore to tax reform for Ryan and many Republicans in Congress would be entitlement reform. As tax reform was inching toward passage in December, Ryan let it slip that the way they were going to pay for the tax cuts for corporations and wealthy Americans was to cut entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, asserting casually on a local radio program, "We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit."

But the White House has not said that this will be a part of the speech, and members in vulnerable House and Senate districts will not be rushing to sign up to cut social safety net packages in a year when they could lose their seats for far less.

Will anything proposed domestically on Tuesday night have the shelf life and momentum to actually move forward in Congress? As of now the answer appears to be no.

2. Does it provide a blueprint for candidates running for office?

Barring a surprising legislative surge this year, Trump's success in 2018 will be judged in large part by how congressional candidates fare in November.

While his popularity and scandal-ridden administration don't make him the most appealing surrogate for vulnerable members, he is still the head of the Republican Party, which is in charge of both houses of Congress, and he continues to have a strong and loyal following from his base. As we have already seen in special elections, his message will have an impact on both vulnerable incumbent members and candidates running.

There is no doubt he will spend a good portion of the State of the Union speech highlighting positive economic indicators and taking credit for the low unemployment rate and the surging stock market. While Democrats accurately argue that these numbers and trends have long been underway, that some of the economic indicators under Obama were actually stronger and that the stock market surge is not helping real people, this will already be a prominent talking point on the campaign trail.

Trump may not do any damage in the speech, but it is hard to see what new proposal or new message will emerge as a blueprint candidates can take with them in their march to November. And in an unpredictable environment where Trump may well attack Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell with new cutting nicknames on Twitter by Wednesday morning, it is hard to see how a unifying party message in the speech on Tuesday sticks.

3. Does the speech help expand his base and unify the public?

This is the goal for any President and every White House. The bully pulpit has been dying a slow death since the internet arrived. It is no longer possible to speak and be heard through traditional media outlets by everyone in America, even if you are the President, with the exception of the State of the Union. The network numbers for the speech typically surge in the first year and go back down in the years following, but the number of people who watch on Facebook and through social media applications has increased.

Of all people, the Twitter President recognizes that. And the White House has sold the speech as "unifying." That would certainly be an improvement. Recall just one year ago, Trump delivered one of the better speeches of his presidency to the joint session of Congress. But the speech, described as "optimistic" in advance, quickly made way for one of the darkest and most divisive first years of a presidency in modern American history.

While a unifying tone would be smart, recent history tells us that the connection between the tone of the speech and the tone and actions afterward is negligible.

The State of the Union has never been about the ability of the President of the United States to read words on a page, but whether the speech has shelf life afterward in the days, weeks and months ahead. Count me as a skeptic that the administration and Republicans will be able to deliver.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 66646

Reported Deaths: 1874
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5599118
DeSoto363230
Harrison249836
Madison241464
Rankin227633
Jackson226942
Jones188558
Forrest177856
Washington164641
Lee142839
Lauderdale140792
Neshoba128592
Lamar120214
Oktibbeha111838
Bolivar110834
Warren108932
Lowndes107437
Panola105412
Sunflower102425
Scott99820
Lafayette96416
Copiah95028
Pike92836
Leflore92562
Holmes89048
Grenada84321
Yazoo82912
Pontotoc8218
Lincoln80941
Simpson79530
Leake78625
Monroe77853
Wayne76421
Coahoma74312
Tate72028
Marshall6889
Marion65720
Union62716
Winston62016
Adams61725
Covington61213
George5595
Newton54211
Pearl River54038
Tallahatchie53010
Attala52125
Walthall49819
Chickasaw45920
Noxubee45311
Alcorn4195
Calhoun4179
Prentiss41710
Tishomingo4095
Claiborne40413
Smith40413
Clay39413
Hancock38814
Jasper3879
Tippah36013
Itawamba35810
Tunica3337
Clarke32625
Montgomery3213
Lawrence3197
Yalobusha31310
Humphreys29111
Quitman2621
Carroll26111
Greene24111
Kemper23214
Perry2327
Jefferson Davis2316
Amite2306
Webster22812
Wilkinson20513
Sharkey1975
Jefferson1957
Stone1944
Benton1431
Choctaw1334
Franklin1242
Issaquena261
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 94827

Reported Deaths: 1674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12969243
Mobile9836206
Montgomery6609148
Madison531433
Tuscaloosa419073
Unassigned356061
Baldwin350224
Shelby326035
Marshall313035
Lee266045
Morgan236918
Etowah210431
DeKalb179813
Calhoun176113
Elmore171538
Walker152064
Houston138612
Russell13582
St. Clair132817
Dallas131823
Limestone131813
Franklin127020
Cullman122012
Colbert117113
Lauderdale115717
Autauga108621
Escambia107516
Talladega100913
Jackson9684
Tallapoosa85479
Chambers84038
Dale82723
Blount7884
Chilton7886
Butler75836
Coffee7566
Covington73420
Pike7037
Clarke6629
Barbour5735
Lowndes57124
Marion57024
Marengo55315
Hale47326
Bullock46311
Winston45011
Perry4404
Bibb4265
Wilcox42610
Monroe4194
Randolph39610
Pickens3929
Conecuh38810
Washington38612
Sumter36018
Lawrence3481
Macon33414
Crenshaw3143
Choctaw28112
Cherokee2707
Henry2593
Geneva2570
Clay2525
Greene25011
Lamar2202
Fayette2045
Cleburne1261
Coosa1012
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