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Trump's State of the Union theme: 'A safe, strong and proud America'

by Vivian Salama /
President Trump will deliver his address to Congress Tuesday night.Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool via EPA

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will use his first official State of the Union address to tout economic progress under his watch while outlining efforts to secure America’s borders, according to White House officials.

His speech Tuesday night will come barely a week after a three-day government shutdown, as both chambers of Congress continue to wrangle over funding for one of the president’s central policy initiatives — a border wall with Mexico, currently part of his new proposal to offer a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants.

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Mired in record-low approval ratings and an ongoing federal investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russian government officials, Trump will look to use Tuesday’s address to convince the American people that his White House is on the right track and speak to an anxious nation deeply divided over issues ranging from race and religion to economic and gender-based questions of opportunity.

The White House said this week that the president will strike a "bipartisan tone" in his speech, and urge for greater collaboration. Trump has drawn adversaries in both parties, often sparring publicly with lawmakers on Twitter, calling them names and questioning their political clout.

A small number of Democrats have opted to boycott Tuesday’s speech, expressing opposition to some of Trump’s policies and rhetoric, which they described as divisive or racist.

A group of female lawmakers have said they will attend the speech dressed in black this year in support of the anti-sexual harassment movement sweeping the nation, while some Democratic House members are planning to invite victims of sexual assault to attend the address. Sexual harassment allegations have been raised against several members of Congress and against the president himself.

In a preview of his speech, a senior White House official said the theme of the Trump’s address will be "building a safe, strong and proud America." The official said that the economy is "roaring," and Trump will detail how he believes the upswing will benefit all Americans.

According to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, “proud” isn’t how all Americans describe Trump’s first year in office. Respondents instead used words like “disgusted” (38 percent), “scared” (24 percent), “hopeful” (23 percent), “proud” (12 percent) and “angry” (11 percent). The top answer after Trump’s victory in December 2016 was “hopeful” (32 percent).

The president will also touch upon his long-promised infrastructure plan, which he said this week would result in about $1.7 trillion in investment over the next 10 years. Trump’s framework, which is scheduled for rollout next month, seeks only $200 billion in federal dollars, relying instead on state and local governments and private investors to come up with most of the rest of the money.

While this is his first official State of the Union address, Trump delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress shortly after taking office, declaring then that "a new chapter of American greatness" had begun.

Weeks after the Trump administration celebrated its first major legislative victory with the passage of sweeping tax reforms, Trump on Tuesday will reiterate his commitment to helping the middle class, and small business owners keep more of their hard earned money.

Echoing elements of his speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, during which he declared that he will "always put America first," Trump will outline his vision for trade deals that create jobs and contribute to American prosperity.

Trump has already pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal and has vowed to withdraw from the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) unless it is revised. This week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that a revised TPP would be signed without the U.S. this year, prompting concern among critics that Trump’s "America First" mantra will end with "America alone."

Trump, who vowed during his campaign to be a "law and order" president, will also update the nation on his national security agenda, including defense and homeland security initiatives.

The president will emphasize the need for strength at home and foreign relationships that prioritize American national security, highlighting a host of threats, from concerns over destabilizing activities by the regimes in North Korea and Iran to gang violence and drugs trafficking in the United States.

His national security strategy, released last month, detailed the goal of cooperation with global competitors like Russia and China in the military, economic and informational domains.

A senior White House official said that Trump is likely to use more tempered language than he has in the past to underscore these issues. Many have warned of the potential for inciting confrontation with North Korea, after Trump recently hurled a series of threats and insults at its leader, Kim Jong Un, calling him "Little Rocket Man" and suggesting, on Twitter, that his nuclear button was bigger than Kim’s.

The president will detail efforts to rebuild what he refers to as America’s "depleted" military, with significant government funds already being redirected this year toward defense spending. But while Trump vowed during his campaign to end America’s role as global policeman, his time in office has been a demonstration of the difficulty of fulfilling that pledge.

During his first year in office, the U.S. military was pulled further into the conflict in Afghanistan, appears likely to stay in northern Syria indefinitely, and has lost service members in countries like Yemen, Niger and beyond.

The Islamic State, or ISIS, has lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria thanks in part to U.S.-backed efforts in those countries. But the militant group continues to pose a threat in countries like Egypt, Libya and Afghanistan and recently carried out a bombing in the Iraqi capital that killed dozens.

While Trump has delivered on his promise to be different than most politicians in Washington, his agenda has largely toed traditional Republican lines. The White House underscores, among his greatest achievements, his appointment of conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. It also touts the president’s efforts to roll back business regulations and cut taxes, promoting conditions that have helped the stock market boom to record levels — moves that sing to Republican orthodoxy.

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