US President Donald Trump, seated with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, plays host to a lunch for ambassadors to the United Nations Security Council at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 29, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Donald Trump, battling a probe into his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia and struggling to sell Americans on his leadership abilities, will take credit for U.S. economic gains in the past year in an address to Congress on Tuesday night.
Facing a deadline on an immigration controversy and strong Democratic opposition, Trump will also call for a bipartisan compromise of the type that has eluded him during a first year in office marked by heated political battles.
Trump will visit Capitol Hill to deliver his first State of the Union speech at 9:10 p.m. (0210 GMT on Wednesday).
Aides said the Republican president would use the televised speech to tout the benefits of a tax overhaul approved by the Republican-controlled Congress in December that was his first major legislative victory.
“The economy will be front and center,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told NBC News on Tuesday.
The atmosphere in the House of Representatives chamber where Trump will speak could be tense. Several Democratic lawmakers have said they would boycott the event. Some Democratic women who will attend plan to wear black in support of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.
Ahead of Trump’s speech, Republicans and Democrats were deeply divided over immigration. Lawmakers face a Feb. 8 deadline to reach a compromise on the issue and pass a new budget measure to avoid a second government shutdown.
To attract Democratic votes for an immigration deal, Trump has said he is open to letting “Dreamers,” a group of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, stay in the United States.
In return, he has demanded funding for a wall on the border with Mexico and measures to curb family sponsorship of immigrants, proposals that have failed to gain traction
with Democrats in the past.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said so far the two sides had made little progress in bridging differences on immigration.
“We didn’t agree on anything,” Durbin said after a meeting with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Monday.
Trump will also promote a $1.7 trillion plan to rebuild America’s aging roads and other infrastructure, but he is not expected to offer many details.
The speech comes as the president is buffeted by a drumbeat of headlines about U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump or his aides colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the campaign using hacking and propaganda to attempt to tilt the race in Trump’s favor. Russia has denied meddling. Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and has called the Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt” and “hoax.”
Americans, at the same time, are voicing concerns about Trump’s fitness for office. His job approval ratings are about 40 percent, an alarming number with congressional elections in November that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of the U.S. Congress.
Leaders of the two parties offered sharply different expectations for the speech. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was “excited” to hear a State of the Union speech when things were so promising.
“It’s really encouraging to be able to come and hear an upbeat tone at a State of the Union,” Ryan told reporters. “Economic confidence is coming back to America.”
But Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said Trump’s theme of a “safe, strong and proud America” did not reflect reality.
“That may be the theme, but that’s not what has happened over the last year,” he said, adding that Trump had alienated U.S. allies, hollowed out the diplomatic corps and increased the national debt with tax legislation.
Trump is expected to address the various global crises that have persisted during his watch, such as North Korea’s nuclear challenge and Iran’s clout in the Middle East.
His drive for more reciprocal trade with China and other countries is expected to be a dominant theme. Trump has so far been unsuccessful in lowering U.S. trade deficits around the world.