After sitting impatiently on the sidelines for months, President Trump on Tuesday night will finally get a chance to address — face to face — the House Democrats who impeached him and the senators who will soon vote on whether to end his presidency.
It could prove to be an awkward State of the Union address.
Sitting just behind Trump, and elevated on the House dais during his speech, will be Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who initially resisted impeachment efforts before eventually signing off on them. Trump and Pelosi haven’t spoken since a contentious White House meeting in October when the two traded insults.
Among those seated in front of the president will be House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and his fellow impeachment managers, as well as Senate Democrats who will vote unsuccessfully to remove Trump from office less than 24 hours after his speech.
Trump and his team were hoping for acquittal over the weekend, before he delivered his third State of the Union address. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, was forced to punt the final vote until Wednesday afternoon.
But some senators are nonetheless predicting Trump will take an early victory lap during Tuesday’s speech.
“I expect that he’s going to be over the top. I would be surprised if he wasn’t bombastic and self-congratulatory. I would be surprised if he didn’t take potshots at the press and Democrats and impeachment managers,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters Monday during a break from the impeachment trial. “My expectations are so low these days that I’m expecting the worst.”
When Trump addresses the joint session of Congress, he’ll be standing in front of Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah), who both crossed the aisle in Democrats’ failed push to subpoena witnesses in the impeachment trial. Other Senate Republicans, including Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), have voiced concerns with Trump’s dealings with Ukraine but said voters — not the Senate — should decide whether to oust him from office.
One thing most Republican lawmakers agree on: Trump should steer clear of any talk of impeachment during his prime-time address.
“It’s the State of the Union. I just think there’s no way you talk about [impeachment] and that not be the takeaway,” said Rubio, one of Trump’s presidential primary rivals during the 2016 campaign. “Talk about trade. Talk about the issues in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, the agenda for the rest of this year … And if I were him, I’d also look back at the economic performance for the last couple of years.”
Some of the lawmakers who are vying for the chance to challenge Trump in November, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), are expected to skip the address and instead hit the campaign trail in New Hampshire ahead of that state’s Feb. 11 primary.
But many Democrats who have dropped out of the 2020 race are expected to be on hand, namely Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Reps. Seth Moulton (Mass.), Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Eric Swalwell (Calif.).
On Monday, Swalwell blasted Trump on Twitter as a “self-centered man-child” after a video showed the president gesturing to guests and pretending to conduct a band as the national anthem played at his Super Bowl party.
Nearly all of the seven Democratic impeachment managers — Schiff and Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Jason Crow (Colo.), Val Demings (Fla.) and Sylvia Garcia (Texas) — have confirmed they will attend the Tuesday night address. But it’s unclear whether Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) will be there; he is spending time with his wife, who is battling pancreatic cancer.
Trump’s address to Congress will come a day after the impeachment managers made their closing arguments in his Senate trial.
“When the president tries to coerce an ally to help him cheat in our elections and then covers it up, we must say enough. Enough,” Schiff said during his impassioned closing arguments to senators Monday. “He has betrayed our national security and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What is right matters even less, and decency matters not at all.”
“It matters to you. Truth matters to you. Right matters to you. You are decent. He is not who you are,” Schiff added.
A handful of Democratic lawmakers will be trying to send a message by not being in the room at all. At least three House Democrats — Reps. Steve Cohen (Tenn.), Frederica Wilson (Fla.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) — said they will boycott Trump’s speech, as they have since 2018.
“I will not be a witness to puffery and prevarication flowing while our Constitution and our laws are disrespectfully and dangerously flouted,” Cohen said.
Tuesday won’t be the first time lawmakers have boycotted a State of the Union address given by a president under the cloud of impeachment.
In 1999, several GOP lawmakers skipped President Clinton’s State of the Union address that occurred amid his impeachment trial. Notably, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time was not in attendance due to health issues.
Clinton conspicuously made no mention of impeachment during his State of the Union address, instead choosing to focus on Social Security reform and his domestic policy agenda.
Democrats won’t have much recourse during the speech for responding to whatever Trump says, aside from their body language. But they’re hoping to send messages with their choice of guests in the public gallery overlooking the chamber and with their attire.
Female Democratic lawmakers plan to wear white to show solidarity with women ahead of the 2020 election.
But at least a handful of lawmakers will be trying to make a gesture of bipartisanship. Members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus said they will be wearing purple ties and sitting together.
Democrats will largely emphasize their guests in the gallery, who include constituents affected by prescription drug costs or gun violence.
Some plan to highlight other issues.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) announced Monday that he has invited Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post writer who was murdered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
“Hatice’s courage to sit in the House Chamber Tuesday night should serve as a clarion call to the President that no matter how high it goes, Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for the murder of this loving father and fiancée, respected journalist, U.S. resident, my constituent, and reformer,” Connolly said in a statement.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), meanwhile, is bringing Courtney Wild, a victim of the late financier and serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Speier has introduced a bill named after Wild aimed at preventing the type of light plea deal granted to Epstein.
“We are standing up for what is right and to ensure that those who continue to subvert the rule of law and those who fail to hold perpetrators responsible for their malign deeds will not succeed,” Speier said in a statement.