Everything to know about President Trumps’ first State of the Union address


WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS News) – On Tuesday night, President Trump will give his first State of the Union address. Here’s everything you need to know about one of the biggest political events of the year.

What will Mr. Trump say at the State of the Union?

Hard to say exactly, but in broad strokes, here’s some of what you can expect.

State of the Union addresses are not exactly known for their rhetorical greatness, and are often likened to laundry lists, with the president laying out what he wants before Congress and the American people.

“A state of the union is like a moon launch,” David Frum, a writer for The Atlantic who helped craft speeches for President George W. Bush, told CBS News. “You pull together pieces from all over the government and bolt them together into what is often a kind of formless monster.”

So what will Mr. Trump want? Well, he wants an immigration deal along the lines of the proposal his administration released last week. He some kind of infrastructure deal, which polls well and could have a decent chance of attracting some bipartisan support. He wants an “America first” trade agenda along the lines of what he discussed at last week’s Davos summit. And he wants to reemphasize his plans to “rebuild” the military with new investments.

That will all be mixed together with what’s likely to be a lot of talk about just how well the economy is doing. Even though Mr. Trump’s approval rating remains stubbornly low, the stock market is riding high, and has replaced polling as the president’s preferred measurement of success. Expect the president to take credit for the booming economy, and for him to tout the Republican tax cuts in the process.

How many people will watch it?

Mr. Trump brings up ratings often, and he should be able to take comfort in knowing that tens of millions of people are sure to be watching his State of the Union Tuesday night. His joint address to Congress last year was watched by 47.7 million people, according to Nielsen, which means it had 16.4 million more viewers than President Obama’s last State of the Union address in 2016.

Obama’s first speech to a joint session attracted 52.4 million viewers in 2009, but that number significantly dropped off in his second term, with fewer that 40 million people watching every one of his State of the Union addresses from 2012 on.

How do I watch the State of the Union?

CBSN’s live coverage of President Trump’s first State of the Union address begins at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 30. CBS News will broadcast live, primetime coverage of the address and Democratic response from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on CBS, CBSN and all CBS News platforms. 

CBS News will have live coverage starting at from 5 p.m. ET. Watch our State of the Union free live stream online and follow along with our live blog of the events. We’ll also be fact-checking Trump’s speech in real time.

Who is giving the Democratic response?

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a Massachusetts Democrat, will be giving his party’s response to Mr. Trump. The decision to go with Kennedy, a 37-year-old liberal from the most storied family in Democratic politics, signals that the party is looking to tap into the energy of their progressive base ahead of November’s midterms.

What will Joe Kennedy III say?

Kennedy is the kind of politician that media types will incessantly refer to as a “rising star” – namely because he’s young, telegenic, and seems like the sort who could run for president one day. To deploy another cliché, and then mix in a few more, this is something of a double-edged sword: It’s nice to be seen as someone on the rise, but it also opens up opportunities for you to fall flat on your face.

Giving a response to a State of the Union is difficult and often thankless work. You’re up against the grandeur of the presidency with little more than a teleprompter. So the conventional wisdom holds that Kennedy will probably play it safe, mostly sidestep direct attacks on Mr. Trump, and stick to an argument for traditional liberal principles like a stronger safety net.

“It will be critical that Kennedy starts with pocketbook concerns without getting lost in the weeds of policy to show that the Democratic Party understands the challenges facing working people in America,” writes CBS News contributor Lynda Tran. “The response will land well if it’s centered on access to affordable health care rather than the brinksmanship around CHIP; on creating good-paying jobs that can support a family rather than on the unemployment rate; and on expanding opportunity for us and our children, rather than on the mind-numbing details of tax policy.

This is Kennedy’s first big introduction to a national audience, and if he does a good job, he’ll be rewarded with headlines announcing that a Democratic star is born. He might even be touted as a contender for the presidency in 2020, although he’s thought to want a Senate seat first.

And if he flubs it? Well, he wouldn’t be the first. Then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s awkward response to President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union may have done real damage to his presidential aspirations, but Sen. Marco Rubio bounced back from his water-guzzling response to Obama’s 2013 address. 

Who is boycotting the speech?

Democratic Reps. John Lewis, Earl Blumenauer, Maxine Waters, Pramilla Jayapal, Jan Schakowsky, Albio Spires, Danny Davis, Bobby Rush, and Frederica Wilson have announced they will be boycotting the speech.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will also not be in attendance. Instead, she plans to speak to a group of law students in Rhode Island.

Who is the designated survivor?

We don’t know who it is yet, but a member of Mr. Trump’s cabinet will not be in attendance at Tuesday’s speech. This member of the cabinet will be sequestered in an undisclosed location in order to preserve the line of succession to presidency in the event of a catastrophic attack.

Who are the president’s guests?

The president’s guests at a state of the union are sometimes called “Skutniks,”which comes from Lenny Skutnik, a federal worker who heroically dove into the frigid waters of the Potomac in 1982 to rescue victims of an airline crash. He attended the state of the union later that month as President Reagan’s guest, beginning the modern tradition of presidents bringing people of note to the address.

Guests of the president sit in the first lady’s section of the gallery. This year, President Trump’s guests will include:

Corey Adams, a welder from Ohio who says he benefited from the recent tax cuts.

Elizabeth Alvardo, Robert Mickens, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Freddy Vuevas, who are the parents of two children who were killed on Long Island by alleged members of the MS-13 gang.

Matthew Bradford, a Marine corporal who reenlisted in the Corps after losing his sight and both legs in Iraq.

Jon Bridges, who founded a recovery organization that assisted victims of last year’s hurricanes in the South.  

David Dahlberg, a firefighter who rescued dozens in southern California.

Ryan Holets, an Albuquerque police officer who has been shot twice and adopted the child of opioid addicts.

Ashlee Leppert, a Coast Guard technician who saved dozens of Americans during last year’s hurricane season.

Celestino “CJ” Martinez, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent who has helped arrest over 100 suspected members of MS-13.

Justin Peck, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army who saved the life of Chief Petty Officer Kenton Stacy during an anti-ISIS operation in Syria last year.

Preston Sharp, who started the “Flag and Flower Challenge” to deliver flowers and American flags to the graves of serve members.

Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger, siblings who started a manufacturing company and say they are benefitting from Mr. Trump’s policies.

In addition, first lady Melania Trump and all of Mr. Trump’s children – with the exception of his youngest, Barron Trump – will be in attendance. 

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