WASHINGTON — A presidential address to Congress is always part policy speech, part political theater. With President Donald Trump, a former reality TV star, there's extra potential for drama as he makes his first address to Congress.
After a chaotic start to his presidency, Trump will be trying to project his administration as ready to stride forward on top priorities such as changes to President Barack Obama's health care law and a tax overhaul. Congressional Democrats, in turn, will be trying to calibrate how strongly to oppose the Republican president in the staid setting of the House chamber, where manners still matter.
Some things to watch for Tuesday night:
Which members of Congress will arrive hours early to stake out seats on the center aisle of the House chamber for Trump's big entrance? Expect core Trump supporters to try to line the aisle. But will some of the Democrats' traditional aisle-huggers continue to angle for prime seats, then make a point of passing up a handshake with the president? Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat who has often positioned herself on the aisle for presidential addresses, does not plan on shaking Trump's hand, according to her office.
THE ROBED ONES
Check out which Supreme Court justices show up this year. Samuel Alito, part of the court's conservative contingent, hasn't gone since he was caught on camera during the 2010 State of the Union address shaking his head and mouthing "not true" when Obama criticized a Supreme Court decision. Clarence Thomas, who has also stayed away in recent years, said in 2010 that the addresses had become so partisan that "it's very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there." Could this be a year for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who leads the court's liberal wing, to opt out? She criticized Trump in interviews before his election but later said she regretted making "ill-advised" comments in which she dismissed Trump as a "faker" who "really has an ego." She went to every one of Obama's speeches (but dozed off in 2015 when, she said, she "wasn't 100 percent sober.")
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is promising Trump's speech will be "an optimistic vision for the country, crossing traditional lines of party, race, socio-economic status." Trump has demonstrated that he can stick to a script for high-profile speeches. But there's always interplay between presidents and legislators in such addresses, and even a few presidential ad libs could change the dynamics of the night. If Trump veers into talk about "fake news," and "criminal leaks" from intelligence officials and complaints about the courts blocking his executive order on immigration, that would distract from his effort to show more discipline and focus.
Spicer says he expects Trump to get "a very robust and applause-filled reception" from legislators. But dozens of Democratic legislators boycotted Trump's inauguration. And now, they have to decide how to receive the president in their own chambers. Will they applaud the GOP president? Will the decorum of the moment be pierced with boos and heckles? Some of that may be choreographed in advance, but there's always the chance of spontaneous outbursts. In 2009, Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina blurted out "You lie!" during an Obama speech to Congress on health care. Expect to see lots of white in the crowd: Democratic women in the House planned to wear white to honor women's suffrage and "stand in solidarity with the women of our nation."
How to watch
What: President Trump's first congressional address
When: 6 p.m. PST
Where to watch: All the major TV networks will carry the speech including ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Univision, CNN and Fox News
Don't have cable?: ABC News, NBC News, Fox News and Univision will stream the address on their YouTube channels. The White House will also offer a live stream. Twitter is partnering with PBS NewsHour for a stream @NewsHour.
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