Bickering opens before Trump's State of the Union speech even begins
WASHINGTON, DC, USA – President Donald Trump promised sunny optimism in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, February 5, but the spirit of bipartisanship appeared to be at risk of withering before he even took to the podium.
The White House says the annual speech to Congress will see Trump in "optimistic," even "visionary" mode – and looking to heal the Republican-Democratic divide.
"The president is calling for unity. He is calling for an end to retribution and resistance politics and more compromise," senior advisor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News.
However, a testy exchange between the president and the senior Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, demonstrated that the "swamp," as Washington's political world is nicknamed, won't let go so easily.
Riffing on the state of the union, Schumer tweeted: "The state of the Trump economy is failing America's middle class. The state of the Trump healthcare system is failing American families. The state of the Trump Administration is chaos."
Did Trump turn the other cheek, did he take the high road and ignore the taunting? No, he fought back, as always.
"I see Schumer is already criticizing my State of the Union speech, even though he hasn't seen it yet," Trump tweeted. He then went on to poke fun at the Democrats' failure to overturn the Republican majority in the Senate in last year's midterm elections.
Wall of division
At the heart of Washington's bad vibes is Trump's single-minded drive -- and failure -- to get congressional funding for walls along the US-Mexican border.
Trump says a wall or fence is needed to prevent an "invasion" of Central American migrants whom he repeatedly casts as a horde of killers and rapists.
In his latest tweet on the subject Tuesday, Trump again resorted to hyperbole, warning of "tremendous numbers" of illegal immigrants approaching, stating "we will build a Human Wall if necessary. If we had a real Wall, this would be a non-event!"
Democrats, who took control of the House of Representatives last year and therefore control half of Congress, accuse Trump of fearmongering and refuse to give their approval.
The resulting standoff has turned a relatively minor funding debate into an existential test of political strength in the buildup to 2020 presidential elections.
The row has seen an ever more frustrated Trump trigger a crippling 5-week partial shutdown of government in revenge. Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will be sitting a few feet behind Trump during the State of the Union, exacted her own reprisal by forcing the speech to be delayed by a week.
Things could soon escalate, with Trump threatening to declare a national emergency so that he can bypass Congress and give himself power to take military funds for his project. (READ: Can Trump use 'emergency powers' to build border wall?)
Jobs and wars
The speech will tout the strength of the US economy, a key element in Trump's 2020 reelection hopes. The White House says he will also propose federal infrastructure spending, an area where Democrats could conceivably join forces with the government.
More contentiously, Trump will claim foreign policy successes.
That means defending his push – criticized by some in the security services and in his own Republican Party – to withdraw US soldiers from Syria and Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Trump is likewise expected to update Congress on China trade talks and on his intention to hold a second summit with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whom he is trying to persuade to give up nuclear weapons.
Closer to home, he will likely dial up the pressure on Venezuela's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro. Opposition leader Juan Guaido's envoy to Washington is among the top guests invited to attend the speech.
At each listing of his triumphs, Trump will see Republican legislators rise for ovations.
The opposition, however, may greet much of the speech with silence or even the odd heckle, like the "You lie!" yelled at Barack Obama in 2009.
Among those watching Trump from the chamber will be members of Democrat-chaired House investigative committees determined to probe the president's personal finances and other sensitive areas.
That's on top of the huge investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is charged with examining alleged collusion between the Trump election campaign and the Kremlin.
New trouble emerged late Monday with reports that New York federal prosecutors have issued subpoenas in a sweeping probe of suspected fraud and other crimes by Trump's lavish 2016 presidential inauguration committee.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders distanced the president from any scandal, saying the committee was an independent entity.
"This has nothing to do with the White House," she told CNN.
However, for Trump – already fuming about the Mueller "witch hunt," and hugely proud about his 2016 victory – the latest probe may feel personal. – Rappler.com