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Good Trump or Bad Trump: Who will show up to the State of the Union?

4 things to watch for when Trump speaks to Congress Tuesday night.

by Alex Thompson
Jan 30 2018, 9:02pm

The entirety of the D.C. political establishment will gather at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday night to hear from a man who has repeatedly slammed them as corrupt, incompetent, and creatures of a slimy "swamp."

But President Donald Trump is indicating he'll play nice when he delivers his first State of the Union address before Congress. The speech will not divide but “unite us through patriotism,” as one senior White House official put it to reporters last week.

In other words, expect less “American carnage” Trump and more of the conventional, reassuring Trump we saw on display last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the audience was another crowd comprised of the powerful ruling class.

But this is Trump and, as ever, there are no guarantees he'll play peacemaker. But even if he does, the increasingly hostile debates on Capitol Hill could make it impossible for the speech to do much unifying at all.

Read more: Here are all the lawmakers boycotting Trump's State of the Union

Speaking to reporters Monday, Trump was vague: “So we have a lot of things to discuss and we'll be discussing them, and I hope you enjoy it.”

What he's not likely to mention is the latest scandal gripping Washington. Trump has five days to decide whether to declassify the memo issued by House Republicans that seeks to discredit the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russian interests, which sought to sway the 2016 election toward Trump.

This is what we know so far about the speech and what you should watch for tonight at 9 p.m. EST when you're tuned in to VICE News’ online stream.

How will Trump talk about the Dreamers?

Just over a week ago, Democrats effectively shut down the government over unmet demands that undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers, be given a path the citizenship. That effort failed.

And now the Trump administration has revealed its own framework for a deal that would grant a path to citizenship for the 1.8 million Dreamers. But in exchange, the White House is demanding $25 billion for border security, including a wall along some parts of the southern border; a decrease in legal migration by limiting the ability to sponsor family members; and the green light to hire many more ICE officers.

Read more: It loooks likee nooone porfread the Stat of the Uniom ticketts

Democrats have mostly rejected the proposal for what they say is a radical—some say racist—revamp of the legal immigration system. At least 21 Democratic lawmakers are bringing Dreamers from their home states as their guests Tuesday evening.

Some Republicans have already rejected the White House’s framework and said they can’t ever vote to give citizenship to people who came into the country illegally, regardless of whether they were brought by their parents.

This is one of the most politically explosive issues facing the country, and Trump is expected to confront it head-on. Watch to see if congressional decorum holds.

The last time it didn’t hold was in 2009, when a Republican congressman yelled “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during an address to a joint session of Congress. The topic? Whether undocumented immigrants qualified for Obamacare.

Expect Trump to brag a lot about the economy

Democrats will argue that Trump just got lucky and has simply reaped the results of Barack Obama’s work to pull the country out of the depths of the Great Recession. They'll point out that many of the stats Trump touts aren’t much different from the numbers we had before he became president.

Trump and the Republicans, meanwhile, will point out that the stock market has never been higher in American history (the Dow Jones industrial average went up by over 30 percent in Trump’s first year, the best first-year performance since Franklin Roosevelt). He will likely discuss low unemployment numbers, as he did in Sunday tweets responding to criticism from Jay-Z.

Trump also has a habit of cherry-picking or exaggerating economic data for political gain. He did this also as a businessman, calling it “truthful hyperbole” and defending it as “an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”

Watch to see if all the Republicans join in on the salesmanship and which ones do so most enthusiastically. Also watch for a lot of fact-checkers to be working late.

Trump’s infrastructure plan

Republicans don’t like it because it costs too much. Democrats don’t like it because it doesn’t spend enough money and allows private companies to control public works. It’s almost certainly not going to pass, at least not this year.

And yet, expect a large portion of the speech to be dedicated to infrastructure anyway. It’s theoretically popular and bipartisan, before you dive into the details, and Trump, who made his career in real estate, will often make a good sell of it. But be skeptical.

Where’s Melania?

Last week, first lady Melania Trump abruptly canceled her trip to Davos with her husband following a Wall Street Journal report that the president had had an affair with a porn star in 2006, just a few months after Melania gave birth to their son Barron, and paid $130,000 to keep it quiet in the lead-up to the presidential election.

The first lady is expected to attend the State of the Union, but that could change. If she is in the audience, does Trump try to make amends in a very public way? Is Melania supportive of his speech?

The porn star, Stormy Daniels, for her part, is slated to appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" following the president’s address.

This article originally appeared on VICE News US.

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