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Trump Changes His Tone

The president took a loftier, more conciliatory approach in his address to Congress—despite offering few specifics, and sticking by many controversial claims and policies.

Pool / Reuters

President Trump set out an ambitious agenda as he addressed a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening, in a speech perhaps more notable for its tone than its substance.

“A new chapter of American greatness is now beginning,” Trump said at the outset of his speech. Later on, he declared: “The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.” The president went on to say: “From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears, inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past, and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.”

It marked a striking change of tone from his campaign and his early days in office, from a president who has frequently feuded with critics, including members of his own party. The optimistic tone was equally a departure from Trump’s inaugural address, in which he painted a picture of a country in decline and memorably promised to end “American carnage.” On Tuesday, he acknowledged that “the challenges we face as a nation are great,” but he added “our people are even greater.”

In outlining his ambitions, Trump doubled down on core Republican priorities like repealing the Affordable Care Act, calling on Congress to save “Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster.” He emphasized law and order, vowing to ensure enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws and to protect the country from terrorism. “We will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border,” he said.

Trump also indicated that he would be open to “real and positive immigration reform,” a remarkable suggestion given his hardline promises to crackdown on illegal immigration—though he stopped short of advocating a path for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status. Yet even as he called for unity and reform, Trump continued to emphasize controversial policies that could undermine any attempt at bridging the national divide. The president highlighted his directive to the Department of Homeland Security to open up an office that will highlight the “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement,” despite the fact that research indicates that immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.

The president also endorsed policies that a Democratic president might have championed if the election had turned out differently. “My administration wants to work with members in both parties to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women’s health, and to promote clean air and clean water,” Trump said. And he called on Congress to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, a priority that could set up a clash with fiscal conservatives.

It was an explicit acknowledgment that, following the president’s flurry of executive actions in the opening days of his administration, the fate of his agenda now largely rests with Congress.

The sweeping address took place after controversies dogged the early weeks of the Trump administration. The resignation of Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over contacts with the Russian ambassador has fueled calls from Democrats to investigate potential links between Russia and the administration, while the president’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations led to protest and disorder at at airports, and was later blocked in federal court.

Trump has moved quickly to follow through on some of his most high-profile campaign trail promises after taking office. During his first month in the White House, he signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership international trade deal. He also nominated conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia, a move that won widespread praise from conservatives and Republicans in Congress.

The president was quick to cite these as, as well as other actions he has taken, as accomplishments. “We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption,” he said, a line that drew laughter from several congressional Democrats in the audience as he pointed to a five-year lobbying ban for administration officials. He added that his administration has undertaken what he described as “a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations.”

For much of what Trump wants to do next, though, he may need to rely on Congress. And he may soon find that it is easier to make promises, and sign executive orders, then successfully enact legislation. Divisions are already apparent within the Republican caucus over how to pursue changes to President Obama’s signature healthcare law. On Tuesday, Trump set the bar high by calling on Congress to “repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time, provide better healthcare.” He added: “The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we will do.”

Trump endorsed tax credits that would allow Americans to purchase health insurance, a proposal at which some House conservatives have balked, saying it would in effect create a government subsidy.

Trump also called on Congress to approve what he referred to as “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history,” and stated that his “economic team is developing historic tax reforms that will reduce the tax rate on our companies” and “provide massive tax relief for the middle class.”

Turning to foreign policy, Trump declared that “America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.” But he also acknowledged the role of existing alliances in the fight against ISIS, promising to “work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.” That, too, was a change in tone for the president that told CNN last year “I think Islam hates us,” and has seldom emphasized the value of standing with Muslims against extremism.

He offered a similar message on the domestic front, opening his speech by declaring that the country “stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its forms.” Trump had faced criticism for failing to swiftly denounce bomb threats against Jewish institutions and the desecration of graves in Jewish cemeteries, and a shooting last week in Kansas.

Many congressional Democrats found ways to show opposition to the president’s agenda on Tuesday. A number of Democratic lawmakers opted to invite guests to the speech who either have been or could be impacted by administration policies and proposals, including the president’s travel ban, and promised Affordable Care Act repeal. A number of House Democratic women opted to wear all white, a color worn by suffragettes, during the president’s address. “We wear white to unite against any attempts by the Trump administration to roll back the incredible progress women have made in the last century,” Democratic congresswoman Lois Frankel said in a statement.

But in the speech, Trump called for unity between Republicans and Democrats, attempting to heal the wounds opened up by a divisive campaign. “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing, and hope,” Trump said. “Democrats and Republicans should get together and unite for the good of our country and for the good of the American people.”

Clare Foran

Updates

This live blog has concluded

The Democrats' Response to and From Middle America

Timothy D. Easley / AP

Former Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear’s response to President Trump’s address might be a signal of how Democrats will choose to fight back against the White House agenda. The response seemed tailored to both attack Trump on Republicans’ current primary political weakness—Obamacare repeal—and attempt to recapture blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt. As a 72-year-old retired politician, Beshear doesn’t fit the usual mold of joint-session and State of the Union response speakers, who are typically young up-and-comers in the opposition party, nor does he conform to some Democrats’ aspirations on diversifying leadership in the party. But he does have some authority for speaking to and for so-called “middle America.”

Beshear started his speech in a diner in Lexington by laying out his middle-American bona fides, as a blue-collar son of preachers and a military veteran. He focused most heavily on the kinds of issues most likely to affect the fabled coal miners and the white lower-middle class. His first criticism of Trump came while discussing a suspension of a Federal Housing Administration rule set to lower the premiums on mortgage insurance. Beshear also attacked Trump on federal oversight of the financial industry and the billionaires in his Cabinet “who want to eviscerate the protections that most Americans count on,” according to Beshear. “That’s not being our champion, that’s being Wall Street’s champion,” he said.

Most of his criticism of the president, though, was about Obamacare. “So far, every Republican idea to replace the ACA would reduce the number of Americans covered,” he said. That fact is particularly important in Kentucky and neighboring states—places with mostly white working-class voters who often lean Republican, but rely on Obamacare for health-care coverage and for helping combat increasing mortality rates and an opioid epidemic. The current Obamacare-repeal plans put forth by Republicans seem to confirm Beshear’s concerns, as they contain proposals that would make health-care access harder for citizens of middle America and rural voters who tended to support Trump.

“I may be old-fashioned, but I still believe that dignity, compassion, honesty, and accountability are basic American values,” Beshear said. His speech perhaps signals a renewed emphasis by Democrats on returning to an old-fashioned campaign strategy and vision.

At the End, Democrats Walk Out (Except for Manchin)

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Almost as soon as Trump finished his address, the vast majority of Democrats stood up and left the chamber. It appeared to be an orchestrated move, as few stayed behind to greet the president and wait until he had left the hall. One of the few who stayed behind was conservative West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who has already drawn criticism from the left for his chumminess with the president. Manchin also seemed to enjoy the speech itself––he could be seen frequently applauding.

Can Trump Leave Behind the 'Trivial Fights' He Says Are Over?

“The time for trivial fights is behind us,” Trump said near the end of his speech. With any other president, this would be almost a throwaway line, a platitude used to sum up and to summon the nation to a higher purpose. But Democrats chuckled in the chamber, knowing that this will be a challenge for no one more than Trump himself. His first joint address to Congress was optimistic, subdued in tone, and free of his frequent bombast. Republicans will likely be pleased at his performance, but the question now is: Can a man easily provoked into “trivial fights” lead the way?

Trump Touts His Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement Office

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly (Luis Soto / AP)

In his speech, President Trump referenced his order to the Department of Homeland Security to create “an office to serve American victims,” called “VOICE - Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement.” The office was officially created by DHS Secretary John Kelly last week. My colleague Russell Berman reports that the announcement “drew audible groans from Democrats.” Trump went on to acknowledge in the audience the relatives of victims killed by undocumented immigrants, who were invited by the White House.

Earlier in the night, Trump said his administration is “removing gang members, drug dealers, and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens.” He added: “Bad ones are going out as I speak, and as I promised throughout the campaign. To any in Congress who do not believe we should enforce our laws, I would ask you this one question: What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income, or their loved one because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?”

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security released memos that outlined how the administration would execute Trump’s immigration-enforcement plans. Notably, the new rules instruct agents to target undocumented immigrants who haven’t been charged or convicted of anything. The memos also call for a steep increase in Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

The president has said that his administration is focusing on the “really bad dudes,” but, in fact, with the elimination of the Priority Enforcement Program, which was put in place under former President Obama, the Trump administration expanded the number of undocumented immigrants eligible for immediate removal, including those who haven’t committed a crime of any kind.

Trump's Sestercentennial Address

Charles Mostoller / Reuters

Many presidents use their first address to Congress to lay out their vision for their first hundred days, their first year, or even their first term. Donald Trump is dreaming bigger.

He ended his speech by invoking the nation’s 250th anniversary, which it will celebrate in 2026—two years after a second Trump term would conclude. He looked back to the Centennial Exposition, held in Philadelphia in 1876, when an array of inventions were introduced to the public: “Alexander Graham Bell displayed his telephone for the first time. Remington unveiled the first typewriter. An early attempt was made at electric light. Thomas Edison showed an automatic telegraph and an electric pen.” And he asked his audience to “imagine the wonders our country could know in America's 250th year,” laying out some specific ideas:

Cures to illnesses that have always plagued us are not too much to hope. American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream. Millions lifted from welfare to work is not too much to expect.

It’s an inspiring vision. But, notably, the mechanism suggested for its achievement is to “simply set free the dreams of our people.” The strong implication is that government is all that holds back American greatness. But American footprints are in the dust of the moon today because of massive public investment, and the diseases that have been vanquished have taken decades of sustained government investment. The early outlines of Trump’s proposed budget indicate that this sort of research funding is likely to be in short supply going forward.

But Trump isn’t just looking forward to the Sestercentennial—he’s also thinking about his legacy, just as he takes office.

And when we fulfill this vision; when we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began.

Perhaps that’s how tonight—and Trump—will be remembered in 2026. But if past addresses to Congress are any indication, it’s much more likely that by this time next year, no one will even remember the speech.

'The Bible Teaches Us, There Is No Greater Act of Love Than to Lay Down One's Life for One's Friends'

Carryn Owens, the widow of William “Ryan” Owens, the U.S. Navy special operator who recently died during a raid in Yemen, is there for the speech tonight. Trump called him a hero. “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity,” he said.

The room was filled with applause. For what seemed like a full minute, politicians stood and looked at Owens, who sobbed. “Ryan is looking down, right now—you know that,” Trump said. “And he’s very happy, because I think he just broke a record.”

The president spoke about Ryan’s death in the language of scripture. “For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one's life for one's friends,” he said. “Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom—we will never forget him.”

As the room turned its attention away, Owens clasped her hands and looked upward.

Trump Wants to Have It Both Ways on Defense Spending

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis (
Francois Lenoir / Reuters)

Trump seemed to make two contradictory arguments about defense spending this evening: that it’s terrible and comes at the cost of Americans’ welfare, and that it should be increased by billions of dollars.

Here’s his condemnation of U.S. spending: “America has spent approximately $6 trillion in the Middle East, all this while our infrastructure at home is crumbling,” he said, according to prepared remarks. “With this $6 trillion we could have rebuilt our country—twice.”

It’s not clear where Trump got the $6 trillion figure from, but a big chunk of money was spent on wars—a recent Brown University study found that the United States has spent at least $3.2 trillion on its wars since 9/11.

That, however, didn’t seem to deter him from calling for bigger budgets. “To keep America safe we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war and—if they must—to fight and to win,” he said, according to prepared remarks. “I am sending the Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”

There’s really no way to reconcile those two statements—either Trump wants to decrease the money going to extraordinarily costly conflicts we’ve had overseas, including in the Middle East, or he wants to increase it.

Trump Hits the Media Lightly, by his Standards

Andrew Harnik / AP

Trump's reference to creating a specific office to highlight victims of crimes by immigrants, the “Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement,” marks a milestone for this speech: the first time he's made a swipe at news organizations. "We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests," he said. It's his only reference so far to the media, which he's termed "fake news" and his aides have called the "opposition party," a remarkable measure of restraint amid the daily roasting he gives publishers on Twitter.

Trump Offers Little Detail on Plan for Inner Cities

Carlos Barria / Reuters

What is Trump’s plan for America’s “inner cities”? As a presidential candidate, he spoke frequently on the campaign trail about the dire situation inside these areas, apparently using the term in reference to impoverished, urban, largely black and Hispanic communities. As president, he reiterated that theme tonight. “We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit—and so many other places throughout our land,” he told members of Congress.

But while Trump offered specifics on foreign policy and health care, he offered none tonight on how he would invest in these communities. Indeed, as my colleague Ronald Brownstein noted this morning, the largest beneficiaries of Trump’s budget proposal will be older, whiter Americans—a core Republican constituency. The proposal also shifts federal spending priorities away from younger Americans, who are collectively more diverse than previous generations. In Trump’s description of an America made great again in tonight’s speech, he described how “our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity.” But so far he’s offered no plans to turn that vision into a reality.

Trump Praises the Right to Choose Religious Schools

Trump echoed his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, with this ode to school choice:

“I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children,” he said, according to the prepared text. “These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.”

The emphasis there was on “religious”—he paused on the word, and gave it special emphasis. For school-choice advocates like DeVos, the ability to choose religious education is one of the primary benefits of a voucher-based system. For opponents, though, it’s one of the greatest sources of anxiety: the fear that religious schools will be the only available option for some kids, or that non-sectarian public schools will be undercut if more kids go private.

Parsing Trump's Promises on Paid Childcare... And The Military

Trump says this:

My administration wants to work with members in both parties to make childcare accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women's health, and to promote clean air and clear water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure.

This first point (childcare) has reportedly been pushed by Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump. Same with the second point on family leave. Same again with women’s health. The White House’s young record on clean air and water are debatable, given Trump's recent rollback of EPA water pollution rules, and his appointment of an energy industry ally, Scott Pruitt, to the top perch at the agency.

Military and infrastructure, however, are all Donald Trump.

Trump Endorses Immigration Reform—Without Endorsing a Path to Legal Status

“I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible,” Trump said moments ago. But he notably did not endorse any path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, which he reportedly suggested he might support in comments to network TV anchors earlier on Tuesday. Trump’s goals, he noted Tuesday night, are “to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws.” And though he called for bipartisan efforts to start again, Democrats offered little applause for his vision.

Trump Offers Few Specifics on How to Replace Obamacare

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Trump devoted most of his section on healthcare to criticizing the Affordable Care Act—or Obamacare, as he continues to call it—and to call on Democrats and Republicans to work together to repeal and replace it. But the president notably did not endorse any specific plan or legislation in Congress. He only laid out principles: ensuring that people with pre-existing conditions can still get coverage, expanding health savings accounts, giving governors “the resources and flexibility” they need on Medicaid, limiting lawsuits against doctors and hospitals, and allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines. In other words: not much new.

The GOP has thus far been unable to coalesce around a replacement for the law, and conservatives have criticized an emerging plan from the party leadership as too expensive and too much like Obamacare. Republicans in Congress have been looking for Trump to provide direction in a bid to unify the party around a plan, and some lawmakers may be irked that he chose to remain vague.

Trump's Contradictory Muslim Outreach

Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool Image via AP

Extremism has been a big theme in this speech so far. Trump has condemned violence against religious minorities in the past, and tonight was no exception. “I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS—a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs,” he said. “We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”

As I wrote after Trump’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, this is a vision of religious nationalism: the idea that America should draw its mission and policies from a place of religious identity and values. What’s notable about tonight is that Trump emphatically included Muslims in these comments—both as victims of ISIS and potential allies in America’s fight against the terrorist group. With his executive order and past comments on the campaign trail, many on the left—including Muslims—have worried that they aren’t included in his vision of what America’s religious landscape should look like.

Earlier sections of Trump’s speech give them plenty to worry about. He claimed that foreigners are the most frequent perpetrators of terrorism—which evidence does not support—and argued that “we cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America—we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists,” according to the prepared text. He made another pitch for “extreme vetting,” as well: “It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur,” he said. “Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values.”

It’s not clear exactly what he means by this, but these two statements seem to be in tension: a vision of America standing with Muslims and protecting Muslims, and a vision of America that is suspicious of foreigners—so suspicious that travelers and refugees from certain Muslim countries could be banned.

Trump Invokes Lincoln to Defend His Skepticism of Free Trade

Mike Segar / Reuters

President Trump pulled out a familiar line tonight, citing the first president from the GOP in support of his trade policies:

The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, warned that the "abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government [will] produce want and ruin among our people."

Lincoln was right—and it is time we heeded his words. I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers, be taken advantage of anymore.

It’s a quote he used last June, as well. Lincoln wrote this after his election to Congress in 1846, as he prepared to take up his seat.The Washington Post’s Robert Gebelhoff cried foul at the time, arguing before that international trade has changed in the intervening century and a half.

And that’s true. But it’s not the whole story. Protectionism in the 19th century was a policy that delivered uneven benefits, helping rising manufacturing centers like the urban areas of the Northeast, but at the expense of agricultural regions like the South. The partisan divide of the day reflected that; Republicans embraced the tariff, while Democrats were skeptical. Trump’s point is that free trade operates much the same way, delivering generalized benefits to the population, but imposing focused costs on communities that have lost their factories.

Reverting to the tariffs of the 1840s seems unlikely to be the answer. But on this point, at least, Trump seems faithful to the founding spirit of his party.

Trump Again Takes Credit for Creating Jobs Upon His Election

Trump noted, correctly, that a number of companies—including Ford, Sprint, and Wal-Mart—have promised to expand production and employment in the United States since Election Day. He’s right they are creating new jobs. But he’s wrong to explicitly link them to his victory. Most of the companies already had plans to invest in America, but accepted Trump’s accolades and allowed him to claim credit without refutation. (See Ford, Sprint, and Wal-Mart.)

Trump may be able to take responsibility for an improving economy in the months to come. It's probably a bit early to be doing so now. It certainly was in January, before the current president took office. But Trump, even more of a marketer than he was a developer, understands that claiming credit is often just as effective as earning it.

Trump's Bleak Assessment

Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool Image via AP

Trump's dim view of the economic and global circumstances he inherited—94 million people "out of the labor force," 43 million living in poverty, "the worst financial recovery in 65 years—are nearly the exact opposite of the outlook former President Barack Obama described in his last State of the Union address a year ago and his final speeches as president. Democrats were shaking their heads in the chamber, but the election results and polls about the economy suggest that many Americans share the current president's interpretation.

Trump Promises Fewer Regulations on Coal

Steve Helber / AP

Joe Manchin, the senior senator from West Virginia, appeared to be one of the few Democrats clapping during Trump’s line about curtailing regulations that threaten the coal industry. West Virginia is one of the most mining-dependent states in the country, and the decline of the coal sector has hit his constituents disproportionately hard. He’s found an ally on coal in Trump—and so far, he’s voted to confirm more of the president’s Cabinet nominees than any other Democrat.

Democrats Laugh at Trump's Claim That He's Draining the Swamp

Democrats have remained silent through the early part of the address, but several of them laughed loudly at Trump’s claim that he has “begun to drain the swamp of government corruption.” The party has attacked the president over his refusal to divest from his businesses and criticized his Cabinet picks for their potential conflicts of interest.

Trump Condemns Attacks on Jewish Cemeteries and Community Centers

Trump has gotten a lot of criticism over the last few weeks for being too slow, too unspecific, or too ham-fisted about condemning the recent attacks and threats against Jewish Community Centers and cemeteries across the country, as well as acts of Islamophobia. At the very top of his speech, he undermined that criticism with a strongly worded statement against hatred of all kinds.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies,” he said, according to the prepared text, “we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.” It’s significant that he mentioned Kansas City, as well. Last week, three men were shot at a bar in Olathe by a man who may have been hoping to target Muslims.

Trump Enters

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

As President Trump entered the House chamber, Democrats stood but very few applauded, and just a couple stood along the center aisle to shake his hand. Republicans erupted in applause, as is traditional for these addresses.

Who Is the Designated Survivor for Trump's Speech?

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Updated at 9:05 p.m. ET

For the duration of a presidential address to Congress, like a State of the Union, the designated survivor has one job: to stay alive. He or she is the Cabinet secretary who’s been chosen by the White House to sit out the speech, in hiding and under Secret Service protection. And the one who would, most importantly, work to rebuild the U.S. government if tragedy were to strike the Capitol and befall others in the presidential line of succession.

Ahead of the speech, the White House hadn’t yet revealed which official it chose, but CNN and Time report it’s David Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs. Typically, designated survivors are announced “a couple of hours” before the speech, Politico reports.

Shulkin may now be watching the proceedings like the rest of us, only under lock and key. In a report Tuesday, CBS News explained more about the mystery surrounding designated survivors’ whereabouts:

There’s very little information publicly available on the subject of where the designated survivor goes and exactly when they leave—and purposely so, since they could also be a target in the event of a large-scale attack on the U.S.

What is known is this: The designated survivor gets presidential-level security from the U.S. Secret Service, and is taken to an undisclosed secure facility outside of Washington. A military aide accompanies them carrying the “nuclear football,” or the briefcase containing the country’s nuclear war codes. The designated survivor is not briefed on what to do if something actually happened to the president.

Will Trump Stick to His Script?

Donald Trump’s never faced a crowd quite like this.

The president is accustomed to addressing rallies full of adoring fans, and he likes to engage with his audience—even the protesters. Tonight, however, he’ll be speaking not only to the nation but directly to a room nearly half filled with Democrats fiercely opposed to him. When Republicans stand and applaud, Democrats will most often stay seated and silent. Several dozen Democratic women are all wearing white—a move to honor the suffragettes and, perhaps, to send the president a subtle reminder of the plurality of U.S. voters who voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

How will Trump handle this? Will he stick to his prepared script, as he does rarely but managed to do during his inaugural address last month? Or will he be tempted to respond to the Democrats’ stoney silence and veer off track?

A presidential address to Congress is always part-spectacle, and Trump’s demeanor during what is expected to be an hour-long speech will be an interesting subplot to the night.

A Different Look From Democrats for Trump's Speech

Engel greets Obama in 2014 (Charles Dharapak / AP)

Representative Eliot Engel has been a familiar face to the average American exactly once a year for the last three decades. He’s the mustachioed Democratic congressman who makes sure to get the very best aisle seat in the House chamber whenever the president addresses Congress, and every year, the network TV cameras capture Engel excitedly shaking the commander-in-chief’s hand as he makes his way to the rostrum to deliver his speech.

For the first time since he entered Congress in 1989, however, the New York Democrat won’t be saving that seat, and he won’t be shaking President Trump’s hand. Engel announced his decision in a brief speech on Tuesday, citing as reasons Trump’s harsh criticism of the press, his intent to gut the Affordable Care Act, his move to bar refugees from entering the U.S., and his hesitancy to condemn a recent wave of threats against Jewish institutions. “This isn’t part of our normal political discourse. This goes beyond ideological and political difference,” Engel said. “The president needs to work with all people, and therefore I will listen to what he has to say today, but I will not greet him and shake his hand.”

Engel will still attend the address with nearly every other member of Congress. But his House Democratic colleague, Representative Maxine Waters of California, will not. Waters told her fellow Democrats in a morning meeting that she would be skipping the speech. “She believes people ought to be respectful of the president of the United States, and she’s not sure she could be, so she’s not going to go,” Representative Steny Hoyer, the party whip, told reporters.

Hoyer’s remark brought to mind the infamous incident during former President Barack Obama’s tenure, when South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson called out, “You lie!” in the middle of the president’s 2009 address on health care. In the same Democratic meeting on Tuesday morning, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged her members to avoid that kind of outburst. “We cannot become them; we don’t like what they did to our president,” Pelosi said, according to a person in the room. “We have to come out tonight the winner in terms of dignity. We cannot be out-classed by Donald Trump. That would be the worst of all outcomes.”

Pelosi is encouraging—and participating in—a much quieter statement of protest by Democrats tonight: She and a few dozen other women in the caucus are all wearing white, the color of suffragettes that Hillary Clinton chose to wear at key moments during the presidential campaign last year.

Waters said later in the day that her decision was made out of principle, not out of any concern that she would interrupt or respond to Trump in the moment. “I would never speak out in the chamber,” she told me. “That’s what Republicans do, not what Democrats do.”

Trump Prepares to Pitch His Agenda to Congress

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

After a tumultuous debut month in office, Donald Trump will deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. The president has, so far, offered little detail on his legislative agenda, and on Tuesday evening, he’ll be expected to provide some clarity.

A president’s first speech to Congress is traditionally used to outline policy initiatives and provide direction for lawmakers. This year, Republican members of Congress will primarily be looking for the president to elaborate on repealing and replacing Obamacare. Trump pledged repeal during the campaign, but, as CNN put it, his public remarks on the topic “so far … have proved to be a mixed bag for fellow Republicans.”

As my colleague Russell Berman recently noted, the challenge of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act “is growing with each passing day,” as Democrats fervently argue against it and the law continues to gain in popularity. Republican lawmakers have also been facing pressure on Obamacare at home. This month, angry constituents filled town-hall meetings across the country to air their grievances over the law’s potential repeal. Trump, through it all, has remained ambiguous about next steps. In a speech to the nation’s governors on Monday, Trump said that health care is “an unbelievably complex subject.”

The address on Tuesday will also outline Trump’s budget demands. The administration will propose increasing defense-related spending to $54 billion and slashing funding for other federal agencies. The president is also expected to provide more information on his infrastructure and tax-reform plans.

Another subject of potential prominence? Trump’s promise to restore “law and order” to the country. He’s argued that his controversial executive orders on immigration—to restrict travel from several majority-Muslim nations and expel undocumented immigrants—enhance national security. Among the White House’s guests to the address are the relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants. Democrats, meanwhile, have invited immigrants to the address as a statement against the administration’s policies. Among them will be members of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as well as Hameed Darweesh, who worked with the U.S. military in Iraq and was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport after Trump’s travel ban. According to media reports, Trump may also include a call for a “compromise” immigration bill to this evening’s speech.

Ahead of the address, the White House distributed talking points about its contents, presumably for Trump’s allies to use. According to the White House’s language, which was obtained by Politico, Trump “will lay out an optimistic vision for the country that crosses the traditional lines of party, race, and socioeconomic status.”

Democrats have also prepared a post-speech response, as is custom. Steve Beshear, the former governor of Kentucky, will deliver the Democratic reply, in which he is expected to make the party’s case for Obamacare. As McClatchy notes, the reason behind Democratic leaders choosing Beshear is his experience with the Affordable Care Act: “For years, Democrats have regarded Kentucky as the health-care law’s model state, where the ACA has done the most good and had the fewest problems. And party officials say that success is thanks to Beshear, the two-term governor who ran the state after Congress approved the law in 2010.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also announced they’ve selected Astrid Silva, an immigration activist, to deliver the Spanish-language response to Trump’s speech.

As he readies for the address, Trump is facing record-low approval ratings. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll published on Sunday, only 44 percent of Americans approve of the president. For comparison, Barack Obama’s approval rating stood at 64 percent around the same time in 2009, according to Gallup. Still, Trump appeared unfazed ahead of his remarks: “All I can do is speak from the heart and say what I want to do,” he told Fox & Friends on Tuesday morning.