Too bad. At least that would make this the first State of the Union speech since 2002 with any news value. Kellyanne Conway began the SOTU expectations-setting game early this morning, informing the media that Donald Trump will demand action on the border wall in tonight’s address to the joint session of Congress. However, he won’t use that stage to pre-empt action with a declaration of emergency that would allow him to use Defense Department funds to complete the project:
The president will again make his case for a border wall, but will stop short of announcing a National Emergency to circumvent Congress. @KellyannePolls says the pres still prefers to have Congress appropriate funds for enhanced border security including a wall or barrier.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) February 5, 2019
Yesterday, however, Conway reminded the media that Trump has “the absolute right” to declare an emergency to build the border wall. Hint hint:
Kellyanne Conway: "The president cannot be more clear that he has the absolute right to declare a national emergency." pic.twitter.com/0dEpRKp5af
— The Hill (@thehill) February 5, 2019
In other words: Nice leverage ya got there. Shame if anything *happened* to it. Still, it’s premature to drop a bomb like this. The CR still has ten days left to run, and the negotiators are still working on the competing interests. Trump knows that it’s better to get Congress to appropriate a significant chunk of his demand rather than having to run the gauntlet through the federal judiciary on an emergency declaration. He might have only two years left, and the sooner he can get any money, the quicker he can produce results.
So, no nuclear move at the SOTU. What can we expect? As Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells CNN, pretty much the same thing we hear at Trump’s rallies and political speeches:
"I don’t think that the President’s message is going to be different than the one he’s been talking about since he started campaigning.” White House Press Sec. Sarah Sanders says President Trump will focus on unity in tonight’s State of the Union address. https://t.co/pVNkjwQLBK pic.twitter.com/uPxjr9ubix
— CNN (@CNN) February 5, 2019
“Unity,” in SOTU terms, means “agreeing with everything I want” — regardless of who’s president and from which party. That will make it exactly like every other SOTU in recent decades. The only one that stands out at all was delivered by George W. Bush a few months after 9/11, when the nation yearned to come together in actual unity and strength. Even that speech devolved into the standard laundry-list litany in its second half, though, and nothing before or since has made an argument for the necessity or purpose of a live SOTU address. At least a rally puts this kind of speech in its proper perspective; the imperial pomp and anti-republican spectacle of a presidential entrance is ghastly, given what inevitably follows.
Next time someone threatens to cancel the SOTU, can we please take him or her up on it?