Live Blog: Trump’s 2019 State of the Union

We at the Washington Monthly are providing fresh insights as President Donald Trump gives his 2019 State of the Union address. Under increasing pressure from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion and obstruction of justice, the president will speak to the nation and all three branches of government from a position of intense vulnerability. He just lost his first major fight with Democrats after the party took the House during the 2018 midterms. Unable to secure funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall during the 35-day government shutdown—the longest in American history—Trump agreed to a short-term stopgap measure that will expire on February 15.

The State of the Union gives the president an opportunity to articulate his policy agenda for the coming year. But with a new funding deadline weeks away, and a new reality in Washington, how will Trump approach tonight? Perhaps more importantly, how will Democrats respond? Check in with us throughout the evening, as we offer analysis and commentary.

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11:03

If we’re to take White House flaks, who said the speech would be “unifying,” at their word, then Trump’s speech failed. This was a forgettable speech, jammed with falsities and garnished with predictable demagoguery. While not as terrible as his first SOTU speech, it wasn’t much different in tone and content: vague and limp gestures toward perhaps good and reasonable initiatives; angry and baseless attacks that blur the distinction between criminals, immigrants, and asylum-seekers. In short, Trump has furnished an additional piece of supporting evidence for those who prefer presidents to fulfill their constitutional mandate the old-fashioned way: in writing, and only very occasionally.

— Joshua Alvarez

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10:52

Abrams encourages Americans to hold people accountable for racist remarks. Earlier this year, Donald Trump Jr. compared Syrian refugees to Skittles.

— Tabitha Sanders

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10:50

Stacey Abrams is highlighting the failure of Georgia (and many other states) to expand Medicaid. It’s easy to forget, but refusing to expand the program is one of the most horrible and heartless things Republican state politicians have done.

— Daniel Block

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10:23

So much of what Trump is saying tonight directly contradicts the testimony of his own intelligence chiefs. He claims that ISIS has been all-but defeated in the Middle East. NSA chief Dan Coats said that it is “intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.” Trump said that the Iran deal was a disaster. But according to America’s spy agencies, Iran isn’t pursuing nuclear weapons, which means the deal (which Iran is still party to) is doing what it was meant to do. Perhaps more remarkably, he claims that we would be at war with North Korea were it not for his personal relationship with Kim Jong Un. Coats said that North Korea “is committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that would pose a direct threat to the United States.”

— Daniel Block

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10:16

“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” Trump just said. Well, great presidents also work with their generals. After Trump announced America’s withdrawal from Syria, it was revealed that Gen. Joseph Votel had not been briefed or consulted beforehand.

— Tabitha Sanders

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10:14

Fact check: the U.S. would probably be at war with North Korea whether or not Trump had been elected. Both states have technically been at war since the 1953 signing of the armistice.

— Tabitha Sanders

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10:13

The president’s “good” relationship with Kim Jong-Un has produced almost no forward motion on the denuclearization issue. The document signed after their historic meeting in Singapore didn’t offer any actual steps, but promised to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

— Tabitha Sanders

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10:08

Trump proposes $500 million on childhood cancer treatments. That’s one-tenth the amount he proposes we spend on a wall that accomplishes nothing except signpost racism.

— Daniel Block

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10:07

Paid family leave is the type of policy that members of both parties could get behind, and it would do a whole lot of good for a lot of people. Which also makes this a winning talking point. But it’s a talking point Trump already used in his 2018 State of the Union, and he didn’t make it a legislative priority last year.

— Grace Gedye

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10:06

Trump just announced his initiative to halt the spread of H.I.V. by 2030. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told the New York Times on Monday that while H.I.V. infections have declined dramatically since the 1990s, the number of new infections have remained stuck at around 40,000 per year. “With the tools we have today we can do much better,” he said. The reason this number isn’t going down? The opioid epidemic.

This is, obviously, a welcome initiative, but as with anything Trump, irony looks over his shoulder–and tonight, irony has snatched Mike Pence’s body. Pence, a Christian fundamentalist, was single-handedly responsible for enabling an H.I.V. epidemic in Indiana, which spread via dirty needles in opioid-ravaged Scott County. He opposed a clean-needle exchange, a scientifically-proven method to staunch an outbreak, because he believed it would encourage drug use (it doesn’t). Two months after the outbreak was detected, the New York Times reports, Pence went home “to pray on it” and arrived at the correct answer and far too late. But even then, the implementation of the exchange was so botched that it actually did nothing to stop the epidemic.

But in a broader historical sense, this initiative should be welcomed with a grimace. We’re still largely undoing the damage done by the Reagan administration who, when confronted by evidence that a deadly H.I.V. epidemic was ravaging the country, exhibited zero concern. Reagan’s press secretary derided it as “the gay plague”; his communications director said it was  “nature’s revenge on gay men”; and Jerry Falwell, a close ally, called it “the wrath of God upon homosexuals.” The administration did nothing, knowing exactly who was dying. Today, however, H.I.V. victims are increasingly likely to be white, working-class and rural. All of a sudden, H.I.V. is being given the tender attentiveness it should have gotten when the victims were someone else.

— Joshua Alvarez

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10:04

Trump just suggested El Paso’s border barrier contributed to its declining crime rate, here’s the El Paso Times showing that the construction of its border fence, in fact, had nothing to do with it:

“Looking broadly at the last 30 years, the rate of violent crime reached its peak in 1993, when more than 6,500 violent crimes were recorded. Between 1993 and 2006, the number of violent crimes fell by more than 34 percent and less than 2,700 violent crimes were reported. The border fence was authorized by Bush in 2006, but construction did not start until 2008. From 2006 to 2011 — two years before the fence was built to two years after — the number of recorded violent crimes in El Paso increased by 17 percent.”

— Joshua Alvarez

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10:01

Funny how Trump always spikes his mention of “migrant caravans” right before major political moments for him. Remember that caravan that Trump and Fox News incessantly hyped up in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections? For the past week, Fox & Friends have ranted about a “new” caravan that arrived at the Texas border. Who makes up this invasive horde that Trump says requires the attention of the military? Two-thousand asylum seekers, many of whom are minors, who are working with Catholic charities. They aren’t criminals.

— Joshua Alvarez

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9:58

Infrastructure is probably the single most promising area for a major and truly bipartisan bill from this Congress. Trump spent all of twenty seconds talking about it, without offering a single idea for what he wants included: “I know that the Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill–and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting edge industries of the future. This is not an option. This is a necessity.”

— Martin Longman

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9:51

I cannot understand why Democratic congresswomen would let Trump boast their ascent to Capitol Hill. At first,  their applause and chants seemed cheeky. But then, it got cute. And then, Trump looked magnanimous and bipartisan. This moment will be played over and over again the next few days. They shouldn’t have given him that.

— Eric Cortellessa

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9:49

One area where Trump is correct: “Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities — including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.” The Democrats have always underestimated how much the drug problem, particularly opioids and opiates, has created resonance for the border wall. This is because people understand that most of the heroin coming into the country is originating in or transiting through Mexico. Of course, the vast majority comes through ports of entry and much of the rest arrives through tunnels, ships, and aircraft that a wall would not prevent.

— Martin Longman

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9:43

Just the umpteenth reminder: illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the general population and are barred from accessing most public services but still pay taxes.

— Joshua Alvarez

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9:40

Trump’s emphasis on stopping human trafficking is perhaps the most two-faced thing he’ll do during this entire State of the Union (and I don’t say that lightly). Anti-trafficking lawyers and activists report that the series of rule changes the Trump administration has put into effect have made visas designed to help and protect trafficking victims far more difficult to get. As a result, he has made it much harder to safeguard trafficking victims and help people who are held captive. Traffic victims are now at an increased risk of deportation.

— Daniel Block

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9:37

Trump made a reference to “300” nominees “stuck in the Senate” (which Republicans control). According to the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post, the White House has not even bothered to nominate people for 150 out of 705 Senate-confirmed positions.

–Joshua Alvarez

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9:36

In case you saw Bernie Sanders gnawing on his pen: For the third year running, Bernie Sanders will give his own response to the State of the Union. It will be streamed on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.

— Joshua Alvarez

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9:32

Reminder that Nixon said the following during 1974 State of the Union speech: “I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.”

Trump just criticized “ridiculous partisan investigations.”

— Martin Longman

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9:29

The First Step Act—the bipartisan criminal justice reform that Trump is touting—is more remarkable for its passage through a polarized Congress than for its impact on mass incarceration. The new legislation only applies to the federal prison system, which is a relatively small portion of the national prison population. There’s an early release provision for inmates who have accrued “good behavior” credits, but the devil is in the measure’s implementation–and the implementation hasn’t been swift. While advocates working with members of Congress on the bill were promised those credits could be applied retroactively and immediately, resulting in the imminent release of thousands of inmates, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the credits couldn’t be cashed in until the Department of Justice came up with a risk assessment plan—which could take as long as seven months.

— Grace Gedye

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9:27

This entire address thus far is designed to reassure “soft” Trump supporters that their man isn’t such a bad guy. Hence the shout outs to employment rates among minority groups, including people with disabilities: lest anyone forget when he mocked a disabled reporter.

— Daniel Block

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9:25

The Speaker of the House is supposed to introduce the president to the Joint Session of Congress. Apparently, Trump blew that off and started speaking before Pelosi could do that.

— Martin Longman

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9:17

In case you’re wondering why Democratic members of Congress are wearing white: We’re 18 months away from the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment, and suffragettes wore white during their campaign for the vote. This Congress has a record number of women, thanks to the Blue Wave.

— Joshua Alvarez

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9:09

Trump literally looks like he’s in pain as he praises bipartisanship.

— Daniel Block

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9:05

Rick Perry is the designated survivor. God help us.

Apparently, the whole Trump clan is in the Capitol—except Don Jr., who is at the hotel with former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and other administration vets.

It looks like RBG, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer are SCOTUS no-shows.

— Martin Longman

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8:58

Over the past few weeks leading up to Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, the White House has conducted a PR campaign telling reporters that the speech will be “unifying” and a call for “bipartisanship.” These are, of course, shop-worn platitudes that should induce eye-rolling from anyone serious about politics. Coming from this administration, which ostensibly relishes combat, these statements ring hollow. And coming from this administration, which just got posterized by Nancy Pelosi the way Alton Lister was by Shawn Kemp, it sounds like crying uncle.

Democrats shouldn’t take the bait. In any case, I expect that this speech will suffer from the same cognitive dissonance that Trump’s off-the-cuff speeches suffer from: simultaneously boasting about how much “winning” is happening while also demagoguing about what a smoldering hellscape the country has become.

— Joshua Alvarez

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8:43

Federal prosecutors in New York City issued expansive subpoenas to President Trump’s inaugural committee on Monday and they are reportedly seeking interviews with executives at the Trump Organization. Trump’s campaign chairman will be sentenced on March 13, likely to what will amount to life in prison. His former personal lawyer has been sentenced to three years in prison and will be provided damning testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee before reporting to prison on March 6. His former deputy campaign chairman is still cooperating with prosecutors, and so is his former national security advisor, but both of them will eventually be sentenced and do substantial time behind bars. In December, the Trump Foundation ceased to exist as part of a criminal settlement with the New York state attorney general’s office. Meanwhile, the president is facing numerous serious allegations of felonious wrongdoing that include campaign finance violations, bank fraud, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and a potential criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people by colluding with a foreign government to pervert a presidential election.

This is the context for tonight’s State of the Union address, in which the president will also have to contend with a Republican Party in open revolt and a Democratic Party eager to get its hands on his tax returns and begin serious oversight of his administration.

It should be interesting.

— Martin Longman

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