President Trump, when he addresses a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, will be looking to telegraph a clear agenda not only to the American people but to congressional Republicans increasingly divided over how to repeal ObamaCare, overhaul the tax system and cut government spending.
“All I can do is speak from the heart and say what I want to do,” Trump said in an exclusive interview with “Fox & Friends,” previewing his speech. He touted a “terrific” health care plan as well as policies to boost the military and secure the border.
Like any traditional State of the Union, Trump’s address Tuesday is a chance for the president to sum up his accomplishments and set the course for what he wants to achieve in the next year and beyond.
This is especially critical at this moment, as Trump tries to galvanize a Congress that, despite being under full Republican control, still has not advanced legislation to deal with key campaign vows to replace the Affordable Care Act and reform the tax system. He is under pressure Tuesday to unite party allies behind a common agenda.
On the former, some Republicans already have seized on a leaked repeal plan draft to blast GOP leaders’ efforts on ObamaCare. Conservatives like Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Mark Walker, R-N.C., both have criticized the outline, including its treatment of tax credits.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s speech, House Speaker Paul Ryan played down divisions.
“This is a plan that we are all working on together,” he told reporters. “There aren’t rival plans here. … We’re going to be unified on this.”
But Ryan, at a separate briefing, voiced some concerns about Trump’s approach to the federal budget – a day after White House officials previewed a plan to boost military spending by $54 billion, cut other agency budgets by the same amount and leave entitlements like Medicare untouched.
Asked about the president’s apparent reluctance to cut entitlements, Ryan said, “There is an open question on long-term entitlement reform.”
Ryan said Trump and GOP leaders agree entitlements should not be changed for those “in or near retirement.” But he suggested congressional leaders might be able to sell a long-term debt reduction plan.
Trump’s forthcoming budget faces pitfalls on other fronts, as some defense hawks think it doesn’t go far enough to rebuild the military, deficit hawks think it doesn’t go far enough to cut spending and others are worried about cuts to nondefense accounts.
Hours before the speech, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt on whether the Senate could pass a budget proposal that seeks steep cuts to the State Department, one of the ways Trump might fund the increase for the military.
He also said a health care bill isn’t ready yet.
Trump nevertheless is expanding his agenda goals, saying Tuesday that it’s time for an “immigration bill.” A senior administration official said the president might make that push Tuesday night.
Aside from internal GOP tensions over legislative goals, Trump continues to grapple with numerous leaks from inside his administration and intermittent staffing controversies that most prominently included Michael Flynn resigning as national security adviser over apparently misleading Vice President Pence on past contacts with the Russian ambassador. Multiple media reports, which Trump repeatedly decries as bogus, have raised questions about additional contacts between his allies and Moscow – another issue that has divided Republicans, with some seeking an independent probe and others rejecting those calls. And most immediately, Trump’s team is looking to rewrite and reissue his controversial executive order suspending the refugee program and admissions from seven mostly Muslim countries, after it was blocked in court amid widespread protests.
Speaking with “Fox & Friends,” Trump took some of the blame for the pushback over separate executive orders on border security and deportations.
He said perhaps the rollout of his plan to keep out and remove criminal illegals hadn’t been communicated effectively.
“And maybe that’s my fault,” Trump said. He later awarded himself a grade of a “C” or “C-plus” on communicating, straightforwardly saying, “My messaging isn’t good.”
He clarified that he would give himself an “A” for achievement and “A-plus” for effort.
Trump is expected to list his accomplishments to date in the first part of his speech, according to a senior White House official. This includes pulling the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and his efforts to nudge major companies to invest in jobs in America.
The official described the speech as “optimistic,” and looking ahead to the agenda of the next four years.
Fox News’ Mike Emanuel, Bret Baier and Lesa Jansen contributed to this report.