President Trump Looks for Reset With Speech to Congress

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump gets a chance to put the rocky start to his presidency behind him on Tuesday night with a speech to Congress where he will lay out his plans for the year, including a health-care overhaul and military buildup.

The 9 p.m. speech in the chamber of the House of Representatives will be President Trump’s biggest chance yet to command a large prime-time audience and describe his agenda after a first month in office characterized by missteps, internal dramas and squabbles with the news media.

The address, which President Trump has been writing with aide Stephen Miller and others, will include some gestures toward unifying a polarized country as he tries to bind the wounds from a bitterly fought election.

An average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics put his approval rating at about 44 percent, relatively low for a new president.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the theme of the speech to the Republican-controlled Congress would be “the renewal of the American spirit” and that it would be grounded in how to solve the problems of everyday Americans.

“He will invite Americans of all backgrounds to come together in the service of a stronger and brighter future for our nation,” Spicer told reporters on Monday.

President Trump told Reuters last week in an interview that his address would be a speech of optimism “despite the fact that I inherited a total mess.”

The president faces a host of questions going into the speech. Specifics of his plan to overhaul former President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law have not been released. He has yet to describe how to pay for a sharp increase in planned spending on rebuilding U.S. roads and bridges.

His proposals to cut taxes for millions of people and corporations have not been sketched out. His strategy for renegotiating international trade deals remains unclear. He took delivery on Monday of a Pentagon proposal for fighting Islamic State terrorists and must decide on it in the days ahead.

A plan for an increase in defense spending includes a demand that non-defense federal agencies cut funds to offset the cost, painful reductions that are likely to face opposition in Congress. Some Republicans have said the increase in defense spending is not enough to meet the military’s needs.

His executive order temporarily banning people from seven Muslim-majority nations on national security grounds stirred protests and was put on hold by federal courts. He is to sign a replacement order on Wednesday.

Tim Albrecht, a Republican strategist in Iowa, said the speech was President Trump’s best opportunity to date to explain where he wants to take the country. Albrecht doubted there would be much in the way of conciliatory language.

“Despite those at home or in the audience, he’s going to put forward what he believes needs to be done just as he did in the two years he ran for president,” Mr. Albrecht said. “As with everything in Trumpland, conventional wisdom is thrown out the window.”

President Trump’s speech is not being labeled a State of the Union address because he has had so little time in office so far.

Democratic lawmakers plan to attend the speech and give their reactions to reporters afterward, as is the custom during similar events, according to congressional aides. Democrats aim to show their displeasure with President Trump’s policies by inviting an array of guests who will be sitting in House visitors’ galleries to highlight their opposition to the president’ agenda.