While the lingering impeachment trial casts an unavoidable cloud over a high-profile moment for a president, the address also provides the newly emboldened Trump the ultimate platform to steal the spotlight and project an air of victory directly to the American people.
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9:16 p.m. Limbaugh to receive presidential medal of freedom
The White House has confirmed that radio personality Rush Limbaugh will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Limbaugh is a champion of the Constitution, advocate of civic engagement, and a committed patriot,” according to a news release. “His extraordinary contribution to American life was recognized during President Trump’s 2020 State of the Union Address where Limbaugh was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
–ABC News’ Karen Travers
9:13 p.m. Designated survivor
The State of the Union’s designated survivor is Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
–ABC News’ Ben Gittleson
9:06 p.m. ‘Four more years!’
After Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the president, lawmakers applauded him and there were chants of “four more years.”
9:05 p.m. Undivided attention
“Well I think you always see at the State of the Union, the president gets the undivided attention and is able to set his agenda and really highlight his successes. He always has stuck to his script on the State of the Union, as most presidents do, because you want to include all of these successes. … I think it will also be an attempt to sort of reset the narrative and take advantage of what is not only a lot of good news for the president, but a lot of bad news for Democrats,” former Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock said on ABC News Live.
9:03 p.m. Trump is introduced
The president has been introduced and is walking down the aisle and greeting lawmakers as he makes his way to the dais.
9:02 p.m. Foreign policy in the speech
“There won’t be a lot about foreign policy. There wasn’t a lot of foreign policy last year, but the story he can tell is going after people who he said shouldn’t be alive today,” said ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz, referencing Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
8:57 p.m. House impeachment managers sitting together
The House Democrats serving as impeachment managers in the Senate trial are mostly sitting together. Reps. Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Val Demings, Jason Crow and Sylvia Garcia are mostly sitting together. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is in the Democratic leadership, so he is seated closer to the center and away from the other six.
–ABC News’ John Parkinson
8:54 p.m. Speculating on whether Trump will take a swipe at his adversaries
Ahead of the address, ABC News Chief National Correspondent and Nightline coanchor said, that it’s “hard to see this president missing the opportunity to poke fun” at Democratic adversaries.
“The people who came after him, many of them, will be in the room looking him in the eye.”
8:47 p.m. The Trumps arrive at the Capitol
The president and first lady arrived at the Capitol at 8:44 p.m.
–ABC News’ Ben Gittleson
8:41 p.m. Rush Limbaugh will sit with first lady
Radio personality Rush Limbaugh was seated in the first lady’s box ahead of the State of the Union address.
On Monday, Limbaugh told his listeners that he’s fighting advanced lung cancer.
“Worst thing that can happen is when there is something going on and you try to hide it and cover it up and eventually it’s going to leak and people are like why didn’t you just say it? Why’d you try to fool everybody,” he said.
8:35 p.m. President, first lady leaving the White House
The president and first lady are leaving the White House and heading to the U.S. Capitol for the address.
8:34 p.m. Touting his trade agenda
Trump will celebrate his biggest legislative achievement since Democrats took control of the House in 2018 during his speech when he touts the revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which Trump relentlessly assailed as “one of the worst trade deals ever made” and vowed to negotiate a better deal.
“Many politicians came and went, pledging to change or replace NAFTA – only to do absolutely nothing. But unlike so many who came before me, I KEEP MY PROMISES. Six days ago, I replaced NAFTA and signed the brand new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement into law,” according to an excerpt of the president’s address.
It was the second major achievement for Trump’s trade agenda this month, coming on the heels of the signing of a “Phase One” trade agreement with China.
“Days ago, we signed the groundbreaking new agreement with China that will defend our workers, protect our intellectual property, bring billions of dollars into our treasury, and open vast new markets for products made and grown right here in the USA,” Trump is expected to say.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson and Jordyn Phelps
8:24 p.m. Excerpts from the State of the Union address are released
The White House released excerpts from the president’s address, as prepared for delivery.
“The vision I will lay out this evening demonstrates how we are building the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society — one where every citizen can join in America’s unparalleled success, and where every community can take part in America’s extraordinary rise,” Trump will say, according to the released excerpts.
–ABC News’ Ben Gittleson
8:16 p.m. Sanders to deliver State of the Union response
On his campaign schedule, Sanders indicated he would give his response to the president’s State of the Union address from Manchester, New Hampshire, at 10:30 p.m.
The official Democratic response to the address will come from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
— ABC News’ Adam Kelsey
8:09 p.m. Supreme Court justices who will be in attendance
Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were all planning to attend the address tonight, according to Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.
Roberts has been presiding over the president’s Senate impeachment trial, which will go to a final vote on Wednesday.
— ABC News Senior Washington Reporter Devin Dwyer
7:56 p.m. Lawmakers skipping the address
Two members of the so-called “Squad” were among a small, but growing list of lawmakers who were planning to skip the president’s address.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted, “After much deliberation, I have decided that I will not use my presence at a state ceremony to normalize Trump’s lawless conduct & subversion of the Constitution. None of this is normal, and I will not legitimize it. Consequently, I will not be attending the State of the Union.”
Rep. Ayana Pressley, D-Mass., shared a photo of herself on Twitter and said she could not “in good conscience” attend.
The State of the Union is hurting because of the occupant of the White House, who consistently demonstrates contempt for the American people, contempt for Congress & contempt for our constitution. I cannot in good conscience attend tonight’s sham #SOTU → https://t.co/DTwG3Y7dK3 pic.twitter.com/Hres8eAFkK
— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) February 4, 2020
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are also expected to skip in the midst of their presidential campaigning efforts.
— ABC News’ John Parkinson and Ella Torres
7:40 p.m. The word ‘impeachment’ is not in the speech, Hogan Gidley says
Hogan Gidley, the White House principal deputy press secretary, told reporters that the word “impeachment” is not in the president’s speech.
He repeated that detail a few times.
“I’ve read through the speech and I’ve not seen the word impeachment. So, you know, as he likes to say, we’ll see what happens, but I haven’t seen it,” he told reporters gathered on the White House north lawn.
Later he said, “I’ve seen the speech but I’ve not seen the word impeachment, but as the president likes to say, we’ll see what happens.”
Worth noting, Gidley didn’t say that Trump wouldn’t broach the subject.
— ABC News’ Ben Gittleson
State of the Union address comes amid impeachment trial
Four months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the start of a formal inquiry into the president, she takes her seat on the dais just over the president’s left shoulder as he addresses a chamber filled with Democrats who just weeks ago voted to impeach him.
It will be just the second time in history that an American president has delivered a State of the Union address amid an impeachment trial and the big question is if and how Trump might address it.
The White House had been coy about the extent to which the president will explicitly address impeachment but a senior official said the president will deliver a forward-looking message that will “lay out a vision of relentless optimism” in contrast to what the official said is “unjustified pessimism we are hearing from some in Congress.”
When President Bill Clinton was in the same position in 1999, he didn’t so much as acknowledge the trial’s existence.
“There was no allusion, there was no mention, and there was no discussion of referencing the impeachment in the speech,” according to Jeff Shesol, who served as a speechwriter for President Clinton and helped craft his 1999 State of the Union address.
Shesol said it was understood in the Clinton White House that it would have been counterproductive to mention impeachment in a speech that’s traditionally designed to be a unifying, policy-driven moment.
He suggested the Trump administration should adopt the same tact, warning that if the president gloats about his pending vindication in the Senate, “it’s going to be unseemly to everybody but his base.” But if they feel compelled to mention it, he said there is a way to do so in an elevated posture that puts the president above the political fray.
“I think the seemingly high-minded way of doing it would be to say, we’ve been through this divisive period, and the American people have made clear, they want to move on.
“The Senate will take a vote that will allow us to move on and get back to the work of the American people. And then the Republicans will cheer wildly and the Democrats will sit on their hands,” he said.
Some of the president’s allies on the Hill have also expressed hope that the president will avoid the topic of impeachment and use his address as a forward-looking moment.
“Personally I’d advise him not to,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Ala., “I think the American people want to have bipartisanship – actually want to get some stuff done and, and there’s been an opportunity cost with all these deliberations. We’ve not got stuff done that we could get done.”
“If I was him I would avoid that subject,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “I think there’s plenty to talk about and it’s an opportunity to move on. But the other option is to address it head on and he often has a head-on kind of guy.”
MORE: The evidence revealed since Trump’s impeachment but still in question at Senate trial
Going beyond impeachment
Beyond the question of whether the president will address impeachment, the White House has said the address will be heavy on policy and focus on the president’s economic record. The theme of the address is “The Great American Comeback.”
Trump, for his part, told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Sunday that he’ll use the address to “talk about the achievements that we’ve made,” claiming that “nobody has made achievements like we’ve made.”
As for the prospect of a call for bipartisanship, Trump told Hannity “I’d like to” work with Democratic leadership in the future but acknowledged “it’s pretty hard when you think about it” in the wake of the impeachment.
The president is expected to tout his economic record and what the White House has called a “blue-collar boom” under Trump’s watch. He will specifically trumpet the recently-ratified U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.
The president will also make “specific calls to Congress” related to health care and lowering costs while also calling out what the president sees as “radical proposals being floated on the left,” the official said. The White House cited prescription drug pricing, surprise medical billing, and plan flexibility as specific issues the president will address.
The president will also discuss immigration and tout progress in delivering on his central 2016 campaign promise to erect a continuous wall along the southern border. About 100 miles of new barriers have been constructed near the border under President Trump, according to Customs and Border Protection.
Most of those projects have replaced smaller, outdated designs with more massive steel barriers, access roads and motion detection technology. The administration has only built about 1 mile where older barriers did not previously exist. Legal action from property owners and concerned environmental activists has worked to slow construction.
The official said the president will also have firm words for so-called sanctuary cities that do not cooperate with the federal government in complying with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests.
On foreign policy, the official said the president will provide an update on military and diplomatic efforts around the world but said not to expect any “Earth-shattering or new” announcements but will strike a “forceful” and “strong” tone with regard to Iran.
As in years past, the White House has invited a roster of guests to sit in the first lady’s box who serve to embody a given policy. In 2018, the president highlighted the brutality of the North Korean regime by highlighting the brave story of escape of a defector. The man, Ji Seong-ho, received a standing ovation from the chamber as he hoisted the wooden crutches he used in his escape above his head.
The White House has not yet revealed the full list of guests invited to this year’s speech but said the guests will include Tony Rankins, an Army veteran who developed a drug addiction after returning from Afghanistan but has since recovered and is now employed in an administration-supported “Opportunity Zone” in Cincinnati, Ohio. Also invited is U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz, who acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan has said “epitomizes the core values of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”
ABC News’ Quinn Owen contributed to this report.