Trump's state of the union address tonight is expected to press border wall fight

U.S. President Donald Trump is set to deliver a state of the union address tonight that's expected to challenge Democrats to approve funding for his long-sought border wall, but stop short of declaring a national emergency over it, at least for now.

Watch the speech live on CBC News Network and cbcnews.ca beginning at 9 p.m ET.

Millions of Americans are expected to watch the address on television, giving Trump his biggest opportunity to date to explain why he believes a barrier is needed on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The president's speech, now set to start at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday before a joint session of Congress, was delayed for a week because of the shutdown that ended on Jan. 25.

When he takes centre stage in the chamber of the House of Representatives, sitting behind him over his shoulder will be his main congressional adversary, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who became House Speaker after her party won control of the chamber in November's elections.

She has shown no sign of budging from her opposition to Trump's demand for $ 5.7 billion US in wall funds that triggered a historic 35-day partial government shutdown.

Trump has contemplated declaring a national emergency, which he says would let him reallocate funding from elsewhere without congressional action.

'Giving Congress another chance'

But a source close to Trump said the president was not expected to take that step, which would likely draw a swift court challenge from Democrats. Instead, he will urge a congressional committee to do a border security deal by Feb. 15.

"He's going to set the stage," the source said. "He'll tell people: 'Here's why I should,' but say: 'I'm giving Congress another chance to act.'"

Trump's speech will also offer an olive branch to opponents as he looks toward the 2020 election, targeting areas he sees for potential bipartisan agreement, such as infrastructure improvements, lowering prescription drug costs and health care.

However, the bitter partisanship of the past two years was on display Tuesday just hours before Trump was to deliver his speech.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer seems to have triggered the latest Trump Twitter outburst when he said on the Senate floor that the president talks about unity in his annual addresses to the nation but "spends the other 364 days of the year dividing us." He accused Trump of "blatant hypocrisy."

Partisan divisions

Minutes later, Trump tweeted that Schumer hadn't even seen the speech and was "just upset that he didn't win the Senate, after spending a fortune."


A senior administration official said Trump would "encourage Congress to reject the politics of resistance and retribution, and instead adopt a spirit of co-operation and compromise so we can achieve it."

But that message could be undermined with Trump threatening to go his own way on the wall if he cannot get Congress to approve the funding he wants. On Sunday, Trump tweeted: "If there is no Wall, there is no Security." He has said the wall, which he promised in his 2016 campaign, is needed to deter illegal immigration and drugs.

Some Republicans are urging Trump not to declare an emergency.

"I'm for whatever works that prevents the level of dysfunction we've seen on full display here the last month, and also doesn't bring about a view on the president's part that he needs to declare a national emergency," Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters last week.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, said he remains hopeful Congress can resolve the dispute.

Foreign policy in focus

Trump will also address foreign policy, including support for an effort to coax Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro into leaving power, declaring the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) all but defeated, and perhaps announcing where he will next meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He will also give an update on trade talks with the Chinese.

Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and the White House's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, went over the speech on Monday night with about a dozen supporters including former campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, as well as Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, a source familiar with the meeting said.

The source said Trump would discuss troop drawdowns in Syria and Afghanistan, and that about half the speech would be devoted to foreign policy.

U.S. and Turkish soldiers conduct the first-ever combined joint patrol outside Manbij, Syria, on Nov. 1. American officials have delivered mixed messages on a potential drawdown of U.S. forces in Syria. (Arnada Jones/U.S. Army via Reuters)

Trump will also claim success on economic policy, including cutting federal regulations, the source said.

Some Democrats have invited guests to the speech to highlight various causes, some at odds with Trump's policies, making a raucous atmosphere possible inside the House chamber.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state said Monday she would invite climate scientist Lisa Graumlich, dean of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, as her guest, to underscore the climate change issue.

Trump's guests for the speech include Anna Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman whose life sentence for drug offences was commuted by the president, and Joshua Trump, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Delaware, who was allegedly bullied because of his last name. They will sit with the president's wife Melania Trump during the address.

"One thing you will see is that the chamber is full and the president is surrounded by women, by people of colour, by individuals who have really been hurt by this president and many of the actions that he has taken," Jayapal said.

Republican strategist and former White House official Raj Shah said the speech offered Trump a chance to turn the page.

"Washington right now looks a little bit petty and a little bit small and the state of the union is an opportunity to go big and talk in broad themes about what's good about America and look beyond some of the issues of the last few weeks," he said.

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