A State of the Union Amid Remarkable Turmoil and Concern


An eclectic cohort will join the first lady: emergency medical workers, service members and faces of Mr. Trump’s tax and immigration overhaul narratives. Here are a few of the people you’ll see:

David Dahlberg, a fire prevention technician, who saved 62 children and staff members from a blaze-encircled summer camp in July during the wildfires in Southern California.

Officer Ryan Holets, of the Albuquerque Police Department, who, according to the White House, was twice shot at during his time as an officer. He and his wife adopted a child from parents who were addicted to opioids.

Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger, who are the leaders of a Dayton, Ohio, contract manufacturing company focused on metal fabrication. They founded Staub Manufacturing Solutions two decades ago. Over the past year, the company acquired a new building and saw a 60 percent increase in employees — from 23 to 37. Crediting the passage of the tax law, the company gave large Christmas bonuses to all employees.

Four parents whose daughters, the authorities say, were most likely killed by members of the MS-13 gang: Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens, who lost Nisa Mickens, 15; and Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, who lost Kayla Cuevas, 16. The teenagers were killed in 2016 on Long Island.

For the full list, read on »

— Emily Baumgaertner

Voices from speechwriters past.

Jonathan Horn, speechwriter for former President George W. Bush, has these thoughts:

“That’s part of the problem for Donald Trump going into the State of the Union. He could come out with a very traditional State of the Union and for a normal president, that would help set the agenda for at least, you know, maybe a few weeks. In Washington, you’d plan other policy speeches to follow up on certain aspects of the State of the Union and there would be an entire rollout around the State of the Union.

I think with this president, you would expect it would be much shorter. Even if there is a surprise — Oh, look, Donald Trump sounded presidential — but then the next day there could be a tweet, and then, you know, work on a very, very long speech is overshadowed by a 280 characters.

That’s my one prediction. In some sense, whatever he ultimately says is overshadowed by a 280-character tweet.”

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at N.Y.U. School of Law and a speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton, also weighed in:

“The power of that podium is not just the audience watching. It’s the sense that the president is somebody who speaks for the whole country. And the way he has governed over the past year has been so filled with denunciations and racial division and flat-out falsehoods that he doesn’t have a lot in the tank when it comes to credibility for anybody who isn’t already an avid supporter.

Often, these State of the Union addresses can be a time when the panoply of the presidency can give whoever the president is, sort of, a second chance with a lot of people. I’d be surprised if that’s the case here.”

Cody Keenan, chief speechwriter for former President Barack Obama, also had concerns:

“President Obama always wanted to close his State of the Union addresses with an argument about the state of our politics. You know, what can we do to make them better? What can we do to be better citizens? I always remember reading criticisms the next day, certainly from the left, saying why is he wasting real estate in the speech on that? It’s never going to happen.

“Well, that’s part of leadership. You know, there’s a vision of what we should be, even if the odds of us getting there in one year or eight years is pretty slim.”

— Interview by Michael D. Shear

Unfamiliar with the guests in the first lady’s box? Here’s some history.


Ronald Reagan Invited a Guest. Then Every Other President Followed.

Ronald Reagan invited Lenny Skutnik, who saved a woman from drowning after a plane crash, to the State of the Union in 1982. Since, presidents have kept the tradition of inviting guests.

By CHRIS CIRILLO and AINARA TIEFENTHÄLER on Publish Date January 30, 2018.

Photo by Ronald Reagan Presidential Library via YouTube.

Watch in Times Video »

Democrats turn to a Kennedy to respond.

He’s a fresh face with an old name.

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, Democrat of Massachusetts, will deliver the official Democratic response to the president, marking something of a national emergence for the 37-year-old, earnest, diffident third-term congressman.


Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, Democrat of Massachusetts, is in his third term.

Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

It’s a tough act: the response by the party out of power has often fallen flat. And this time, Mr. Kennedy will have competition. Representative Maxine Waters, the firebrand Democrat from Southern California, will deliver a different response on BET. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent with a loyal following on the left, will respond on Facebook.

Read more on Mr. Kennedy »

— Katharine Q. Seelye

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