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Trump to make case for wall, lay out priorities in State of Union

Updated February 5, 2019 - 6:04 am

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is set to deliver his State of the Union speech to Congress on Tuesday and is expected to make his case for a proposed border wall, a polarizing issue that prompted a partial government shutdown, as well as lay out his vision on foreign affairs and legislative priorities.

Sitting behind Trump during his speech in the House chamber will be Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who delivered a blow to the president last month by uniting her Democratic caucus to stop funding for the border wall, his key presidential campaign pledge.

Trump was forced to end the 35-day partial government shutdown without wall funding.

“She wanted to win a political point,” Trump told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

During the shutdown, Pelosi denied Trump the use of the House chamber for the traditional address, which was originally scheduled for Jan. 29. The two later agreed on the Feb. 5 date for the prime-time televised speech.

Still, the political tension over the border wall continues to exist. The president has threatened another shutdown or declaration of a national emergency to use unspent Pentagon funds to build a barrier on the 2,000-mile southern border.

Those prospects rattle GOP lawmakers, as well as Democrats, concerned about another round of harmful furloughs or the precedent set with the executive branch circumventing Congress in its constitutional role to budget and appropriate federal funds.

Democrats have balked at wall funding in ongoing negotiations in a bipartisan, bicameral conference committee to produce a compromise by Feb. 15 to avert another shutdown.

Trump said that without wall funding he could turn to an emergency declaration and teased that he could unveil his thoughts in Tuesday’s speech.

“We will be looking at a national emergency because I don’t think anything’s going to happen,” Trump said last week of the negotiations. “ I don’t think Democrats want border security.”

Pelosi said at a news conference last week: “There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation.”

Democrats instead want to increase border security funds for technology, personnel and improvements at the border ports of entry where the bulk of illegal narcotics are seized.

A call for ‘unity’

While White House officials said the speech will include the call for “unity,” Democratic lawmakers, including those from Nevada, have invited guests to sit in the House gallery to underscore Democratic priorities.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., has invited Dr. Michael Moradshahi, a psychologist for the Indian Health System in Reno who said mental health care to Nevadans suffered during the federal shutdown.

A three-time cancer survivor is the guest of Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., who has actively sought to keep health care protections despite GOP repeal of some parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Tanya Flanagan, a Clark County public information administrator, thanked Rosen for inviting her to the State of the Union speech.

“As someone who has faced multiple battles with cancer, I could not imagine what it would be like if I didn’t have affordable coverage,” she said.

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., is bringing a Latino North Las Vegas pastor who has worked with the immigrant community.

A seat in the gallery will be left vacant by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., in memory of the 58 people killed in the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas, the worst in modern U.S. history.

Titus said Republicans and the president have failed to act on legislation after the tragedy.

“Now that Democrats control the House, we will pass laws that expand background checks and ban bump stocks,” she said, adding that she hopes the president sees “this empty seat and recognizes the deadly consequences of inaction.”

The White House has invited relatives of Gerald and Sharon David, of Reno, who were killed in January. An undocumented immigrant, Wilber Martinez-Guzman, has been charged in their deaths.

Invited are daughter Debra, grandaughter Heather and great-granddaughter Madison.

Trump has cited the slayings as evidence of the need to build a border wall.

Economy, foreign policy

Although immigration, asylum and the wall have been central issues for the White House this year, aides said the president also will talk about the economy, foreign affairs and his legislative priorities.

Trump has said he scheduled another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and details of that meeting could be disclosed when he addresses Congress.

The president also has declared that U.S. military intervention is possible in Venezuela, where the administration is trying to force President Nicolas Maduro from power.

Trump also has announced troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan.

The speech comes as Trump was contradicted by leaders of his intelligence agencies, who gave differing assessments to Congress about North Korea and the strength of the Islamic State.

White House aides said the president will use the speech to strike a tone of unity and comity and stress economic highlights of the GOP tax cuts and subsequent job growth.

“The American people see the results,” said Kellyanne Conway, a presidential adviser. “They either have more money in their pockets or they were one of 8 million Americans who got a bonus or raise because of the tax cuts.”

She said small businesses like the “deregulation, the tax cuts, the economic prosperity. You can’t argue with the economic numbers.”

Democrats are quick to point out the rising national debt that occurred after the tax cuts, which they claim went disproportionately to wealthier Americans and corporations.

The speech will be the first by Trump to a joint session of Congress since Democrats took back the House in the midterm election, which was largely seen as a referendum on his first two years in office.

A record number of women and minority lawmakers are part of the Democratic caucus that now controls the House.

Selected to deliver the Democratic response is Stacey Abrams of Georgia, a former state House minority leader who lost a gubernatorial bid last year.

Abrams said she is honored to give the response “at a moment when our nation needs to hear from leaders who can unite for a common purpose.”

“I plan to deliver a vision for prosperity and equality, where everyone in our nation has a voice and where each of those voices is heard,” she said.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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