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Trump promises sunny State of Union speech but clouds thicken

photo by AP photo

US President Donald Trump\'s dramatically delayed State of the Union on Tuesday is like the president himself, less predictable.

By AFP, Washington
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President Donald Trump promises a shift to sunny optimism in the State of the Union speech but with his congressional Democratic nemesis seated right behind him, will he be able to resist throwing his usual thunderbolts?
The annual presidential speech to Congress is typically a ritualistic set piece, bloated by lofty rhetoric and endless ovations. Trump's dramatically delayed State of the Union on Tuesday is, like the president himself, less predictable.
The White House is flagging an "optimistic," "unifying," even "visionary" speech to mark this presidency's midway point. In an excerpt released Friday, Trump predicts Republicans and Democrats can "break decades of political stalemate."
But the mood in Washington is as hostile as it has been for years following the confrontation between Trump and the Democratic-led House of Representatives over his demand for funding for a US-Mexico border wall.
Already, the row has triggered a crippling five-week partial shutdown of government and led to the State of the Union speech itself being put off by a week.
And who'll be sitting on a dais just a few feet behind Trump when he speaks? The House Democrats' steely speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi has frustrated Trump since December by pushing back against the wall
project. Neither is there much sign of a thaw ahead of the president's
February 15 deadline for Congress finally to come up with funding or face renewed conflict. Pelosi, Trump said in an interview with CBS television's "Face the Nation" Sunday talkshow, is "rigid" and "very bad for the country."
If Congress doesn't relent, Trump says he could repeat his government shutdown tactic, which earlier this year led to the temporary freezing of 800,000 federal jobs.
Alternatively, he could bypass Congress altogether, declaring a national emergency due to what he claims is an invasion of criminals along the border, thereby attempting to secure wall funds unilaterally.
It's a move that would spark uproar and lawsuits accusing Trump of manufacturing a crisis for his own political gain.
But not only is an emergency declaration a real possibility, it could, Trump has teased, be unleashed during his speech.
Traditionally, the State of the Union is a showcase for the president's accomplishments and broad new proposals.
Trump can be counted on to tout the strength of the US economy, a key message in his looming 2020 reelection campaign. The White House says he will also propose federal infrastructure spending, an area where Democrats could conceivably join forces with the government.
More contentiously, Trump will claim foreign policy successes.
That means defending his push - criticized by some in the security services and the Republicans - to withdraw US soldiers from Syria and Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Trump is likewise expected to update Congress on China trade talks and on his intention to hold a second summit with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he is trying to persuade to give up nuclear weapons.
And he may use the high-profile occasion to dial up the pressure on Venezuela's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro - with opposition leader Juan Guaido's envoy to Washington among the top guests invited to attend.
At each listing of successes, Trump will see Republican legislators rise to clap.
The opposition, however, may greet much of the speech with silence or even the odd heckle, like the "You lie!" yelled at Barack Obama in 2009.
Democrats are lining up ahead of the 2020 polls to take on a president they see as already badly wounded.
Among those watching Trump from the chamber will be members of House investigative committees determined to probe the president's personal finances and other sensitive areas.
That's on top of the huge report by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is charged with examining alleged collusion between the Trump election campaign and the Kremlin.
So Trump could breathe fire during his big speech. But Pelosi and her Democrats will be breathing down his neck.

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