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3 Topics That Will Make or Break Trump's First State of the Union

by Lindsay France, published

The theme will be “building a safe, strong and proud America" when President Donald Trump takes the stage to deliver the State of the Union Address Tuesday.

The word “building” in the literal sense is what a significant focus of his speech will be on, according to the White House. The trillion-dollar pitch to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems is an area that has proven to be surprisingly bipartisan.

Former California State Senator Steve Peace (D) is planning to take a hard look at three things set to punctuate the evening: infrastructure, immigration, and tone.

“The fact that infrastructure is going to be a part of a president’s top 5 priorities represents a dramatic change in American political culture," he says. “If Democrats and Republicans ultimately get on the same page it would be something of a return to form, in the sense that up until the late 80’s infrastructure wasn’t typically a partisan or political topic. Both parties understood the public health and economic growth value of quality infrastructure.”

Arguments about the mix of public and private capital and potential disagreements over prevailing wage and other union issues may create road blocks to agreement, Peace points out.

"That would be a political waste. But, the reality is that there are partisans in both parties who are simply wired never to get anything done. They whip themselves and their constituents into such self righteous frenzies that they can never compromise.“

One conversation which has been a non-starter between Republicans and Democrats is immigration. The White House says it too will be addressed in the State of the Union.

Immigration was a top-line talking point of Trump's campaign when he took a hardline stance and proposed constructing a wall between the United States and Mexico and deporting illegal immigrants. The congressional arguments over this type of legislation recently caused a government shutdown crisis.

Several Democrats plan to pack the chamber during the speech with "Dreamers," the people who were brought here illegally as children and stand to lose out if an immigration bill calls for their deportation.

“If the president can't get an agreement on immigration he won’t be the first president not to get an agreement," says Peace.

The White House pitched a plan on Thursday which saw Democrats balk. The administration says it would allow for 1.8 million "Dreamers" to become legal residents and eventually apply for US citizenship. And while Trump may tout his plan on Tuesday, Peace says it too could get lost in the smoke and mirrors once the cameras turn off in Washington.

“What’s not happening is a sober conversation about immigration and it’s roll in a future economy impacted by technological change," Peace explains. "What will the demand for labor be? What are the impacts on affordable housing, water and other impacted environmental resources?”

As Americans listen closely on Tuesday night for policy initiatives, the president will historically first outline positive outcomes since he took office. In this case, perhaps pushing through his party's tax plan, and the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached an all-time high. Unemployment is down around 4 percent, and wages are rising.

Perhaps he will cite a slash in business regulations.

One area which maintains a giant question mark over it is trade and how it will be addressed on the heels of the president's trip to Davos.

According to Peace,  "If he borrows from his Davos trip and he stays on the tone of working together he may already have enough equity with his base that, while they may not like a lot of his compromises, he will be able to bring them along more than the pundits think.”

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