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Trump To Deliver Address To Joint Session Of Congress


According to the president, all he can do is speak from the heart and say what he wants to do. That's how President Trump describes his approach to the speech he'll deliver tonight to a joint session of Congress and the millions watching around the country. The address comes after five weeks in the White House, five weeks marked by bold moves to reverse his predecessor's policies and keep his campaign promises and also marked by controversy and confusion.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to talk about the speech. And Mara, so far, what have you learned about what the president might say?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: White House aides say his theme tonight is renewal of the American spirit. They say this speech is going to be more optimistic and positive than his inaugural address which was very dark and dystopian. And if that's - turns out to be the case, it's possible that the White House has decided that after seeing his approval ratings drop into the low 40s, it might be time for a little more inclusiveness and a little less divisiveness.

CORNISH: So how big a deal is this particular speech?

LIASSON: I think it's a very big deal. It's an opportunity for him to reset with the American public, with congressional Republicans after the tumult of the last five weeks. He's at a particular moment. He's starting his second month, and the unilateral phase of the Trump administration I think is coming to an end. There are not that many more meaningful executive orders he can issue. It's time to legislate now, and that means in some cases getting Democratic votes.

You know, this morning on "Fox & Friends," Trump was asked to give himself a grade for what he's done so far. He said he'd give himself an A in terms of what he's actually done. But in terms of messaging, he only gave himself a C or a C-plus, which is unusual because he's so confident about his ability as a salesman. So this is a chance for him to boost that grade.

CORNISH: Now, to go back to something you just said, though, about legislating, that means specifics. And are we going to hear policy specifics from this president?

LIASSON: He's not a policy wonk. I don't think you'll hear a lot of specifics. But Republicans on the Hill really want him to give them some guidance. For instance, what does he want them to replace Obamacare with? The White House has said contradictory things about whether the president would be coming out with a plan of his own on Obamacare. Republicans are worried about having millions of people lose their health coverage if Obamacare is repealed. Many of those people are Trump voters.

They also want to hear him talk about tax cuts. How should they pay for them? It's interesting that that big, broad budget outline he produced yesterday has not been getting rave reviews in Congress. Some Republicans are saying it's just not possible to cut domestic spending by 10 percent, as the president wants. He wants to boost defense spending and not touch Medicare and Social Security, leave entitlements alone, which is something he promised during the campaign. But there are many Republicans who say, without going after entitlements, you just can't get money for their other priorities because entitlements right now are 60 percent of the federal budget.

CORNISH: Now, what about the Democrats? What are you expecting from them tonight?

LIASSON: I think the Democrats will be sullen, seething sitting on their hands. You know, this is going to be the first time that Trump has spoken to an audience that isn't completely full of supporters. Almost half the audience in that chamber tonight will be people who are utterly opposed to him. And the Democrats are planning a lot of symbolism. They're bringing guests who are a rebuke to Trump's policies - Dreamers, Muslims, immigrants, people who have been affected by gun violence.

And the Democratic response is going to be given by two people - Steven Beshear, who's the former Democratic governor of Kentucky where there are a lot of white, working-class Trump voters. Beshear created something called Kynect. It's a very popular Obamacare state program. And the second response is going to be given by Astrid Silva, who's a dreamer and a Hispanic activist. And she'll be giving that response in Spanish.

CORNISH: That's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.