During a background call with media a Senior Administration Official gives a preview of what to expect and the five points President Trump will focus upon during his remarks to congress: (1) Blue collar boom; (2) Working families; (3) Healthcare affordability; (4) Immigration enforcement; (5) National security.
[Transcript] – […] SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, everyone. So, I’ll give you a topline, issues that will be talked about in the speech, a few key insights, talk about tone, and then take your questions.
I know there’s a lot going on, so I’ll try to be as brief as I can.
The topline: President Trump is looking forward to delivering his third State of the Union Address and his fourth address to a Joint Session of Congress next Tuesday.
The theme of the State of the Union is: “The Great American Comeback.” In his address, the President will lay out a vision of relentless optimism. He will encourage Congress to work with him to continue to building an inclusive economy where the least well-off are making some of the fastest gains and where people of every background are finding new opportunities.
The President will expand on the themes he developed in his Davos speech earlier this month and put forward an agenda focused squarely on the needs of working families, addressing issues that affect American’s quality of life and laying out solutions with can-do optimism in the face of unjustified pessimism we are hearing from some in Congress.
Now, I’ll tell you about five areas — you’ll certainly hear about five issues, five buckets, you might say.
♦So the one first is the blue-collar boom. The President will report on how the strong economy is lifting up Americans everywhere. The President will address the importance to the economy of the new trade agreement with China and the USMCA, explain the results we are seeing from Opportunity Zones, and celebrate America’s energy revolution that has led to energy independence.
♦Second large issue: supporting and promoting working families. The President will address a range of issues facing working families, from ensuring that every child can get a great education, to supporting America’s parents as they manage the demands of working jobs while raising children. He will call on Congress to empower parents with school choice.
The President will highlight his support for paid family leave and expanding access to affordable childcare. He will celebrate the administration’s workforce training initiative such as the Pledge to the American Worker.
♦Third, lowering the cost of healthcare for American families. The President will call on Congress to support the administration’s many efforts to lower the cost of healthcare while continuing to provide the highest standards of care in the world with access to the most innovative cures and medical breakthroughs. He will contrast his vision with radical proposals being floated on the left. Clearly, socialism is a rising force in the Democratic Party with very specific designs on our healthcare system. And the President will build on last year’s address and present a sharp difference.
The President will emphasize the importance of lowering the cost of prescription drugs. He will also address many of the concerns, everyday concerns, that families face confronting the healthcare system: surprise medical billing, transparency, price and quality information, accountability, and flexibility to choose the plan and the doctor that is right for them.
♦Fourth: a safe and legal immigration system. The President will talk about the incredible progress we have made in securing the southern border. He will also take head-on one of the most significant threats to public safety: sanctuary cities.
♦Fifth, and finally: protecting America’s national security. The President will update Congress on diplomatic and military efforts around the world.
So, a few key insights into what people will, I think — what the speech will communicate, what people can take away: Today’s middle class boom is also a blue-collar boom. America is strong once again. President Trump has kept his promises. President Trump is totally focused on creating a better future for working families.
And then, finally, I’d share that American strength and resolve is the best strategy for keeping Americans safe and protecting American interests. I think it’s fair to say the speech will celebrate American economic and military strength and present an optimistic vision of America’s future.
I can also preview now — traditionally, we have guests in the gallery, and there are two I can preview right now that are going to be there on Tuesday. I think on Monday we’ll be able preview some more.
So the first is a gentleman, Tony Rankins.
Q How do you spell it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: R-A-N-K-I-N-S. Tony Rankins. I’ll give you a little — a brief bio on him. After serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, Tony Rankins suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and became addicted to drugs. He lost his job and his family, served several prison sentences, and ended up living out of his car. A company called Our Investments helped train Tony in carpentry, painting, brick work, and other construction trades. Today he lives and works in an Opportunity Zone in Cincinnati, Ohio — an Opportunity Zone which made our investments possible in Cincinnati, Ohio. And his new job has helped him overcome drug addiction and reunite with his family.
Second guest: Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz has helped protect America’s homeland security for nearly three decades.
Q Can you just give us the spelling on —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure thing. Sure. Ortiz — last name: O-R-T-I-Z. Raul: R-A-U-L.
Prior to joining U.S. Border Patrol, Ortiz served in the United States Army. In 1991, he joined the U.S. Border Patrol and served as an agent in the San Diego and Del Rio area.
In 2013, Ortiz was appointed as Deputy Chief Patrol Agent at Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector. In 2019, he became chief patrol agent of the Del Rio sector, which made him responsible for all Border Patrol operations in 41 Texas counties — more than 48,000 square miles of operational area and 210 miles of border between the U.S. and Mexico.
He has performed all his duties with distinction and excellence. Ortiz’s awards include two meritorious honor awards from the Department of State, the Certificate of Achievement from the state of Texas, and the Superior Civilian Service Medal, which is the Department of Defense’s third-highest civilian honor.
And actually, this very week, Ortiz was promoted to Deputy Chief of U.S. Border Patrol, the second in command of 22,000 Border Patrol agents and professional staff.
The Acting Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Mark Morgan called Deputy Chief Ortiz an “agent’s agent” who, quote, “epitomizes the core values of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”
And with that, I’ll take questions.
Q Hey, the President, when he delivers the State of the Union, will either have been in the middle of an impeachment trial, towards the end, it will have just concluded — whatever. Impeachment is going to be a factor here. Will he — is it safe to assume he will address it? Will he? What will his message be? And how will he address sitting in front of the Chamber that just either had him on trial or wrapped it up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I do — it’s never safe to assume anything, so I’m not previewing what the President is going to say about that today. Clearly there’s a lot going on, but I’m not going to preview —
Q Will he say something, though?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to get ahead of what the President will say.
Q Thanks. Last year, the President spoke just after Democrats gained control of Congress, and he warned them, “If there’s going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war… and investigation…This doesn’t work that way.” And he said, “The only thing that could stop (inaudible)” was ridiculous partisan investigations.
Is there going to be any sort of ultimatum laid down this year, or any kind of reference to Congress’s oversight efforts or the now — just about to be concluded impeachment investigation? I mean, is he going to maybe ask for a truce, perhaps?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Well, you know, I’m up here to help you, sort of, get a broad sense of what is going to be in the speech. And so there’s certain things I’ve been asked to preview. I certainly haven’t been asked to preview exactly what that would look like — if it’s going to be entertained at all.
I would say, speaking to, sort of, the spirit of your question, I mean, if you’re sort of wondering what the tone — I think the speech is going to have a very optimistic tone. And the last three years should give a good indication of, you know, I think how the President views the State of the Union moment for talking about the future and presenting an optimistic vision. So —
Q It seems like there’s a heavy dose of the economy here, can we just ask you a few, if you don’t mind: Is the President going to address debts and deficit? Is he going to address entitlement spending? Is he going to address tax cuts?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to address any of those things. I mean, I’m giving you a preview. He’s going to talk about the accomplishments, he’s going to talk a lot about the economy, he’s going to talk about building an inclusive economy where people have opportunities. But I’m not going to preview what he’s going to say about any of those issues.
Q Should he touch upon them, though, at least? Should we expect to hear those talked about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure —
Q What can we expect to hear from the President on the issue of healthcare specifically? Is there going to be any new initiatives rolled out? Should we expect something, or should we wait for him just to lay out some basic guidelines going into this coming election?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as in past years, this address will have specific calls to Congress to act in certain areas.
I would say if you were looking at the weighting of issues, I think healthcare certainly is a key part of the speech, and I think you can expect very deliberate, or — excuse me, not deliberate — very specific requests for the Congress to do certain things on healthcare.
Q And just to follow up on Hallie’s question — we’re obviously not operating in a vacuum here. Impeachment — we think the President will have just moved past that. What’s the tone of the speech as it relates to this moment, coming out of what has been this contentious period for the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well I would again say, if you look at the past three years — I mean, last year, we were just coming off of a government shutdown. And nevertheless, I think last year could be — I think was widely seen by independents and others as a very optimistic, forward-looking speech, a visionary speech. I think this will be an optimistic speech.
And, you know, without previewing — you know, no speech is ever final until it’s delivered, so it’s not as if this is in a vacuum pack until Tuesday. But I think the President will be focused on, you know, the interests of the American people. And in that spirit, I think he’s going to give a positive, forward-looking vision.
Q I’m just wondering, broadly, which foreign policy points he might touch on, particularly China trade and the Middle East peace plan.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you noticed, I didn’t give a lot on the national security section, but if you look at the last several years of the Joint Session speeches, the State of the Union speeches, you’ll see that he does a fair bit of going through areas of the world. But I won’t preview anything in particular.
Q Just following up on the foreign policy question, can you address Iran specifically? I know you’re not going to get ahead of the content, but again, going back to the question of tone, what tone can you expect to hear from him as it relates to Iran, which is arguably been one of his biggest foreign policy challenges this year?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it’s fair to say “determined” — you know, “forceful,” “strong.” Those would be good adjectives.
Q I’m not asking you to get into the details, because I’m sure you won’t, but will there be any big-ticket policy items that he will unveil on Tuesday night?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Often depends on one person’s interpretation of “big ticket,” but I think, you know, very important in terms of his agenda — yes. I mean —
Q Just along those same lines —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Did I already call on you?
Q You did.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, you asked me to spell, sorry. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Along those same lines that John just asked, will he, kind of, give an outline of what he would expect for a second term if he were to win? Should we expect that? And what kind of items will he (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he’s going to — he’s going to call on the Congress, working with him on several things.
In terms of a second-term agenda, I mean, some things take time. So I think things that he’s calling for this year, if they don’t happen, he’ll continue to call for them.
I’ll come next to you.
Q As we see it right now, we don’t all know whether the impeachment vote will happen before or after the speech — sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure thing, two forks in a road. Are you guys committed to — is he going to give the same speech no matter what, or are you preparing contingencies based on the calendar?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn’t call it contingencies. I mean, I’ve been here a couple years here and things — events always happen, and so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the speech to evolve before it’s delivered. So it wouldn’t be anything different than any other significant —
Q Right, but at this point, given this is such a big choose-you-own-adventure moment, have you guys written blocks of the speech in case the vote happens or blocks the speech in case it’s still pending?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don’t want to get into the process, but the President is always adaptable to speak to the moment and what’s required, and we’re fleet of foot to be able to do that.
Q Thank you.
Q You said me next.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, sorry. Yes. I did say you. Sorry.
Q Just a reminder. (Laughs.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. (Laughs.)
Q This very much seems like a campaign rally speech that the President is directing toward his supporters. In order to address the other half of the country during this moment of extreme division in the country, will the President talk about unity like he has in the past? And how will you get around the criticism that follows after, that he’s just reading from a prompter and doesn’t really want to unify the country?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I take issue with your characterization that he only speaks to one part of the country.
In terms of the blue-collar boom, I mean, for example, more minorities and women got jobs last year than otherwise. The 72 percent, I think, of women got jobs in the last year. The greatest wage gains are for people at the lower — lower end of the income area.
The focus on jobs and opportunity training with the Pledge to American Workers covers all ranges of people in society.
So I think that it’s unifying because — I think the speech will be unifying in part because the President is focused on opportunity for all Americans. So I would strongly disagree —
Q But is he going to acknowledge that other half that doesn’t have any faith in him right now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the President is focused entirely on helping all Americans rise in this economy. And if you read the Davos speech, you’ll see, in mind-numbing detail, the economic indicators that he’s doing that. He’s doing that with passion because he believes that his job is to put the American people first and American workers and American families.
Way in the back.
Q Yeah. Thank you. Given that this is number four, this will be the first time the President has done one of these while there are people in the Chamber who are wanting to replace him as President. How does the President feel about that? Will he mention any of those people or allude to them in any way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I won’t preview if he’s going to call anybody out because I — but I think the President will be entirely comfortable with that. I think — yeah, I’ll just — I’ll just say that.
Have I called on —
Q Right here.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Is there any chance that if the vote hasn’t happened yet, that the date of this changes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is beyond anything that I would be able to address.
Q And can I ask one more question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
Q Has anyone outside the White House helped the President craft this speech?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President talks to lots of people, and certainly, you know, I wouldn’t give you any specific information about anyone who’s outside the White House crafting a speech.
Q Jeff Mason.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q Will there be any legislative proposals in the speech? And a follow-up on — I think maybe Blake asked about tax cuts. The President has previewed that he wants to do a tax cut 2.0. Can we not assume that that’s something that he’ll talk about on Tuesday?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I wouldn’t make any assumptions, but I didn’t preview that and I don’t — there are a lot of things I haven’t previewed, but I don’t want to un-preview them. So —
Q And with regard to legislative — and with regard to legislative proposals, will there be any legislative proposals in the speech?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I mentioned, like in years past, he will have calls for the Congress to do certain things.
I think they call —
Q Thank you very much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q Will the President address about the North Korea nuclear issues or Korean Peninsula in his speech?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No comment on, you know — I’m not going to address it or preview that. And, you know, in years past, he’s addressed the North Korean situation. So —
Way in the back. Gentleman way in the back. Yeah. You.
Q Which of the President’s proposals do you expect Democrats to stand and applaud?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there could be a couple.
Q Which ones?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll come back to you, one second.
Q Thank you very much, sir. What are we expecting as far as small businesses are concerned? Because they are the ones, in general, to create jobs? And also, middle class — what are we expecting from the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I mentioned, he’ll talk about how the economic policy that he has pursued has lifted up the middle class and especially blue-collar workers. He’ll talk about the manufacturing jobs, I expect, that have been created. He’ll talk about how the tax cuts have helped small businesses. He’ll talk about how the energy revolution has really lifted everybody up in terms of, you know, lower gasoline prices, lower energy prices.
Q Thanks a lot. Last year, one of those rare instances of bipartisan applause was when the President said that America will never be a socialist country. Do you see a return to that theme at all in the speech?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, all I will say to that is that, as I said in the topline, you know, he’s going to build off what he said last year and present some contrasts, especially when it comes to healthcare. So —
Q Will he acknowledge that — will he mention the fact that this is an election year and acknowledge how difficult it is to get things done in presidential election years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No comment on what he’ll say about that. I mean, I’m not going to preview anything he’ll say about (inaudible).
Q Well, will he specifically mention, “Hey, I know it’s an election year”?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, I don’t know. I mean, everybody knows that. (Laughter.) So, I don’t know if he’ll make it explicit or not.
Q In 1999, President Clinton delivered a State of the Union in the middle of impeachment. I guess, two questions about that. One, have you guys studied that speech at all or looked at how he dealt with it? And also, that was a super over-the-top bipartisan, “let’s talk about bipartisanship” kind of speech. Do you expect this speech to have any sort of overtures to bipartisanship?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I would just say that the economy doing so well, and the President’s emphasis on continuing the policies that are lifting people from all walks of life — every age, background — that’s unifying.
I’ve heard the President say in a different — in a public forum that he always thought Americans could unite around success. And, you know, in that respect, whether certain people don’t see the President being uniting or unifying, the facts of the matter — the facts of the economic consequences are they, in a way, they do unite because people can be united around success.
Q Should we expect any major initiatives in the foreign policy portion of the address? Could you talk about that without going into specifics?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, of course, this past week, the President laid out his peace plan proposal. I don’t think we’ll have anything of that magnitude in the speech, but I wouldn’t — I didn’t preview anything, but he may — he may talk about that to some degree. But I think there won’t be anything, you know, certainly Earth-shattering or new with respect to foreign policy.
Q Yes, the President just signed the USMCA in a ceremony. No Democrats who were invited. Is there — are there going to be any Democrats as guests? Is there going to be any way that he talks about the fact that things have been not very friendly between to the two parties?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know, actually, whether any — I don’t know the party affiliation of the guests. I would not be surprised if some of them are Democrats, but that’s just speaking about the guests. I don’t think the President is going to address that in particular. I don’t think he’s going to be explicit about it.
Q Is there a nexus between the Opportunity Zones and this guest, Tony Rankins? Did something good happen to him because of the zone specifically?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mentioned that the company is operating — that has hired him and trained him — is in an Opportunity Zone.
Q What did it do for the company? How did it help him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Opportunity Zone made the company capable of doing what it’s doing, and we can provide more information on that.
Way in the back. The gentleman there in the back.
Q Yeah. Thank you. The President spoke last year — in last year’s address — about ending endless wars. I’m wondering if he would talk about that again or speak at all about trying to bring U.S. troops home from overseas.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the President has talked very consistently about that. I won’t preview what he’ll say in the speech, but he has talked very consistently about that in the past.
Right here, in the front.
Q Can we anticipate anything on coronavirus and efforts being made to make sure that this doesn’t become a bigger problem?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I won’t preview what’s going to be said. As you know, this is a busy news day, and I think the State Department put some things out, and the CDC. I expect, you know, people — I mean, I know the President is closely monitoring it, and I wouldn’t be surprised between now and Tuesday there will be more that will said about that. But I won’t preview what the State of the Union will say about that because I —
Q Thanks a lot.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q It’s been a busy week for the President. He’s had the rollout of his vision for peace in the Middle East, the USMCA, a rally last night in Iowa. What’s been the rhythm of his engagement with speechwriters this week? How often has he been dipping into the speech? How engaged has he been? And when has he found time to do that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you know, we travel — yesterday — I was on travel yesterday. Saw the President. Spoke to the President. You know, we hear from the President all of the time, whether we’re in the room or not, by what he is saying, what he is — you know, like the USMCA.
We have a very clear idea of what the President’s vision is in a lot of areas. And then, when necessary, we ask specifically and engage.
Q Did he veto any guests that you guys have planned?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to get into the speechwriting process other than to say that the process begins and ends with the President. Trust me on that.
Q Thank you very much. Regarding the mentioning of the U.S.-China phase one trade deal, will the President be giving more details about future steps?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to preview what he’s going to say on trade. But — yes.
Q Can I just ask about timing? Do you expect this to be a little shorter speech, a longer speech, compared to the last couple addresses?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think comparable. Comparable to last year’s — I mean, to the last several years. Yes.
Q Do you anticipate him mentioning anything of the First Lady’s initiatives (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would not be surprised. In years past, the First Lady has had guests that reflect her initiative. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the same this year. As I mentioned earlier, we’ll have some more people for you on Monday who will be guests in the gallery.
Q Will he be mentioning, though, any of her initiatives? Or there will be guests reflecting her initiatives?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to preview that today, but on Monday we’ll have some more guests.
MR. DEERE: We’ll take one last question.
Q No, you haven’t called on me.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven’t called on you. Okay.
Q So just back to the tone — I’m not asking for content, but you’re a speechwriter, so we’re very used to his speeches now — you know, every week or two weeks, with some very, let’s say, “colorful” language, which his supporters like. You know, just last night, we had “Adam Schiff shifting like a sweaty dog” or “sweating like a dog,” or something like that. We’ve got “the Democrats will end — basically end the entire country as we know it,” “ripping babies out of wombs,” and so on. Is this the type of language that will be in there, or will it be a different kind of President Trump speaking?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I’d say very generally — as I said, I think the tone will be optimistic. In the past, I’ve sort of said if there’s one word to describe his speech and vision, last year I think I said, “visionary,” and another year I said, “unifying.” I think “optimism” — “optimistic” is the adjective I would use.
You know, in Davos, he had a line in the Davos speech — something to the effect of: This is not a time for pessimism and doubt; this is time for optimism and hope. So I think —
Q Will he talk about the apocalypse? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it will be generally in that spirit that: This is not a time for pessimism, this is a time for optimism.
Q You mentioned optimism and hope. What connection do you think he might make to the perceived threat of undocumented immigrants?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, in the past, he’s — you know, he talks about immigration. He’s going to talk about success on the southern border. I think that there have been — illegal crossings have declined by, I believe, it’s 72 percent over the last seven, eight months. You know, the border wall is going up. And he’s going to talk about that success. As I mentioned, he’s going to talk about the challenge of sanctuary cities.
Q You got a running time yet?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Someone asked me about the running time, and I said it will probably be comparable to last year.
Q And just to clarify, the theme is, “The Great American Comeback: A Vision of Relentless Optimism” — all together?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. “The Great American Comeback.”
Q Oh, okay.
Q And, sorry, just quickly, how many people were involved in working on the speech, would you say?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you know, basically the whole government works on this speech because you engage in a process that it touches upon every department.
Q Yeah, but I mean like writing it — really involved in it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, several people. Like I said, it begins and ends with the President.
Are we done? (Laughter.)
MR. DEERE: Thanks very much, everybody. Just remember [senior administration official] is on background to a “senior administration official.” Your embargo is now lifted.