Trump Comes Face to Face with Friends and Foes

By Jamie Stiehm

February 6, 2019 5 min read

The State of the Union is fraught.

That's not exactly the word Donald Trump would choose in his State of the Union address to Congress, the Cabinet, Supreme Court and diplomatic corps of the United States. The annual "gang's all here" meeting of American democracy in the Capitol is on at last. It's been a long dark road to get to this place. Much has changed since Trump spoke to a cheering chamber dominated by Republicans.

How much "executive time" the president spent crafting the speech — we'll never know. He'll enter the den where impeachment proceedings happen. But why dwell on that?

This time, throngs of women will fill the House — with grander roles in political theater. For the first time, Congress is one-quarter female. Some women will wear suffragette white. This may be lost on the commander in chief as he strides down the aisle to the podium.

Will he steal a glance at the three women senators running for president? They are Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

The 35-day government shutdown wasn't the best note to begin the year, so new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi postponed the traditional SOTU invitation to the president. This made Trump roar in fury. In his long life, Trump never had to deal with a woman with as much (or more) power, let alone lose and surrender to one in a high-stakes showdown. When he opened the government, he got nothing for a border wall.

Now Trump knows for sure: The speaker holds the keys to the House, and he is her guest. He learned that lesson well.

Trump has a grudging respect for Pelosi's elegant mastery of politics. He calls her "Nancy," without a negative nickname.

The chamber will showcase the new Democrats, with more diversity and spirit than you can shake a stick at. There are nearly 70 in the House, with bold dreams of change — extending even to the 2017 tax breaks Republicans clutch to their hearts.

How the new House majority will meet the moment of Trump's visit can only be imagined. Something strange is bound to happen, out of school, on either side. Chances are, he won't get the deference he thinks he deserves. Pelosi may caution her caucus to observe democratic decorum (small d).

Manners matter in partisan combat — in her book, anyway.

Trump won't turn much to the blue side. He'll rely on a rousing reception from congressional Republicans to cover the chill. (It's beneath the dignity of Supreme Court Justices or the Pentagon brass to applaud much, but will he get that? Aren't they his people?)

There lies the real trouble Trump faces, not just young and restless Democrats: the 53 Senate Republicans. He's losing his audience with several, notably Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate majority leader.

Methodical McConnell is amazed at Trump's government by whim and monologue. What's more, he's started to show it, authoring a foreign policy amendment as a rebuke to Trump's hasty plan to pull soldiers out of Iraq and Syria.

McConnell is a tough-minded throwback to Southern bulls who once ran the Senate. He urged Trump not to shut the government down just before Christmas, but did the president listen?

Loyalty only goes so far when there's a millstone crushing your party for 35 days. The shutdown was all pain, no gain.

But it gets worse. Trump threatens to use national emergency powers to build a border wall if Congress doesn't fund it by Feb. 15. Senate Republicans think that's a terrible idea and are chafing, for now.

Further, McConnell and other senators were incredulous when one of their own former colleagues, Dan Coats, was rudely contradicted by the president. Coats, director of national intelligence, testified before Congress on the global threat, along with other intelligence chiefs. Coats told Congress that Iran is complying with the nuclear treaty Trump condemned, and mentioned no Mexican border threat.

Trump tweeted the experts should "go back to school."

It's late. A Republican rebellion lies straight ahead of Trump, like an iceberg. Will he swerve? That's the precarious state of the union.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit the website,

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