Shadow Government

10 Things to Watch for in Trump’s Address to Congress

We'll offer our take on how we think he did later in the week.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12:  U.S. President Barack Obama (C) delivers the State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. In his last State of the Union, President Obama reflected on the past seven years in office and spoke on topics including climate change, gun control, immigration and income inequality.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: U.S. President Barack Obama (C) delivers the State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. In his last State of the Union, President Obama reflected on the past seven years in office and spoke on topics including climate change, gun control, immigration and income inequality. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s speech tonight will be, like everything he does, a spectacle. The last time Trump had such a stage was his inaugural, where all of official Washington stood behind him as he looked out over what (in his mind) were trillions of people. But tonight, he will be looking right into the eyes of Congress, his Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs, the Supreme Court, and diplomatic corps. He can’t resist working the room — name-checking, fawning, heckling — so expect this to be the wackiest joint session address you’ve ever seen.

But we’ll be listening for what Trump says about substance (that is, if he can refrain from attacking the press and refuting the numbers at his inauguration). So in that spirit, here are the top 10 things we hope to hear about in Trump’s speech tonight. These can be used as checklist to grade the president — and we’ll offer our take on how we think he did later in the week.

The first three are questions that President Barack Obama posed in his final State of the Union address over a year ago, but are even more relevant today.

“First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?”

“Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us, especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?”

“Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?”

Fourth, how will America work with its longstanding democratic allies in Europe and Asia?

Fifth, what more should we know about Russia meddling in our election, and how can we better defend our country (and work with our partners) to ensure that future elections are free and fair, protected from Russian influence?

Sixth, what is the strategy behind the defense spending increases Trump plans to unveil, and how does paying for those increases by slashing money for diplomacy and foreign assistance make America stronger and safer?

Seventh, how will President Trump denounce hate crimes, especially the alarming wave of anti-Semitism and targeting of immigrants and people of color?

Eighth, we have heard next to nothing from President Trump or his administration about future of Afghanistan and the mission of the 8,400 U.S. troops that are still fighting there. What are Trump’s goals?

Ninth, does Trump believe it is in America’s interests to promote democracy abroad? If so, how does he suggest we do it better?

Finally, Trump has put Iran “on notice,” but said little about his intentions regarding the Iran nuclear deal. Does he plan to stand by it? And if he takes a more confrontational approach toward Iran, how does he plan to avoid a spiral to war?

So this is what we’ll be looking for tonight. Tune in later this week to see how we think he did.

Photo credit: ALEX WONG/Getty Images

Derek Chollet served in the Barack Obama administration for six years in senior positions at the White House, State Department, and Pentagon, most recently as the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. Currently the executive vice president at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, his books include The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World, America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11 (co-written with James Goldgeier), and The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World (co-edited with Samantha Power). A native Nebraskan, he lives in Washington, D.C., with his family. Chollet is a co-editor of Shadow Government.

Colin H. Kahl is an associate professor in the security studies program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a strategic consultant at the Penn-Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. From 2014 to 2017, he was deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. From 2009 to 2011, he served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. In 2011, he was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service by Secretary Robert Gates. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two children. Kahl is a co-editor of Shadow Government.

Julianne ("Julie") Smith is director of the strategy and statecraft program at the Center for a New American Security. Prior to joining CNAS, she served as the deputy national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden from 2012 to 2013. Before going to the White House, she served as the principal director for European/NATO policy at the Pentagon. Smith lives in Washington with her husband and two children. Smith is a co-editor of Shadow Government.

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