Newsletter: Essential Politics: Trump shifts from ‘carnage’ to ‘common ground’

Essential Politics

President Trump’s very first State of the Union address was unusual in a number of ways — longer than most of those of other presidents, replete with shout-outs to special guests.

It was also striking in its attempt to strike a tone far different from the one Trump relied on during most of his first year in office.

Gone was his inaugural warning of “American carnage.” In its place, an attempt to call for “common ground.”



As Noah Bierman writes, the president seemed to be trying on Tuesday night to recast himself as a unifier of the bitterly divided nation.

“This is in fact our new American moment,” he said. “There has never been a better time to start living the American dream.”

The reaction shots on television were fascinating, especially those of Democrats struggling to contain their unhappiness with what was being said. You can watch a seven-minute wrap up of the speech here.


Mark Barabak’s analysis found that “presidential Trump vied with pugnacious Trump” during most of the speech.

And here’s a stat for the Twitter-loving president: With 4.5 million messages typed and sent, it was the most tweeted-about State of the Union in history.


-- Our Times political team dug down into the numerous backstories for this annotated version of the State of the Union speech.


-- A group of Times journalists had a real-time conversation on Slack as the evening unfolded.

-- We also found a number of things the president got wrong in his speech.

-- The president cited the “depraved character” of North Korea’s government for its “reckless pursuit” of nuclear weapons, but stopped short of proposing any new policies.

-- He announced that he would keep open the prison camp at the U.S. Navy station on Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, a 2016 campaign pledge that would reverse a long-held policy of the Obama administration.


-- He steered clear of any reference to the special counsel investigation of Russian election interference.

-- As he left the House chamber, Trump was caught on camera saying he’s “100%" going to release the hotly contested Republican memo alleging secret government surveillance.

-- The Trump doctrine? He asks for a law that foreign aid “only go to friends of America.

-- A Republican congressman from Arizona urged law enforcement officers to arrest the “Dreamers” who showed up at the Capitol for the president’s speech.


-- Last night’s designated “survivor” in the event of an attack: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

-- Barabak looks at how the address, once an inconspicuous written message, has become a pageant of pomp and punditry.

-- A 12-year old boy from the Northern California city of Redding sat next to First Lady Melania Trump and was praised for efforts to decorate the graves of veterans. A California firefighter was also singled out by the president.



Some Californians in Congress seemed conflicted on whether to attend the State of the Union and several bowed out. More than half a dozen brought a California Dreamer as their guest, and many more wore black to recognize sexual harassment and assault.

For one of two Californians who were tapped to be a designated survivor in the event of a catastrophe, Tuesday was just another night of laundry and television.

Others used the State of the Union time to launch television ads for their campaigns — including Tom Steyer’s impeachment effort; Sara Jacobs, a Democrat running for Rep. Darrell Issa’s seat; and Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox’s depiction of lobbyists as pigs scurrying through Sacramento.



-- So how is the president doing in the public’s eyes at the one-year mark?

-- Senate Democrats expressed outrage Tuesday at reports that the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service visited Washington recently despite being on a U.S. government blacklist that prohibits many dealings with him.

-- House Speaker Paul D. Ryan defended special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Tuesday even as he supported the release of a Republican memo about classified surveillance that could undermine the investigation into Russian interference with the presidential election.

-- Republicans running in Arizona’s U.S. Senate primary are trying to outdo one another in embracing Trump and his agenda, heightening the risk of losing the seat to a Democrat.


-- EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is warning California not to overplay its hand on vehicle mileage standards, suggesting that the EPA could try to block the state’s waiver of federal law. It’s an awkward threat for Pruitt, a supposed champion of states’ rights.

-- In an abrupt about-face, the U.S. military released data Tuesday showing insurgents in Afghanistan are growing stronger after a Pentagon auditing office complained it had been prohibited from releasing the statistics.

-- The Supreme Court signaled Monday it may be open to blocking a state ruling on partisan gerrymandering at the behest of Pennsylvania’s Republican leaders.



While the eyes of the political world were on Washington, the four leading Democrats in the race for governor of California were in San Francisco to talk about abortion rights.

As expected, there was very little disagreement on ensuring a woman’s access to abortion services.

And they all had sharp words for Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to veto a bill last year that would have barred employers for firing a woman who had an abortion.

“I think Jerry was dead wrong on this,” said Delaine Eastin, the former state schools chief. “It was one of the worst decisions he’s made.”



Rank-and-file delegates to the California Democratic Party’s upcoming convention met last weekend in small groups all over the state to cast early “pre-endorsement” votes for favorite local candidates.

The results give an early glimpse of where the competitive House races stand — who’s consolidating strength among the party’s grass roots and which races remain wide-open contests. In many of these crowded races the party imprimatur can give candidates a meaningful way to stand out.



-- The California bullet train project will get its first state audit in six years, after the Legislature’s joint audit committee gives its approval.

-- Should California start its own bank to serve the cannabis industry? The state’s treasurer and attorney general announced on Tuesday the launch of a study to answer that question.

-- After federal inspectors uncovered what they reported to be serious hazardous waste violations at the Torrance Refinery, the Trump administration chose not to pursue them.

-- The state Senate on Tuesday deadlocked for a second straight year on a measure that would have banned California restaurants from providing takeout orders in disposable polystyrene containers starting in 2020.


-- California has proposed a new method of lethal injection, but the two drugs that could be used to execute inmates are extremely difficult to obtain.

-- The ACLU claims Bakersfield police officers unlawfully jailed a black man after they stopped the car he was riding in because the vehicle had an air freshener dangling from its rearview mirror.

-- Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is on the verge of filling one of the most important posts in the city, one that has huge influence over how much money is spent on police, street repairs, parks and other basic services.

-- California is on its way to having 1.5 million electric cars on the road by 2025, a new report says.


-- Legislation to help Californians evade the effects of Trump’s tax overhaul passed the state Senate Tuesday.

-- Federal immigration agents would need warrants to enter schools and courthouses under new legislation introduced in Sacramento.

-- The mayor of Montebello says she is “seriously considering” a run against embattled state Sen. Tony Mendoza this year.



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