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Shutdown politics weigh on State of the Union preparations

The government shutdown is complicating the White House’s plans for the upcoming State of the Union address, dimming some administration officials’ hopes that President Donald Trump would use the high-profile speech to strike a more bipartisan tone.

After weeks of quiet planning, senior White House officials led by Stephen Miller had already drafted key parts of the speech before Congress came to an impasse over immigration and border security, bringing the federal government to a standstill. Now the president’s speechwriters and other top advisers are weighing how to reflect the divisive politics of the shutdown in the address, according to two administration officials.

With the midterm elections looming and the president polling poorly, some of Trump’s advisers had counseled him to use the speech to map out a more middle-of-the-road approach to the year ahead. But the shutdown has poisoned the chances of bipartisan legislative breakthroughs on Capitol Hill and deeply damaged the president’s relationship with Democrats.

The theme and tone of the speech are now “in flux” because of the shutdown, one White House official told POLITICO.

“Now is a natural time for the president to pivot from partisan activities to bipartisan activities. But the shutdown is all about partisan politics,” said the official, who speculated that the president’s frustrations over the shutdown will bleed into the final draft of the speech, especially if the government remains shuttered for several days.

A White House spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

The speech planning comes as Trump is slated later this week to travel to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum, the heart of the globalist elite, to celebrate his tax reform victory. But he is now caught up in a domestic drama that threatens to overtake both the trip and the Jan. 30 address.

Despite the uncertainty, some elements of the speech are set in stone. The address is likely to focus heavily on two key issues: immigration and national security, according to aides.

The president is also expected to use the speech to preview a series of upcoming trade decisions, which could result in a more aggressive posture toward China.

White House aides had seen the speech as a vehicle to kick off Trump’s infrastructure push by putting pressure on Democrats to support infrastructure legislation, arguing that the public widely supports efforts to improve the country’s crumbling roads and bridges. An infrastructure bill faces huge hurdles on Capitol Hill, but the White House nonetheless hopes to release a more detailed plan soon after the speech.

Senior White House aides have been quietly working on the speech for weeks, with the president offering handwritten feedback on drafts.

Miller and staff secretary Rob Porter are taking the lead on crafting the address, along with White House speechwriters Vince Haley and Ross Worthington. In addition to the president, more than a dozen top White House and administration officials have weighed in on early drafts, including chief of staff John Kelly.

In late December, Porter sent an email to top officials at federal agencies and senior staff members on the White House’s policy councils soliciting a list of policy priorities and anecdotes that could be folded into the speech, according to three people who have seen the memo.

Porter and Miller have met several times to narrow the list and begin turning the feedback from administration officials into draft text. Parts of the speech have already been circulated to White House policy aides, agency heads and the White House Office of Management and Budget for review, officials said.

The White House has not yet finalized the list of guests who will sit alongside first lady Melania Trump during the speech, but one aide said at least one of them is expected to have a back story aimed at promoting the president’s goal of improving border security.

The exact contours of Trump’s message on immigration during the speech will depend on how long the shutdown drags on and whether Republicans and Democrats can reach a deal to protect hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors. Still, aides said Trump is certain to talk about the need for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and for beefing up border security.

Democrats and some Republicans are unlikely to appreciate the involvement of Miller, Trump’s immigration policy adviser, with the speech.

In recent days, lawmakers have complained that Miller pushed Trump to the right on immigration and stood in the way of a deal to end the shutdown.

“As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Sunday.

Nancy Cook and Sarah Karlin-Smith contributed to this report.

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