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Verbal fireworks likely at Trump’s State of the Union speech

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is putting the final touches on an election-year State of the Union speech that figures to be high on drama, putting him face-to-face with Democratic adversaries who impeached him but have failed to drive him from office.

He will speak on Tuesday night in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives where in December Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic majority in the House approved two articles of impeachment against Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.

The big speech takes place one day after Democrats in Iowa choose who they want to face Trump as the Democratic presidential nominee in the Nov. 3 election, and one day before the Republican-led Senate is expected to acquit him of impeachment charges.

Sandwiched between these two events, Trump’s speech is expected to make some reference to the effort to toss him from office, advisers said.

At the same time he will offer to work with his political opponents on issues like reducing healthcare and drug prices and rebuilding infrastructure, they said.

“We’re really looking to giving a very, very positive message,” Trump told reporters during a Super Bowl party at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida.

But the president held out little hope for bipartisan cooperation this year in the wake of the bitterly divided impeachment fight, saying he doubted Democrats would want to work with him.

“I’m not sure that they can do it, to be honest. I think they just want to win and it doesn’t matter how they win,” Trump told the Fox network in a Super Bowl Sunday interview.

The speech is attended by Democratic and Republican lawmakers from both the House and the Senate as well as VIP guests like Cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court justices. The television audience for last year’s speech was estimated at 47 million people.

Given the ability to promote himself to that many people as he seeks re-election, some of his allies are concerned about his tendency to lash out at his critics. They feel he should not dwell on impeachment in the speech but instead try to move on.

“It’s the one time when the president can tell his story, and a lot of people are listening,” said U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close Trump confidant.

“I think it’d be smart not to (talk about impeachment),” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill. “If most people are ready to move on from impeachment, I hope he is too … I don’t think there’s a real reason to (talk about it).”

Trump’s message on the campaign trail has been that he is a victim of a Democratic coup attempt.

“They want to nullify your ballots and overthrow the entire system of government,” he said at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday.

Aides say the theme of Trump’s speech is “The Great American Comeback,” and that he will use it to emphasize the U.S. economy, usually a dominant factor in whether a president wins re-election.

He will highlight trade agreements with China and with Mexico and Canada and will say his policies are responsible for boosting the U.S. economy.

He is also expected to promote his efforts to limit migrants from crossing the southern U.S. border, as well as national security moves such as his decision to kill Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani with a U.S. drone strike.

Super Bowl viewers got a preview of another theme – criminal justice reform – in a Trump campaign ad that featured a tearful Alice Johnson thanking the president for commuting her life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense.

“I promised to restore hope in America. That includes the least among us. Together, let’s KEEP AMERICA GREAT!”, Trump said in a tweet.

Republican strategist Ryan Williams said Trump has a political need to emphasize the economy to try to make more voters comfortable with his chaotic presidency.

“Feelings about Trump are very ingrained. He needs to push issues like his trade deal and the economy in order to persuade the very few voters that are persuadable. The impeachment cloud has distracted him from things his campaign would like to stress,” Williams said.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Chris Reese)

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