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What to watch for in Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address

The PBS NewsHour will stream the president’s address and the Democratic response live Tuesday night, followed by special analysis. Watch live here.

Perhaps no subject in American politics has been written about more often, and yet has less long-term news value, than the modern State of the Union address.

Journalists have sliced the speech 1,000 ways. Does the State of the Union matter? Does it mean anything to voters? We’ve dissected everything from frequently used words in SOTU speeches to the writing accessories on the dias. Even tie colors.

One new thing we can offer: A look at the specific peculiarities worth watching this year.

Historic timing

Never before has a State of the Union speech happened so close to a potential government shutdown. But tonight, President Donald Trump will step into the House chamber just 11 days after the last government shutdown and 10 days before what may be another one. Watch for how the president addresses any potential border security compromise and whether he broaches the idea of declaring a natural emergency. Also watch how Republicans — who do not all support the president’s shutdown strategy — react.


Thanks to the 2018 midterm elections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the first Democrat to sit behind Trump during this speech. From the dais, the president will look out on a sea of white — the color Democratic women plan to wear. Another visual: the different demographics of each party. Democrats now have the most diverse caucus in Congressional history, in terms of race and gender. In contrast, just 21 of the 252 GOP lawmakers in Congress are women.

Foreign or domestic?

The White House told reporters last week that the speech will address the influx of migrants at the southern border, but otherwise did not specify the mix of foreign versus domestic topics. We know, per a senior White House official, that the crisis in Venezuela will be part of the speech. Watch to see how much the president talks about China, Afghanistan, Syria, Russia and other countries.

Presidential hopefuls

No fewer than five Democrats running for president are expected to be in the audience, observing their would-be 2020 opponent. Watch for camera shots of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Historic response

Shortly after Trump finishes his remarks, Stacey Abrams will make history by giving her party’s response. The Georgia Democrat will be the first person who does not currently hold any elected office and the first black woman to give the opposition response. Abrams lost a close governor’s race in November and is a former state house leader in Georgia. Watch for how much of her remarks directly address the president and his policies, and how much she speaks to larger issues, including voting rights.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to deliver his 2019 State of the Union address at 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Feb. 5. Watch live online here and find much more PBS NewsHour analysis on the air, online and in our podcast feed.