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Will Trump turn State of the Union unity talk into action?

The political battle lines are drawn ahead of President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address. For perspective on the run-up to the big address from opposite sides of the American political spectrum, Judy Woodruff talks to Chris Buskirk, editor of American Greatness, and Karine Jean-Pierre of MoveOn.org.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now some perspective on the run-up to tonight's big address from opposite sides of the American political spectrum.

    Karine Jean-Pierre is a senior adviser for MoveOn.org. And Chris Buskirk is the editor of the conservative journal and Web site American Greatness.

    Hello to both of you.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Hi.

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Hi, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Great to have you back on the program.

    Chris, to you first, Chris Buskirk.

    What do you expect the president to do tonight?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    I think what the president is going to do tonight is, he is going to do what he's done I think pretty well in some speeches before, which is going back to promises made, promises kept.

    Here's what I have talked about in my campaign, here's what I have accomplished so far, here's what I still need to do.

    I think that here we are halfway through first term, right? This has got to be the pivot to reelection, to try to start to set the tone and set the trajectory for a message that's going to carry him through November of 2020.

    And I think that is — I think that needs to be one big unifying theme that says, on immigration, on trade, on foreign policy, how are all these things linked together? What's that unifying theme?

    And I think that that theme has to be, how do you rebuild the middle class? That's number one. And I think that that's what he is going to try and do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And if that's what he does, Karine Jean-Pierre, how is that received by Democrats?

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    So, I know that it's been reported that — from the administration, from the White House, that the president is going to give a speech on unity, on greatness, on bipartisanship.

    And that would be great if he was able to do that, but we have not seen that from this president in the past now going on three years. And I just don't see this speech, only because of his history, of his record, being that impactful.

    So maybe, maybe he gets there and he makes a unity speech, but hours later, the moment he gets on Twitter, it all — he steps on it. So I just — it's hard to believe. And let's not forget, a couple of weeks ago, he gave — he addressed the country in the Diplomatic Reception Room, where he talked about immigration, and that was filled with division.

    And then he did it weeks prior to that in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk. And that was filled with division and hate. So I just don't see how that's possible coming from this president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, Chris Buskirk, I had a chance today to spend a little bit of — a few minutes with Speaker Pelosi and the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer.

    And Mr. Schumer made a point, Senator Schumer made a point of saying: We hope the president is going to appeal the unity, but in the past, when he's spoken at a moment, whether it's a State of the Union address or another important speech, he's made promises or made declarations that he then turned around and didn't fulfill.

    So what makes you convinced that tonight is going to be different?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Well, I think part of that is in the eye of the beholder, right? What is unity.

    But there's part of it that is the art of persuasion, which is to talk about it and to use the rhetoric of unity and to talk about, how do we be — how are we Americans together? What does that mean? And how do we build things together, make this a better society?

    How that translates into practice, I think, is where the president needs to be very concrete. He needs to use that rhetoric and then say, look, these are the policies we are going to pursue in my administration the try and make this a reality.

    And that's what everybody is really looking for. It's nice to hear the good speech, but then what are you going to do about it?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you have a sense that now, Chris Buskirk, the president is prepared to do that?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    I think he has to, and I think that's what he's going to try and do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Karine, you're expressing doubt?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    He just doesn't have a record of it, Judy.

    We have not seen that. A year ago, he talked about unity. What did we get months later? We got this the zero — policy situation, where children were being ripped away from their parents, children of undocumented immigrants coming through the southern border. And that was devastating to see.

    And now we're hearing many of them will never be reunited. And the year before that, in 2017, in the joint address, the same thing. And what did we see? We heard about Charlottesville. And what did he do there? He said, very fine people on both sides.

    I just don't see it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    When you hear this, Chris Buskirk, what do you think?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    I think that unity does not mean agreement on everything. And that's OK. That's what politics is for.

    I think what unity means is not that Donald Trump says, well, to Speaker Pelosi, well, OK, whatever you want, that's fine. I think what it means is, how do we identify the problems that the country faces, and then how do we work together where there's agreement?

    And then we can disagree on other things too, but let's do that in a way where we at least try and set the table on common goals.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I guess the flip side of that question, Karine Jean-Pierre, is, are Democrats, are people like you who work hard with organizations that oppose so much of the president's policies, are you willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt?

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    There are things that we can work on that's bipartisanship, which is DACA, infrastructure, improving…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which is immigration.

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Immigration, right, right, for young undocumented folks who came here with their parents when they were really young.

    And there's also the criminal justice, right? That was done in a bipartisan way. It was a first step. And there's more to be done.

    The problem is, and what we said earlier, he declares things in his speech, but then he doesn't stick to them. And I think Democrats are ready to work on those things I just mentioned, but he doesn't stick to it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to come — I want to look at this, step back a little bit, Chris Buskirk, because part of what's going on here is that some of the — many of the people who support the president don't seem to want him to cooperate with the other side.

    And, Karine, I think you could say that about a number of progressive liberal Democrats who don't want to see their party cooperate. What about that, Chris?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Well, let me give — the best way, for me at least, to think about it is to use a concrete illustration.

    So you think about the immigration issue. I mean, this is a place where people like Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer, 10 years ago, 12 years ago, they were talking, yes, we need a wall, we need border security.

    I think what the president needs to do is explain why that's important and how that is something that protects — how border security protects working families, American working families. Why? Because it protects their most valuable asset, which is their asymmetric access to the American labor market.

    Make that argument, maybe in a more…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In other words, immigrants take jobs away from you? Is that — I mean…

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Take jobs away, lower wages. I mean, more supply equals — more supply lowers prices. That's basic.

    You explain that to people and say, look, this is why — this is why immigration is important to me or this is why trade policy is important to me, because I want middle-income families to be secure economically and to be able to prosper.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Karine, the flip side of that, liberal Democrats don't want their party leaders to work together with the president.

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Well, they want Democrats, in particular in the House, now that it's the majority, to hold this president accountable.

    And that's one of the reasons that we took back the House. And so that's really important. And that looks in very different ways, right? That's looking at this Mueller report. That's also looking at, as I mentioned, the children being separated at the border, Puerto Rico, 3,000 people dying.

    But they also want to see Democrats moving the country forward. Right? And they have done that with voting rights and dealing with corruption. And so those are things that they actually want to see. But we need Republicans on the other side to do — to also be in there with us too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we're going to have a chance to talk about all of this again later tonight, when we have heard what the president has to say.

    Thank you so much, Karine Jean-Pierre, Chris Buskirk.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Thank you.

  • Karine Jean-Pierre:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you.

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