Washington • President Donald Trump said Thursday that “unity” will be the theme of his first State of the Union address under divided government and that he respects Stacey Abrams, who will give the Democratic response.
“I hope she does a good job. I respect her,” Trump said of Abrams, who will be the first black woman to deliver the rebuttal.
Trump will give his speech Tuesday before a joint session of Congress at a sensitive time in talks over keeping the government open and funding the border wall he is demanding as part of any deal. Members of Congress are inviting federal workers worried about another shutdown after Feb. 15. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling also hovers.
Trump will also be surrounded by living reminders of the changes wrought by the 2018 midterm elections that ushered Democrats into the House majority.
Sitting behind him: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who maneuvered the president into retreating last week on his demand for a border wall in exchange for an end to the longest government shutdown in history.
In the audience: a record number of women in Congress, many of whom will be wearing white, in honor of suffragettes.
In the gallery above: Victorina Morales, who worked for one of Trump's clubs in New Jersey for years even though she was born in Guatemala and lived in the U.S. illegally. Morales, a guest of New Jersey Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, said in an interview that she feels respectful toward the president. But she does have a message for him after years of hearing Trump describe immigrants as a scourge that takes jobs from Americans.
"Forget about the wall, stop separating families and focus on immigration reform," she said in an interview with The Associated Press, conducted in Spanish.
Another woman who cleaned the president's clothes and made his bed at his Bedminster, N.J., club is attending the address, too.
Sandra Diaz, 46, a native of Costa Rica who worked at Trump's club from 2010 to 2013, will be attending as a guest of Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez of California, according to the lawyer for both women, Anibal Romero. Diaz told The Associated Press last month that she was also hired without legal papers and supervisors at the club knew it. She is now a legal permanent U.S. resident. Diaz said she decided to speak out because she is angry about the president describing immigrants as violent.
After Trump speaks: Abrams, heavily courted by Democrats to run for a Georgia Senate seat after narrowly losing her bid to be the nation's first African-American woman governor.
On Sunday, the 45-year-old Democrat will take her push for voting rights to the airwaves in her home state during the Super Bowl. Abrams' political group, Fair Fight, has bought airtime on Georgia affiliates broadcasting the game so the Atlanta Democrat can push for election law changes.
Abrams has said her speech rebuttal will come “at a moment when our nation needs to hear from leaders who can unite for a common purpose.”
Associated Press Writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Bernard Condon in New York contributed to this report.