The Note: Previewing Trump’s big speech to Congress tonight

President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress is tonight.

ByVeronica Stracqualursi
February 28, 2017, 8:35 AM

— -- Trump’s first 100 days with ABC’s RICK KLEIN and VERONICA STRACQUALURSI

Day No. 40

The big story: Call it optimism, Trump-style. The White House is promising an “optimistic vision” in President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress. But keep in mind that similar words were used to describe his dystopian convention speech, and later a raw inaugural address that described “American carnage.” Tonight, the first lady’s box will be filled with family members of those killed by undocumented immigrants. So no, Trump isn’t going to suddenly bring on the sunshine. The source of Trump’s optimism, if that’s what it’s going to be called, isn’t what’s going on in the nation – it’s the fact that Trump is now leading it. When the president talks about being the vessel for the hopes of his supporters, this is how he frames his vision. The biggest piece of that message, of course, is the president himself.

The sleeper story: Even before an actual health care proposal emerges from the White House, key members of the Republican Study Committee and the House Freedom Caucus are signaling major concerns. And even before a budget proposal is filed by the Trump administration, key House and Senate leaders are squirming over the fact that he’s not touching entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare. In other words, the president is keeping his campaign promises (or at least versions of them), and members of his own party are disappointed. Republicans on Capitol Hill hoped a Trump presidency would lead to the passage of conservative reforms. But now they’re being forced to remember what they seemed to know better a year ago: Trump is not actually a conservative in a sense that conforms with recent political history.

The shiny story: The community organizer is back at it, in Trump’s telling. In a “Fox and Friends” interview, Trump was asked whether he thinks former President Obama is behind the eruptions at town hall meetings, and the current president agreed. “I think that President Obama is probably behind it, because his people are certainly behind it,” Trump said. Surely Trump doesn’t think his predecessor is spending the first weeks of his hard-earned retirement scheming to annoy Dave Brat. But now that he’s said it, expect Trump to own it and double-down. Trump has been careful with the Obama relationship since becoming president, seeking to cultivate a sense that the two men have a warmth and mutual respect. But Trump may be finding that a fight with Obama – and the suggestion that he’s still organizing - has a bigger payoff.

TLDR: In his first major speech as president since the inauguration, Trump is set to deliver his speech to a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. ET.

Photo of the day: This image of Kellyanne Conway kneeling on the couch in the Oval Office during President Trump's meeting with HBCU leaders has sparked debate on social media over whether it was appropriate decorum. Some critics said it shows a lack of respect; others have pointed to photos of President Obama resting his feet on the Oval Office’s resolute desk. (Credit: Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images)

PHOTO: Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway checks her phone after taking a photo as U.S. President Donald Trump and leaders of historically black universities and colleges pose for a group photo, Feb. 27, 2017, in Washington.
Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway checks her phone after taking a photo as U.S. President Donald Trump and leaders of historically black universities and colleges pose for a group photo in the Oval Office of the White House before a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Feb. 27, 2017, in Washington.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images


--Trump set to make his 'biggest speech yet' in joint address to Congress: President Donald Trump is set to make what his team is billing as "his biggest speech yet" when he gives a joint address to Congress tonight. Few specific details about the speech have been released, but Trump is set to deliver it from the House Chamber at 9:00 p.m. Tax and regulatory reform, improvements to the workplace for working parents, "the disaster of Obamacare," education access, "a great rebuilding of the American military and commitments to veterans are listed as topics that Trump is expected to discuss, noting that they are areas in which the president wants to work with Congress, ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY reports. What you need to know Trump's address. Courtesy of ABC’s ERIN DOOLEY and JORDYN PHELPS:

--Storylines to watch when President Trump addresses Congress: The White House is promising an “optimistic vision” and a “bold agenda” from President Trump when he speaks in front of a joint session of Congress tonight. This president, of course, knows prime time. But this will be a speech unlike any he has given before. ABC's RICK KLEIN gives a glimpse at some of the storylines to watch:

--Trump invites relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants to joint address to Congress: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will invite three relatives of victims of deadly crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to the president's joint address before Congress today. The White House guest list includes Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver, widows of California police officers killed in the line of duty by a person living in the country illegally, and Jamiel Shaw Sr., whose son was shot by an undocumented immigrant. The guests highlight the president's focus on crimes allegedly committed by immigrants in his push for tighter immigration controls, ABC’s J.J. GALLAGHER notes.

More on Trump’s speech tonight

What to know about the president's 'designated survivor.' On Tuesday, most of the nation's political elite -- from Vice President Mike Pence to House Speaker Paul Ryan -- will file into the House chamber to hear President Trump outline his national agenda. But one member of the administration definitely won't be watching in person. During major presidential addresses, the administration isolates one cabinet-level official in an undisclosed location. ABC’s ERIN DOOLEY has more: to highlight a red state's success with Obamacare in response to Trump speech. President Trump's first major congressional address this week will be met with a Democratic response highlighting the success of Obamacare in a state that Trump won. Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a strong supporter of Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, will deliver the Democrats' rebuttal to the president's first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, ABC's JOSH HASKELL reports. "Nobody is better equipped to talk about the successes of the [Affordable Care Act] than he is," said Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

Astrid Silva: Meet the woman delivering the Democratic response to Trump in Spanish. Immigration activist Astrid Silva will be delivering the Democratic response to President Donald Trump's address to a joint session of Congress in Spanish on Tuesday night. Silva marks the first time a Spanish response will be delivered rebutting a president’s first address to a joint session of Congress. She will be joined by former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who will deliver the Democratic response in English. ABC's VERONICA STRACQUALURSI has more:

Listening to America: Wichita residents on the Kansas political climate. President Trump will outline his plans for the nation in his first major address to Congress Tuesday night. While the White House promises the message will be focused on the "renewal of the American spirit," Americans across the country are weighing in on the key issues they would like to see tackled in a new administration. ABC News has launched a "Listening to America" series dedicated to sharing how Americans across the nation feel about the direction of the country. ABC's RACHEL SCOTT has more:

Speed read with ABC’s ADAM KELSEY

Trump suggests Obama was 'behind' town hall protests. President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama of being "behind" the protests that Republican members of Congress have encountered at town hall meetings across the country. The allegation came during the president's interview on Fox News' "Fox & Friends," clips of which were released Monday. Interviewer Brian Kilmeade first states that Obama's "organization seems to be doing a lot of the organizing [of] some of the protests that a lot of these Republicans are seeing around the country and against you." I think he is behind it," said Trump. "I also think it's politics, that's the way it is." ABC's ADAM KELSEY has more:

President Trump to target foreign aid, propose 'historic' defense spending increase in budget blueprint. Trump administration officials are previewing details of the president's first budget blueprint, which is expected to include a boost in defense spending offset by cutbacks to foreign aid and other programs deemed lower priorities. Two Office of Management and Budget officials said in a conference call with reporters Monday that the passback budget being sent to Congress for review will be seen as a security budget, with a proposed increase of $54 billion in defense spending, explains ABC's ALEXANDER MALLIN. The officials reiterated this was merely a first draft and shell of what the administration will send Congress in its formal budget request next month.

Spicer: 'We did our job' by arranging pushback against Russia reports. White House press secretary Sean Spicer told ABC's JONATHAN KARL that the White House "did [its] job" by pointing reporters to sources who could dispute The New York Times' reporting on the Trump campaign contacting Russians prior to the election, note ABC's KATHERINE FAULDERS and ALEXANDER MALLIN. "I will say I think we did our job very effectively by making sure that reporters who had questions about the accuracy and claims in The New York Times, we were pointing them to experts who understood whether or not that story was accurate or not," Spicer told Karl.

Top House Republican hasn't seen 'evidence' of Trump-Russia contacts. The chairman on the House Intelligence Committee said Monday that he had not seen any "evidence" of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian government amid an investigation into Russian activities during the 2016 election, write ABC's BENJAMIN SIEGEL, JOHN PARKINSON and MARY BRUCE. "We still have not seen any evidence of anyone ... from the Trump campaign or any other campaign for that matter that's communicated with the Russian government," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, told reporters at the Capitol. “That doesn't mean they don't exist but I don't have that. And what I've been told is, by many -- by many folks, is that there's nothing there,” he added.

A closer look at Congressional probes into Russia and alleged Trump associate contacts. On Capitol Hill, it seems that not a day goes by without another lawmaker -- usually but not always a Democrat -- calling for an investigation, special prosecutor or independent commission to delve into the alleged contacts between the Trump campaign, transition and administration and Russian government officials. Sources have told ABC News that U.S. authorities were probing communications between the associates and suspected members of the Russian intelligence community ahead of the election, allegations Trump has repeatedly decried as "fake news." An FBI probe into the matter is ongoing, ABC's ALI ROGIN reports.

DOJ withdraws from part of voter id lawsuit in Texas. The Department of Justice has dropped out of a portion of a voting rights lawsuit in Texas that could signal a shift in stance on the issue since Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general. The case at the heart of this latest legal drama centers on voter identification laws that were put in place in Texas in 2011 that require voters to have one of seven forms of state-approved ID. The law was controversial because voting rights activists argued that the law discriminated against minorities who may not have those types of ID, reports ABC's MEGHAN KENEALLY.

Sessions questions Justice Department reports on Ferguson and Chicago policing. Newly minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions questioned reports published by his agency about policing in Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri, describing "some of it" as "pretty anecdotal and not so scientifically based." While admitting that he had not read the reports, but instead viewed summaries, Sessions questioned the department's findings using the "anecdotal" critique and cautioned that there will always be some mistakes, write ABC's ADAM KELSEY and MIKE LEVINE. "You have 800,000 police in America, imagine a city of 800,000 people," said Sessions. "There's going to be some crime in it, some people are going to make errors."

President George W. Bush says it's important to have a free press: 'Power can be very addictive.' During a rare interview on NBC’s “Today” show, former President George W. Bush -- who seldom commented on political issues during Barack Obama’s presidency -- offered his critique of the Trump administration’s policies and the president's contentious relationship with the press. The nation's 43rd president was on the show to promote his new book, “Portraits of Courage,” a series of paintings of wounded veterans. ABC's MERIDITH MCGRAW has the key highlights from his interview:

In case you missed it

Trump: Oscars 'too focused' on politics, best picture mix-up 'was sad.' President Donald Trump offered his opinion Monday on the Best Picture mix-up at the Academy Awards, saying that the ceremony's focus on politics distracted from its organization and "glamour." Trump made the comments as part of an Oval Office interview with Breitbart News. The president noted that he had "been to the Oscars" previously and that something was "missing" this year, writes ABC's ADAM KELSEY.

In the Note’s inbox

New ad from JCN: The Judicial Crisis Network is airing a new ad tonight in support of confirming Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The ad will air around the time of Trump’s address to the Joint Session of Congress. “Completely qualified with bipartisan support. Neil Gorsuch is just who we need on the Supreme Court,” the ad says.

Who’s Tweeting?

@JoshuaGreen: My new @BW cover story on Stephen Miller and the talk-radio roots of Trump's economic nationalism:

@MikeDelMoro: More from Trump on Fox: the new President gives himself an "A" for effort, a "C"/"C+" for "messaging"

@foxandfriends: .@POTUS: If I felt the media were honest, all or most of it, I wouldn't use Twitter. But it's a modern-day form of communication.

@Sarah_Boxer: In @people intv, Bush calls political climate under Trump "pretty ugly"; says Trump hasn't reached out for advice

@MattMackowiak: My latest for @observer: Tonight will be a success if speech improves path for legislative agenda #SOTU #SOTU2017

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