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Trump expected to focus on immigration, Syria, US economy in speech to Congress

President Donald J. Trump stands in the House of Representatives chamber delivering his State of the Union address, Joined by Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan, on Jan. 30, 2018. (D. Myles Cullen/White House)
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Donald Trump is set to give his second State of the Union speech before Congress, an address that is expected to focus on immigration, Middle East conflicts, and the strong U.S. economy, but comes amid mounting political battles with congressional Democrats.

The February 5 speech before a joint session of Congress takes place just days after the end of a 35-day government shutdown — the longest in U.S. history.

The shutdown occurred after House and Senate Democrats refused to fund one of Trump’s main policy priorities: a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, which he argues will stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs into the country.

But the agreement that reopened the government expires on February 15, and Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency if Congress doesn’t approve $5.7 billion for the wall.

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The speech had originally been scheduled for January 29, but the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, refused to allow him to give the address — an unusual occurrence.

Speaking to reporters on February 1, Trump signaled that he would announce a decision about a national emergency.

“You’ll hear the State of the Union and then you’ll see what happens right after the State of the Union,” he said. “We will be looking at a national emergency because I don’t think anything’s going to happen” with congressional Democrats.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress makes overall spending decisions and approves major expenditures of taxpayer money.

The shutdown, which left hundreds of thousands of federal workers without a paycheck, badly dented Trump’s approval ratings and added to the litany of other negative headlines in recent weeks.

That includes him publicly disagreeing with the testimony of the country’s main intelligence agencies about worldwide threats. It also includes the pushback he’s gotten from Republican allies about his order to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

And then there’s the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s alleged interference during the 2016 presidential election and interactions between Russian officials and Trump associates.

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Despite speculation that Mueller’s efforts may be nearing an end, there have been other major indictments in recent days, including that of longtime Trump ally, Roger Stone.

Separate from Mueller’s investigation, U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan have reportedly issued a subpoena to Trump’s inauguration committee, seeking documents and financial records. Among other things, prosecutors are interested in whether foreigners secretly donated funds to the committee, according to The New York Times.

Democrats, who won control of the House in the November midterm elections, have made clear they plan to be aggressive in investigating Trump’s White House on Russia affairs, as well as other issues.

In his speech, Trump is also expected to take credit for one of the brighter spots of his two years in office: the strength of the U.S. economy.

Overall, the economy has benefited from Trump’s biggest legislative achievement: a $1.5 trillion tax cut that has helped drive the unemployment rate down to 4 percent and keep inflation around 2 percent.

But economists say the effects from that stimulus will dwindle this year, and fears are growing that some of Trump’s trade policies — including a tariff war with China and tensions with Canada and Mexico — are also hampering growth.

White House aides have also suggested that Trump will use the speech to proclaim a milestone in the fight in Syria against militants from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

In December, Trump announced that he was withdrawing U.S. forces in Syria, a decision that stunned allies and prompted pushback from some Republicans.

“We’ve done an incredible job with Syria. When I took over Syria it was infested with ISIS. It was all over the place. And now you have very little ISIS and you have the caliphate almost knocked out,” he said in an interview with CBS News on February 3.

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