Stacey Abrams to deliver rebuttal

Stacey Abrams to deliver rebuttal

The State of the Union address almost didn’t happen this year.

Amid the US government shutdown that dragged on for 35 long days, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to President Donald Trump and told him the speech was off.

“The House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorising the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has reopened,” she told him.

Happily, Mr Trump and Ms Pelosi’s Democrats eventually agreed on a deal to end the shutdown, so tomorrow we will all get to witness one of America’s most profoundly weird traditions.

Mr Trump will use the speech to outline his plans for the coming year. Every 30 seconds, when the Republicans sitting in front of him agree with something, they will rise to give him a standing ovation — while the Democrats sit in stubborn, stony silence.

Plenty will be written about Mr Trump’s address, but there is almost as much anticipation for the Democrats’ response, which will be delivered by a woman called Stacey Abrams.

At first glance, she’s an odd choice for the role. Ms Abrams is a former tax lawyer and state congresswoman who was beaten in her attempt to become governor of Georgia at last year’s midterm elections.

But the Democrats believe she is one of their best rising stars — and a perfect foil for Mr Trump.

Ms Abrams will be the first African-American to deliver the State of the Union response. And last November, she almost became the United States’ first black female governor.

With a margin of 55,000 votes, it was the closest gubernatorial election in Georgia — a state that usually leans heavily towards the Republicans — in 50 years. And Ms Abrams delighted Democrats when she acknowledged she had lost, yet refused to concede.

Instead, she accused her opponent, Brian Kemp, of deliberately suppressing minority voter turnout using his powers as secretary of state.

“Georgia citizens tried to exercise their constitutional rights and were still denied the ability to elect their leaders. Under the watch of the now former secretary of state, democracy failed Georgians of every political party, every race, every region,” Ms Abrams said in her non-concession speech.

“To watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in this state baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling. So let’s be clear. This is not a speech of concession.”

A couple of hours later, Ms Abrams became the recipient of a rare honour — a tweet from Donald Trump complimenting a Democrat.

“Stacey Abrams fought brilliantly and hard. She will have a terrific political future!” the President said.

Related story: Donald Trump’s inaugural committee issued subpoena in probe of ‘donations for favours’

That political future could start tomorrow.

Democrats have reportedly been urging Ms Abrams to run for a US Senate seat in 2020. They hope her star power will help make the state competitive in the presidential race for the first time since Bill Clinton won it in 1992.

All Ms Abrams has said is that she wants to seek high office again.

Whatever her plans, her performance rebutting the State of the Union will be closely watched. There’s just one problem — the role appears to be cursed.

Former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal was considered a possible future president before he flubbed the rebuttal in 2009 with a speech that was panned across the political spectrum. When Mr Jindal eventually did run for president, his campaign barely registered.

Senator Marco Rubio was mercilessly mocked for the way he kept awkwardly reaching for water during his response in 2013. The man once labelled “the Republican Obama” ended up getting beaten by Mr Trump when he ran for president.

And last year, Senator Joe Kennedy distracted viewers from his message by wearing way, way too much chapstick.

Any tiny mistake tomorrow could haunt Ms Abrams’ political career forever. So, no pressure.

What of the main event?

Mr Trump reportedly plans to deliver a unifying message, pushing Democrats to work with him on areas of potential agreement, such as infrastructure and vocational training.

“I really think it’s going to be a speech that’s going to cover a lot of territory, but party of it’s going to be unity,” the President told reporters this week.

But Mr Trump also suggested his speech could include a significant — and deeply contentious — announcement on the possibility of declaring a national emergency in an effort to get his promised wall on the Mexican border built.

“Listen closely to the State of the Union. I think you’ll find it very exciting,” he said.

The man loves to build suspense.

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