2019 State of the Union address recap for students

Wednesday, February 6, 2019


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. You may want to read this AP recap of the speech and see the extension activities below.

Summary: President Donald Trump covered a number of topics during his 2019 State of the Union address on Tuesday — from his continued call for a southern border wall to the record number of women representatives in Congress. In the president’s 82-minute speech, Trump warned of “ridiculous partisan investigations” that could derail the nation’s economic progress, a nod to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and possible ties to Trump’s campaign.

The speech comes in the wake of the 35-day partial government shutdown; another shutdown looms ahead of next week, if an agreement is not made with the support of the President. Trump appealed for bipartisanship but refused to yield on the hard-line immigration policies like the U.S.-Mexico border wall and cast illegal immigration as a threat to Americans’ safety and economic security. Stacey Abrams, the 2018 gubernatorial candidate for Georgia, gave the Democratic response identifying Trump as the architect of the government shutdown, stating it “defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values.” While Trump did not mention the shutdown in his speech, he stated, “This is the time to rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots.”



Discussion questions: 

1) Essential question: How does the State of the Union address provide an opportunity for unity in the country?

2) What issues did Trump discuss? What issues did Trump not raise in his speech? What issues would you like to have heard Trump talk about?

3) Presidents often use the State of the Union addresses to strike a bipartisan tone; “unity” was the stated theme of Trump’s speech. Do you think Trump’s State of the Union address struck a tone of unity that brought Americans together? Explain your response.

4) Why do you think Trump did not mention the word “shutdown”? What issue did Trump say he is not willing to compromise on? (on border wall, Trump declared, “I will build it;” makes no mention of national emergency, gives no ultimatums)

5) At one point, Trump said, “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.” Trump’s statement, a nod to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and possible ties to Trump’s campaign, warned of “ridiculous partisan investigations” that could derail the nation’s economic progress. You can watch the clip about it here and read the AP article here. Why do you think Trump’s statement drew a wide variety of reactions from Congresspeople and from members of the public?

6) What do you know about Stacey Abrams? What tone did Stacey Abrams strike with her official Democratic response? Why does the opposing party typically give a response after the president speaks? Did you agree with some of the points Abrams made? Which ones? If you didn’t, explain why.

7) Trump discussed several issues considered to be highly partisan in which Republican lawmakers gave standing ovations. You may want to review some of them here: late-term abortionseconomyborder wall; and North KoreaAsk students: Why are these subjects referred to as “wedge issues?” Ask your students if they agreed with Trump’s thoughts on these issues?

8) Media literacy: Why might it be a good idea to follow “fact-checking” sites like Politifact, a non-profit fact-checking news organization?

Check out at least three other news outlets that include a variety of perspectives. You will notice a large variety of reactions–some saying Trump struck a bipartisan tone while others saying the speech was divisive. Why is it important to read a variety of news sources before drawing your own conclusion as to the effectiveness of the speech?

Extension activities:

1. If time permits, or if you are looking for extension activities, check out the following resources:

Specific issues:

Economy: Trump says he launched an ‘economic boom.’ Here’s what we know

Immigration: How Trump has already changed immigration policy

2. Remarks about women in the State of the Union:

Take a look at the photo below. Why are the Democratic Congresswomen cheering in the photo? Why did they all wear the same color? What does the green pin that says E.R.A. stand for?


Democratic female members of Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (lower, R), cheer after U.S. President Donald Trump said there are more women in Congress than ever before during his second State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


In the State of the Union address, Trump said, “All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before” — a development without an immediately apparent tie to the Trump administration’s policies. However, according to Politifact’s Louis Jacobson, this statement is incorrect: “It’s also not very meaningful: Just counting the number of women (or men, or both) who are in working, or are in the labor force, is driven by the size of the population, which is typically growing over time.”

Trump also lauded the fact that there were more women serving in Congress now, a statement that prompted big applause. Ask your students: What phrase do you hear the Democrats cheering? Who had been cheering the same cheer a few minutes before? Over what issue? Why do you think Trump says: “You weren’t supposed to do that.” Watch the clip here:


Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories. You can read the original story here@NewsHourExtra