All eyes are on the president and the year ahead as President Donald Trump is set to deliver his first official State of the Union address (SOTU) to the nation on Tuesday, Jan. 30. As Americans gear up to watch, many are wondering if Melania Trump is at the 2018 State of the Union. The first lady is expected to attend this year's address, slated for 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed on Monday.
The State of the Union is formally a joint address to both chambers of Congress, but the guest list is typically way more than just the 535 lawmakers. And while the president is certainly the focal point of any yearly address, his wife — and the rest of the audience — is not to be overlooked.
Last year's presidential address was not a State of the Union speech, technically, but a joint address to Congress nonetheless. The Feb. 28, 2017 speech was boycotted by some important figures, while Democratic lawmakers trolled the president by inviting Dreamers, refugees, and Muslim American guests.
And it looks like this year's event will be in keeping with last year's trolling trend: As of Monday, Jan. 22, six Congressional Democrats had stated they would not attend the speech. Additionally, some female Democrats, while they'll be attending, have stated that they intend to wear black to the event.
The State of the Union will set the tone for the year.
Presidents have been making State of the Union speeches since 1913, according to the U.S. House of Representatives' History, Art & Archives department. President Woodrow Wilson gave the first one (although the term wasn't adopted until later). The Constitution originally directed the president to make an annual speech that basically brings Congress up to speed on the state of affairs, such as the economy. But over the years — and the speeches have ranged dramatically in their length, content, and style — they've become a broader platform for the president to discuss the past year's accomplishments and struggles, and set a course for the year to come. Presidents can use this venue to drum up support for their agendas, getting both Americans and Congress on board at the same.
"I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart," said Trump in his 2017 speech. "A new chapter of American greatness is now beginning, a new national pride is sweeping across our nation, and a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp."
The message of this year's speech has been, in part, derailed by the government shutdown, among other unforeseen fumbles. So we still don't know what to expect from the president on Tuesday night. But it's worth taking a closer look at Melania — and not for what she's wearing.
The first lady's attendance at the State of the Union is important.
If you get right down to brass tacks, the first lady's presence at the SOTU is going to be a particularly important this year. First ladies are often more liked than their husbands, and it's no different with the Trumps. While her husband's approval rating has been at record lows for a president in the first year, Melania is pretty well loved by Americans. Despite many points of criticism against her, she's the most popular member of the first family. (And her appearance with Shinee in South Korea didn't hurt her image on the international stage, either.)
When you look at Trump's low approval rating, the fact that it's a make-or-break election year, and how much Trump's party has struggled to pass major legislation through Congress, you can start to see how important it is that the SOTU goes well for the president.
An average of 42 million Americans tune in for State of the Union every year, and close to 48 million watched Trump's address last year. So it's safe to assume lots of eyes will be on the first lady this Tuesday. Combine the fact that Trump's approval rating has been low with the fact that it's a make-or-break election year, and Melania's presence is worth paying attention to.
Who will sit next to the first lady?
There's lots to look out for at an SOTU in regards to the first lady alone. Not only will her choice of attire be the subject of consideration (and online shopping), but special attention is also paid to who's sitting next to her. The first lady is generally joined by several guests (Michelle Obama was flanked by 24 special guests in 2016). Usually, special guests are strategically selected to be mentioned by the president during his speech, often chosen to reflect and promote his accomplishments, views, agenda, and policy priorities. These guests are then invited to join the president's family in the audience; when the camera pans over to the first lady, those guests will be seated with her. (Here's who Melania sat with last year.) This year, the president's guest is Evelyn Rodriguez, the mother of a victim of alleged gang violence.
But whoever she's sitting with, America will be watching to see what Melania's presence is like at her husband's first official SOTU.