AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump heads to Capitol Hill tonight for his first address to a joint session of Congress. Republican lawmakers want Trump to sign a number of big items into law this year, including bills on health care and taxes. And tonight, they'll be listening for cues from the president about how to tackle those issues. Joining us from the Capitol is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. And, Sue, what have Republican lawmakers told you so far about what they want to hear from the president tonight?
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: You know, I've talked to lawmakers all day, and the one heard - one word I've heard repeatedly from them is optimism. They want to hear a president who has a positive message, an upbeat message. And what they don't want to hear is sort of a rehashing of the election or a criticism of his political opponents. The other word I hear a lot is specifics. They want to hear President Trump articulate his vision, not just on what he wants Congress to accomplish this year but what is the grander vision for the country, and that this is often the time and place to do that in this joint address.
The president, I think, is fair to say has been fairly flexible about his policy ideas. And I think there is a real hunger to hear from him to put maybe a finer point on some of those policies, specifically on health care, and to make his case to the public for those Republican ideas.
CORNISH: Right. On health care, I can imagine that they want more detail when it comes to their plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act because, at this point, are they on track?
DAVIS: Right. You know, as recently as this morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters that he's very optimistic that they'll be able to get it done, that it's on track and that the public could see a bill very soon in a matter of weeks. But, you know, there's very significant and growing division among Republicans that can't be ignored. There is a group of influential conservatives in the House known as the Freedom Caucus and a trio of Republican senators - very well-known names like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas - who have already come out against early ideas for how to repeal and replace, saying they will not vote for it because it's not conservative enough, which means as of right now, as we sit here before this address, Republicans do not have the votes to pass anything on health care.
And they're going to need a significant amount of presidential leadership to try and get something done. The White House has been kind of coy about how specific the president's going to get tonight about health care. But I would say at least from this end of Pennsylvania Avenue, there is a significant amount of interest from Republicans to hear it from the president directly on what they're going to do on health care.
CORNISH: What are the other issues that came up that they're hoping the president might spend some time on?
DAVIS: The two things I hear most mentioned by lawmakers going into the address are the tax - reforming the tax code and immigration. There are - is a significant effort, I'd say - but it's probably the other major priority of this Congress - to overhaul the tax code, both on the business side and the individual side. But again, like health care, it's one of those issues where they don't have a majority support for any one idea. And there's not a lot of consensus on the path forward. Now, senior White House aides, including Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, have been meeting regularly with congressional staff and in the speaker's office on this very topic.
So that would suggest there is some at least emerging consensus at the top of what the direction is they want to go in. We'll see tonight - anything the president says on tax reform, it will be very eager to hear - lawmakers very eager to hear that. And the president's also expected to make a request soon for millions of dollars to start building that - the border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. I talked to Republicans who say they'd like to hear a little bit more robust immigration policy outlined tonight.
CORNISH: Now, when it came to the inauguration, you had Democrats who didn't want to show up. Do we have any sense of what they might do tonight?
DAVIS: There's always a good amount of theater around these events. I would say that Democrats are inviting guests to make a political point, people that they say have been marginalized by the Trump administration, including Muslims and immigrants. And there's a couple of lawmakers who are well-known to maybe hug the aisles to always try and get a meet and greet and a handshake with the president, people like Eliot Engel of New York. But they have announced tonight that they are not going to do that in past years and they are making a point tonight to not shake the president's hand. So at least half the room tonight is going to be fairly hostile to what the message the president has to say.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Susan Davis at the Capitol. Sue, thanks so much.
DAVIS: Thanks, Audie.
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