President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday was overshadowed by the tensions in the chamber between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and himself — which led to two viral moments sure to be remembered for a long time.
It was an address steeped in partisan warfare, and it was delivered less than 24 hours before the GOP Senate is expected to vote to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial.
Trump-Pelosi tensions boil over again
The State of the Union address marked the first time Trump and Pelosi were in the same room since an ill-fated White House meeting in October that ended with the Speaker walking out and Trump deriding her as a “third-rate” politician.
Things did not go much better Tuesday.
Pelosi reached out for a handshake after Trump handed her a copy of his prepared remarks, but the president appeared to ignore her. Throughout the speech, Pelosi avoided looking at the president and at times shook her head “no” as he spoke about health care and Social Security.
When Trump concluded his address, Pelosi picked up her copy of the prepared remarks and ripped them in half, producing yet another viral moment.
“It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternative,” Pelosi told reporters afterward.
Both moments are likely to be repeatedly played on cable news throughout Wednesday as the Senate marches toward a vote of acquittal for Trump.
They set the tone for what is likely to be a nasty 2020.
The chamber was polarized — even for the Trump era
The speech was marked by numerous standing ovations from Republicans in the chamber, but Democrats were loath to give Trump recognition for most of the night.
Such behavior isn’t so unusual in a State of the Union address, but there were still moments on Tuesday night that reflected the uniquely negative feelings Democrats are holding toward the president.
As the president bragged about low unemployment and touted the historically low jobless rates for African Americans, Democrats were glued to their seats.
They jeered when the president noted millions of Americans were no longer on food stamp rolls. When the president called for legislation to lower prescription drug pricing, Democrats chanted “H.R. 3” in reference to Pelosi’s signature bill on the issue.
Trump added to the harsh vibe by chiding “radical left” and “socialist” health care policies and condemning the proliferation of "sanctuary cities" that protect undocumented immigrants.
Even those in the gallery were not immune to getting sucked into the partisan tensions that marked the evening. Fred Guttenberg, a guest of Pelosi whose daughter was killed in a 2018 school shooting, was escorted out of the chamber after shouting in protest at Trump’s pledge to protect gun rights.
Trump in his element
Trump largely stayed on message during his 90-minute address to Congress, highlighting his administration’s economic, national security and immigration policies and positioning himself as a champion of the American worker and American families.
His remarks in many ways carried echoes of his campaign rallies, though they were decidedly more muted and contained less combative criticisms of Democrats. He spent a decent portion of the beginning of his remarks highlighting economic growth and low unemployment, particularly for African American communities.
“America’s enemies are on the run, America’s fortunes are on the rise and America’s future is blazing bright. The years of economic decay are over,” Trump said at the outset of his speech, describing his agenda as “relentlessly pro-worker, pro-family, pro-growth, and most of all, pro-American.”
Trump’s remarks will earn him high praise from expected corners and satisfy Republicans who warned the president against dwelling on his impeachment during the remarks. He’ll earn marks for striking a tone that will help bolster Republicans as they enter a critical phase of the 2020 election period.
Trump’s reality show State of the Union
Trump’s past occupation as a reality television host showed through at times in Thursday night’s address, which was complete with several made-for-TV moments.
The president honored conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who was recently diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and was a late addition to the list of White House guests. Trump announced that he was awarding Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and first lady Melania Trump promptly produced the medal and placed it around his neck.
Trump later recognized the family of Sgt. 1st Class Townsend Williams, who had been deployed in Afghanistan for the past 11 months. The president then surprised Williams’s wife and children by revealing he had returned home and was in the chamber to greet them, prompting chants of “USA.”
And in putting an exclamation point on his push for school choice legislation, Trump informed Philadelphia fourth grader Janiyah Davis that she was the recipient of an “Opportunity Scholarship” that would allow her to attend a new public or private school.
The flourishes were uniquely Trumpian given his penchant for production value and headline-grabbing moments, and they produced lighthearted moments that softened what was otherwise a caustic evening.
Trump leaves impeachment for another day
Trump’s lengthy address included no mention — either planned or off-the-cuff — of the elephant in the room, namely his impeachment and expected acquittal by the GOP-controlled Senate.
It was a somewhat surprising development for Trump, who has displayed a penchant for regularly criticizing House Democrats over his impeachment at campaign stops and during official events in the four months since Pelosi announced the undertaking of an official impeachment inquiry.
Some suspected he could use Tuesday’s address as a preemptive victory lap over his acquittal.
A number of Republicans on Capitol Hill had recommended against focusing on impeachment in the days leading up to the address, urging the president to instead promote his achievements.
Trump is still likely to address his acquittal after the Senate votes on the impeachment verdict during the afternoon hours on Wednesday, though it remains unclear in what capacity.