A bitter feud between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi boiled over at his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, with Trump snubbing her outstretched hand and Pelosi ripping apart a copy of his remarks behind his back.
Trump delivered the astonishing snub to Pelosi as he started his speech by ignoring her as she offered him a handshake, which set the tone for a full-throated condemnation of his political enemies and his presidential predecessors in front of a divided Congress.
He simply turned away as the Speaker took her copy of his speech, then stood in front of a chamber which echoed with cries of 'four more years' from Republicans.
That moment set the tone for the rest of the night. Pelosi, at times, was seen biting her lip or holding up a page of the president's remarks close in front of her face and staring at it intently as the president launched zingers at his political enemies through bragging about policy accomplishments or attacking what the Democratic opposition wanted to do. She shook her head when Trump claimed he saved the pre-existing condition provision of Obamacare - a law Pelosi fought to get passed and the president tried to dismantle.
The speech was so contentious and divisive that Pelosi tore it up when the president was done speaking. As he left the dais, she ripped the pages in half and threw them down. Democratic lawmakers also fled the chamber in droves when Trump was done talking.
'I tore it up,' Pelosi told reporters after the speech was over. 'It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternative. It was such a dirty speech.'
The one hour and 20 minute speech veered back and forth between campaign rally and reality TV show. In between bragging about the American economy and his killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, Trump handed out awards and reunited a military spouse with her husband, freshly home from Afghanistan.
It was a combination of the moments Trump loves best: the made-for-television attention grabbing tactics with overly boastful claims of his accomplishments. And through it all Democrats sat and watched, mainly in silence, some so infuriated by the spectacle they left the chamber.
The one word he didn't mention in his nearly 6,000 word speech was the 'I' word: impeachment.
The Senate will vote Wednesday on whether or not to convict him on the two articles against him: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He's expected to be acquitted in the Republican-controlled chamber where it would take a two-thirds vote to convict him. But even though the word wasn't mentioned, it loomed over the bitterly divided atmosphere in the room.
'America's enemies are on the run, America's fortunes are on the rise and America's future is blazing bright,' Trump said. 'In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America's destiny. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back.'
Trump's speech resembled a lower-volume version of his campaign rallies, providing something for every section of his political base.
He spent much of the speech highlighting the economy's strength, including low unemployment, stressing how it has helped blue-collar workers and the middle class, though the period of growth began under his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Trump stressed the new trade agreements he has negotiated, including his phase-one deal with China and the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement he signed last month.
He vowed to protect two entitlements that are the benchmarks of Democratic values: Medicare and Social Security.
'We will always protect your Medicare, and we will always protect your social security. Always,' he said.
He also got in a snub at the progressive call for universal healthcare, known as Medicare for All. It's not only a hallmark for liberal members of Congress, it's being touted on the campaign trail by Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
'Many experts believe that transparency which will go into full effect at the beginning of next year will be even bigger than health care reform. It will save families massive amounts of money for substantially better care, but as we work to improve Americans' health care, there are those who want to take away your health care, take away your doctor, and abolish private insurance entirely. 132 lawmakers in this room have endorsed legislation to impose a socialist takeover of our health care system. Wiping out the private health insurance plans of 180 million very happy Americans. To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know, we will never let socialism destroy American health care,' Trump said.
He attacked Democrats – and Pelosi's home state of California – for their stance on immigration, another topic he uses frequently on the campaign trail to rile up his supporters.
'Over 130 legislators in this chamber have endorsed legislation that would bankrupt our nation by providing free taxpayer-funded health care to millions of illegal aliens, forcing taxpayers to subsidize free care for anyone in the world who unlawfully crosses our borders. These proposals would raid the Medicare benefits of our seniors and that our seniors depend on, while acting as a powerful lure for illegal immigration. That is what is happening in California and other states. Their systems are totally out of control. Costing taxpayers vast and unaffordable amounts of money,' Trump said.
He also bragged about his border wall, which Democrats have refused to fully fund.
'This will be a tremendous boon to our already strongly guarded southern border. Where as we speak a long, tall, and very powerful wall is being built. We have now completed over 100 miles and have over 500 miles fully completed in a very short period of time. Early next year, we will have substantially more than 500 miles completed,' he said.
The chamber was notably quiet during several portions of his remarks on health care and immigration. Many Republicans wish to reform Medicare and Social Security. Plus the political attacks on the president's rivals were an usual addition to the State of the Union address, which usually focuses on the president's vision for American and his goals for the coming year.
At one point, Pelosi put down the text of the speech and simply shook her head. Some of her Democratic lawmakers fought back against the president, standing during his healthcare remarks to shout 'H.R. 3, H.R. 3.'
That bill is the legislation that would lower prescription drug bill costs. It passed the House but died in the Republican-controlled Senate. Pelosi named it after the late Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, her close friend who championed the measure.
Emotional Rush Limbaugh receives the Medal of Freedom from Trump during State of the Union address after he revealed 'advanced lung cancer' diagnosis
In one of the more unusual moments of the night, Trump awarded conservative talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the nation's highest civilian honor.
Limbaugh announced earlier this week he had advanced lung cancer. He was seen being brought into the Capitol in a wheelchair Tuesday evening. Trump, in his remarks, praised Limbaugh's career and his reputation as a fighter.
'Almost every American family knows the pain when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness. Here tonight is a special man. Beloved by millions of Americans who just received a stage 4 advanced cancer diagnosis. This is not good news, but what is good news is that he is the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet. Rush Limbaugh. Thank you for your decades of tireless devotion to our country,' he said.
Then he added his surprise for the host, who was visibly shocked at what Trump said: 'Rush, in recognition of all that you have done for our nation, the millions of people a day that you speak to and you inspire and all of the incredible work that you have done for charity, I am proud to announce tonight that you will be receiving our country's highest civilian honor. The presidential medal of freedom.'
The president asked first lady Melania Trump to do the honors. Limbaugh was seated next to the first lady in her box above the chamber.
Melania rose to put the gold medal – on a bright blue ribbon – around Limbaugh's next, pausing to straighten so it laid properly against his suit.
State of the Reunion! Tears of joy as Trump reunites army family
One of the many jaw-dropping moments of the night came when Trump reunited a Fort Brag, North Carolina soldier with his family.
The wife and two children of Army Sergeant Townsend Williams, who was deployed in Afghanistan, were among Trump's guests at the address to Congress.
He began to tell their story - in Williams' absence - by introducing his wife Amy Williams and their children.
'War places a heavy burden on our extraordinary military families, especially spouses like Amy Williams from Fort Bragg, North Carolina and her two children,' Trump said, explaining that Williams' husband has been in Afghanistan on his fourth deployment.
'Amy's kids haven't seen their father's face in many months. Amy, your family's sacrifice makes it possile for all of our families to live in safety and in peace, and we want to thank you. Thank you, Amy,' Trump said, prompting applause from the chamber.
Williams stroked her son's hair while her daughter clutched her arm as Trump, in a stunning move, announced he was back from deployment.
'But Amy, there is one more thing. Tonight, we have a very special surprise. I am thrilled to inform you that your husband is back from deployment,' Trump said, as the reality dawned on Williams and she put her hand over her mouth. The applause got louder.
'He is here with us tonight, and we couldn't keep him waiting any longer' the president said.
To Amy's visible shock and near tears, her husband walked down the stairs in his dress uniform to embrace his children and hug his wife.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle – including Pelosi – stood to applaud. Some shouted 'USA, USA, USA.'
Guest seats: Gold star widow, family of a man killed by illegal immigrant and people benefiting from Trump's 'opportunity zones'
The president at times seemed to double as a game show host by giving away gifts as he hailed the guests he invited to his address.
He gave a scholarship to Janiyah Davis, a fourth grader from Philadelphia, to attend any school of her choosing.
Trump also introduced 13-year-old Iain Lanphier, an eighth-grader from Arizona, to promote the launch of Space Force, the first new military service in more than 70 years. Trump said Lanphier 'has his eye on the Space Force' and noted that his hero, sitting next to him, was his great-grandfather, Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. They both received bipartisan applause.
Among the other guests hosted by Trump and Melania was Afghanistan Army veteran Tony Rankins, a recovering drug user who is now a construction worker in a so-called 'opportunity zone' in Cincinnati, Ohio.
These zones were created by the Trump administration as part of the 2017 tax cuts and are low-income areas that receive tax advantages to drum up more investment.
The Trump administration has also touted the strides it has made toward decreasing overdose deaths – and last week White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway delivered a rare press briefing where she announced overdose deaths in 2019 decreased for the first time in decades.
When Trump looked up at Kelli and Gage Hake of Stillwater, Oklahoma, he reminded the nation about the targeted drone strike he ordered in January that killed Qassem Soleimani, then Iran's top military commander.
Kelli Hake was home with Gage, then 1-year-old, in the spring of 2008 when she was informed that her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Hake, had been killed during his second tour of duty in Iraq. The White House claims the sergeant's fighting vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb supplied by Soleimani.
Trump also highlighted his clampdown on illegal immigration, using the December 2018 killing in California of Rocky Jones. The White House blames California's 'sanctuary state' policy for allowing the release from jail of a man it said should have been deported instead. The man went on a crime spree and Jones was among the victims, according to local news reports. The victim's brother, Jody Jones, was a State of the Union guest.
Another one of Trump's guests was Border Patrol Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz.
Also attending the speech was Ivan Simonovis, the former police chief of Venezuela's capital of Caracas. Simonovis was imprisoned in 2004 and held for nearly 15 years on what he considered trumped-up charges of ordering police to fire on pro-government demonstrators during a coup against then-President Hugo Chavez. Simonovis escaped last year and was brought to the United States.
His detention has been a rallying cry for the opposition in Venezuela, currently led by Juan Guaidó, who has the backing from the U.S. and nearly 60 nations that considered President Nicolas Maduro's 2018 election a fraud. These countries also blame Maduro's socialist policies for a political and economic crisis threatening the region's stability.
Guaidó was also a special guest with Trump calling the 'true and legitimate' leader of Venezuela. One of the president's favorite lines on the campaign trail is to promise his supporters he won't let Democrats turn the United States into a socialist country like Venezuela.
'Thank you, Mr President. Great honor. Thank you very much. Please take this message back that all Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom,' he told Guaido.
That moment was one of rare bipartisanship when even Pelosi joined in the applause.
In a sign of the increasing tension between the speaker and the president, Pelosi did not stand or applaud when Trump praised Melania Trump's Be Best campaign. First ladies usually warrant bipartisan support and praise.
'Every young person should have a safe and secure environment in which to learn and to grow. For this reason, our magnificent first lady has launched the 'Be best' initiative to advance a safe, healthy, supportive, and drug-free life for the next generation. Online, in school, and in our communities. Thank you, Melania, for your extraordinary love and profound care for American's children. Thank you very much,' he told his wife.
The president also singled out Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who took the lead on ensuring a speedy impeachment trial for the president that would keep additional witnesses from testifying.
McConnell – with his power as the head of Senate – also stymied Democrats' legislation, keeping it from reaching the president's desk.
Trump specifically mentioned McConnell's role in getting conservative justices appointed to the courts, particularly Neil Gorsuch and the controversial Brett Kavanaugh. McConnell, in 2016, did not hold confirmation hearings on Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, saying the newly-elected president should get the nomination.
His gamble played off.
'Working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - thank you Mitch - and his colleagues in the Senate, we have confirmed a record number of 187 new federal judges to uphold our constitution as written. This includes two brilliant new Supreme Court justices. Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Thank you. And we have many in the pipeline,' he noted.
As his political rhetoric went on, Rep. Jackie Speier left the chamber when the president began talking about abortion. Former presidential candidate Rep. Tim Ryan also walked out as did three other Democratic lawmakers.
'I'm also calling upon members of Congress tonight to pass legislation finally banning the late term abortion of babies,' Trump said.
A protester was also removed during Trump's speech when he vowed to protect the right to bear arms.
'So long as I am president I will always protect your second amendment right to keep and bear arms,' he said.
Pelosi was seen pointing up and gesturing at the protester. The protester, Fred Guttenberg, was Pelosi's guest. He's the father of Jaime Guttenberg, who was killed in the February 2018 Parkland, Florida shooting.
Trump's remarks came just hours after a new poll revealed he has reached record high approval ratings.
A Gallup poll shows Trump with 49 per cent approval, the highest this particular survey has recorded since the start of his presidency – and also revealed his approval is at 94 per cent among Republicans, which is a 6 per cent increase from a poll taken in early January.
The new high came as 46 per cent of Americans said in the same survey, taken January 16-29, that they are in favor of the Senate voting to convict and remove Trump from office.
Trump, however, ignored the elephant in the room in his remarks.
He declared that the state of the union is strong even as the two political parties remain bitterly divided over impeachment – and a vote on whether to acquit or convict the president will take place in the Senate the day after the annual address.
But instead of focusing on impeachment – which has monopolized Washington's attention since the investigation was launched in September – the president spent his remarks focusing on the 'wins' of his administration while staring down those who want to see him removed from office.
Trump touted his high approval on Tuesday, but appeared to be referencing a different poll.
'My Approval Rating in the Republican Party = 95%, a record! Big Iowa win. Approval Rating overall = 53%, a new high,' he boasted in a tweet. 'With our great Economy and other major successes, would be 20 points higher without the phony Witch Hunts and Hoaxes???'
His previous highest approval rating in the Gallup polling was 46 per cent toward the start of the summer.
A new Morning Consult poll released Tuesday morning shows that the Majority of Americans say the economy is their top issue going into the 2020 election.
In the open-response question to 4,400 Americans, 28 per cent said economic issues are the biggest contributing factor to how they will vote at the ballot box in November.
Eighteen per cent of respondents said their biggest issue in the elections was national security, 15 per cent said health care issues, 10 per cent said senior issues and 9 per cent said partisanship.
Out of the 20 different responses, the rest all had 5 per cent or less – including environment, immigration, education and guns.
Five per cent of respondents said 'nothing' is their main focus and 2 per cent said 'everything.'
'This will be the first time the President has done one of these while there are people in the Chamber who are wanting to replace him as President,' another reporter pushed. 'How does the President feel about that? Will he mention any of those people or allude to them in any way?'
'I won't preview if he's going to call anybody out because I – but I think the President will be entirely comfortable with that,' the official claimed. 'I think – yeah, I'll just – I'll just say that.'
While the president delivers a hopeful message that focuses on the successes of his administration, about half of the lawmakers listening to his remarks have made it clear they want to kick him from office through impeachment.
On Monday the prosecution and defense presented closing arguments on the Senate floor and on Tuesday senators were given the chance to make remarks in the trial – and these two days followed two weeks of trial in the Senate with a proposal rules portion, opening arguments, senators' question-and-answer sessions and closing arguments.
On Wednesday the Republican-majority chamber will vote on the president's fate – which almost certainly will be acquittal.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who was forced to stay back in Washington, D.C. during the impeachment trial instead of continuing on the campaign trail, decided to hold a rally in New Hampshire Tuesday night rather than attending the State of the Union address.
Sanders wasn't the only one skipping out on speech, which is historically attended by all federal lawmakers.
One of his highest profile surrogates, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, revealed she was boycotting the address this year – claiming attending would 'normalize' the actions of what she calls an illegitimate president.
'After much deliberation, I have decided that I will not use my presence at a state ceremony to normalize Trump's lawless conduct & subversion of the Constitution,' the progressive New York congresswoman tweeted. 'None of this is normal, and I will not legitimize it,' the 30-uear-old lawmaker asserted. 'Consequently, I will not be attending the State of the Union.'
She was also joined by fellow 'squad' member Ayanna Pressley.
'The State of the Union is hurting because of the occupant of the White House, who consistently demonstrates contempt for the American people, contempt for Congress & contempt for our constitution. I cannot in good conscience attend tonight's sham #SOTU' the Massachusetts representative tweeted.
Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez are part of a quartet of congresswomen who make up the so-called 'squad' – which also includes Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.
Although Omar and Tlaib are attending the address, Ocasio-Cortez made sure she clarified the decision to show up was 'personal.'
'This is a deeply personal decision for each member to make, and a choice I did not take lightly,' she said in a tweet attached to her original announcement.
Several other Democrats also announced Monday and Tuesday they were boycotting Trump's third State of the Union address.
Maxine Waters, who often publicly spars with Trump, tweeted her opposition to the speech shortly after Ocasio-Cortez.
'To think that I would attend the #SOTU to hear the message of an IMPEACHED president is a thought that in no way would be consistent w/ my fight and struggle against this dishonorable president. I will certainly NOT be there!' the 81-year-old California congresswoman tweeted.
Steve Cohen, a Democratic representative from Tennessee, also said he was participating in the boycott.
'I have not attended prior Trump State of the Union addresses, and won't attended Tuesday night's, because I don't believe the President has the character or veracity necessary to address Congress from that august podium and is not worthy of the dignity and respect accorded to his predecessors,' Cohen said in a statement released Monday.
Earl Blumenauer, who represents Oregon in the House, also announced Monday night that he would boycott.
'I have chosen not to dignify Trump's parade of lies about health care, his persistent exaggeration, and his personal attacks with my attendance,' he said.
Al Green, who represents Louisiana, didn't attend either: 'Because of an impeached, reckless, ruthless, lawless, shameless, corrupt, & unapologetically bigoted president - who is still engaging in a coverup, the state of the House, the state of the Senate, and the #StateOfTheUnion are divided. I will NOT attend #SOTU2020,' Green tweeted Tuesday morning.
This is the third year in a row that Cohen, Blumenauer and Green skipped Trump's address.
Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, staunch Trump defender and the father of the president's former press secretary, had earlier made fun of the Democratic Party and those planning to skip out on the State of the Union.
'House Dems will boycott @realDonaldTrump SOTU speech but will watch on their app built by Iowa Dems. They expect to see it by Friday afternoon,' Huckabee tweeted Tuesday morning.
He referenced the fiasco in the Iowa caucus Monday night, where the state's Democratic Party built an app for the event that ended up malfunctioning.
Due to the 'inconsistencies' with the app, no winner was announced Monday and Democratic candidates had to leave Iowa without knowing the results. Some results in certain precincts began reporting around 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, and they had Sanders leading the field with former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg not far behind.
On the other hand, Trump – who is facing no real competition in the primary – won the Republican Iowa caucus with more than 97 per cent.
Dozens of female Democratic lawmakers who attended the address, carried on the theme from last year in wearing all white. The attire choice was a nod to standing in solidarity with the women's suffragette movement of the early 20th century.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.