WASHINGTON (AP/ KARK) — Standing before a Congress and a nation sharply divided by impeachment, President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address to extol a “Great American Comeback” on his watch, just three years after he took office decrying a land of “American carnage” under his predecessor.
The partisan discord was on vivid display Tuesday as the first president to campaign for reelection while facing impeachment made his case for another term: Republican legislators chanted “Four More Years.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of Trump’s speech as he ended his address.
“America’s enemies are on the run, America’s fortunes are on the rise and America’s future is blazing bright,” Trump declared. “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.”
Holding out the nation’s economic success as the chief rationale for a second term, Trump’s speech resembled a lower-volume version of his campaign rallies, providing something for every section of his political base.
But while he tweets daily assailing his impeachment, Trump never mentioned the “i-word” in his 78-minute speech. That followed the lead of Bill Clinton, who did not reference his recent impeachment when he delivered his State of the Union in 1999. Trump spoke from the House of Representatives, on the opposite side of the Capitol from where the Senate one day later was expected to acquit him largely along party lines.
Pelosi, a frequent thorn in Trump’s side, created a viral image with her seemingly sarcastic applause of the president a year ago. This time, she was even more explicit with her very text-ripping rebuke.
Trump appeared no more cordial. When he climbed to the House rostrum, he did not take her outstretched hand though it was not clear he had seen her gesture. Later, as Republicans often cheered, she remained in her seat, at times shaking her head at his remarks.
When Pelosi left, she told reporters that tearing up the speech was “the courteous thing to do considering the alternative.” Republicans denounced her action as disrespectful.
Trump, the former reality TV star, added a showbiz flavor to the staid event: He had wife Melania present the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to the divisive conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he has advanced lung cancer.
He stunned a young student in the gallery with a scholarship. And he orchestrated the surprise tearful reunion of a solider from overseas with his family in the balcony.
Even for a Trump-era news cycle that seems permanently set to hyper-speed, the breakneck pace of events dominating the first week of February offered a singular backdrop for the president’s address.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who has presided in the Senate over only the third impeachment trial in the nation’s history, was on hand again Tuesday night — this time in his more customary seat in the audience. Trump stood before the very lawmakers who have voted to remove him from office — and those who are expected to acquit him when the Senate trial comes to a close.
The leading Senate Democrats hoping to unseat him in November were off campaigning in New Hampshire. In advance of his address, Trump tweeted that the chaos in Iowa’s Monday leadoff caucuses showed Democrats were incompetent and should not be trusted to run the government.
Among Trump’s guests in the chamber: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has been trying to win face time with Trump, his most important international ally.
The president offered Guaidó exactly the sort of endorsement he’s been looking for as he struggles to oust President Nicolás Maduro from power. Trump called Guaidó “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela.”
“Socialism destroys nations,” Trump declared.
The president entered the evening on a roll, with his impeachment acquittal imminent, his job approval numbers ticking upward and Wall Street looking strong. He struck a largely optimistic tone. But in past moments when Trump has struck a tone of bipartisanship and cooperation, he has consistently returned to harsher rhetoric within days.
Trump 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. And what Trump calls an unprecedented boom is, by many measures, not all that different from the solid economy he inherited from President Barack Obama. Economic growth was 2.3% in 2019, matching the average pace since the Great Recession ended a decade ago in the first year of Obama’s eight-year presidency
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.
While the White House said the president was offering a message of unity, he also spent time on issues that have created great division and resonated with his political base. He attacked Democrats’ health care proposals for being too intrusive and again highlighted his signature issue — immigration — trumpeting the miles of border wall that have been constructed.
He also dedicated a section to “American values,” discussing efforts to protect “religious liberties” and limit access to abortion as he continues to court the evangelical and conservative Christian voters who form a crucial part of his base.
The Democrats were supplying plenty of counter-programming, focusing on health care — the issue key to their takeover of the House last year. Trump, for his part, vowed to not allow a “socialist takeover of our health care system” a swipe at the Medicare For All proposal endorsed by some of his Democratic challengers.
Many female Democrats were wearing white as tribute to the suffragettes, while a number in the party were wearing red, white and blue-striped lapel pins to highlight climate change, saying Trump has rolled back environmental safeguards and given free rein to polluters.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including California Rep. Maxine Waters and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, announced in advance of the speech that they would be skipping it while other Democrats walked out early.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her party’s official response and drew a contrast between actions taken by Democrats and the president’s rhetoric.
“It doesn’t matter what the president says about the stock market,” Whitmer said. “What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don’t have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans, or prescription drugs.”
AP writers Darlene Superville, Aamer Madhani in Washington and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.
ARKANSAS CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION REACTS TO SOTU:
Arkansas’s congressional delegation expressed their support for President Trump after his speech.
U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) released the following video clips in response to President Trump’s State of the Union address:
“I think the president outlined a good vision for the future. We look forward to working with him on things like infrastructure. We’re in the process now of redoing the big highway reauthorization bill. About 40% of the monies that are spent on infrastructure come from the federal government. These are things we can work together on. Democrats and Republicans. Despite the fact that we’ve gone through the situations that we’ve gone through, I think there are a lot of opportunity for bipartisan work and get things done that are not glamorous but are the underpinning of the American economy.”U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.)
Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) released the following statement after President Trump’s third State of the Union address:
“Tonight, the president outlined an agenda that will continue to build on the achievements of the last three years. I share his commitment to building a strong economy that helps American workers and a strong military that keeps us safe from threats like China and Iran. Our efforts implementing this ambitious agenda must begin now, especially protecting Americans from the Wuhan coronavirus and dangerous sanctuary city policies.”U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
Congressman Rick Crawford tweeted the following during the State of the Union address:
Congressman French Hill (R-Ark.) released the following statement after the president delivered the annual State of the Union address:
Over the past three years, Congressional Republicans and the president have kept their promise to revitalize America by cutting burdensome government regulations, delivering the most sweeping tax reform in more than 30 years, modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement, and working to even the playing field for American trade with China. These pro-growth economic policies have made the American dream more accessible for more Americans. And, our farmers and business communities are only beginning to see the benefit from the most recent developments in trade.
The president has been tireless in defending our nation at home and abroad with the underlying principle “peace through strength.” By investing strategically in our military to address the readiness crisis, Congress and this administration ensured our brave men and women in uniform are equipped for now and the future.
Despite our accomplishments, there remains much to be done. We must continue to work to increase competition in our healthcare system, thereby reducing the high costs burdening families. We must work on a bipartisan basis to repair our broken immigration system and repair our nation’s infrastructure. I stand ready to work with the president and my colleagues to promote policies to enhance the future for all Americans.”Congressman French Hill (R- Ark.)
Congressman Steve Womack (AR-3) released the following statement in response to President Donald J. Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress and the American people:
“Tonight, President Trump delivered a powerful and inspiring speech. The United States is strong, and we have forged a new path of progress and opportunity.
There has been a resurgence of confidence and prosperity within our country. By putting the people first and implementing pro-growth policies, we have unleashed the next chapter of American greatness.With our economy booming, wages rising, and unemployment at historic lows – hardworking families are looking to the future with confidence.
We also know that there is no challenge too great for America. Whether it’s negotiating new trade deals, enhancing workforce training, securing our borders, confronting adversaries, or rebuilding our military—we have seen President Trump’s bold agenda turned into reality. These are promises that have been both made and kept despite unprecedented and desperate political distractions.
As we look ahead, we must build on this historic momentum and focus on the issues that contribute to the strength of Arkansas and America together.”Congressman Steve Womack (R-Ark.)
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) released the following statement in response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress:
“President Trump’s address tonight reminded us of America’s founding principles of freedom, resilience and opportunity. Under this administration, Arkansas’ unemployment rate fell to its lowest rate on record – 3.4 percent – and our labor participation rate continues rising. Since January 2017, 50,000 new jobs have been created in Arkansas, and 85 opportunity zones are bringing renewed investments and awareness to places like Jefferson County.
The president also spoke tonight about planting 1 trillion trees, which is an initiative that I’m particularly excited about. I’m working on legislation that would do just this: plant 1 trillion trees by 2050, with the goal of sequestering carbon and incentivizing the use of wood products. This would benefit both southwest Arkansas’ and the country’s thriving forest industries, as well as change the mindset of future generations regarding environmental stewardship.
We’ve seen substantial American growth and change in recent years, but we still have a lot of work to do. I’m continuing the fight here in Washington to make lasting changes that benefit Arkansas’ businesses, farmers and communities. We have a bright future ahead, and I look forward to all that 2020 has in store.”U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)