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 after being impeached 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 the address.
Closer to home, reaction to Trump’s speech fell along party lines.
“It was magnificent,” former Johnson County Republican Women’s President Brenda Gammon said of the speech. “It made me very proud of my president. His address was emotional, wonderful, hit all the right notes and was inclusive of all people.”
Gammon said she was especially moved when Trump introduced Ret. Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, who, at 100, is the last surviving Tuskegee Airman and Ellie Schneider, who, in 2017, was born premature at 21 weeks yet survived.
“I give him an A+,” Gammon replied when asked how Trump sizes up three years into his presidency. “He’s doing a great job even though the other side if fighting him at every turn. If they’d just stop fighting and work together we could get so much more done.”
Johnson County Democratic Party Precinct 6 Chairman Jim Garvin, on the other hand, was not “blown away” by Trump’s speech.
“It looks like he fared well with the GOP, but they’re obviously in love with him anyway,” Garvin said. “I don’t know that he made any headway with independents or undecided voters. He also made the classic [former Republican Texas gubernatorial candidate] Clayton Williams’ mistake.
“Clayton refused to shake [former Texas Gov.] Ann Richards’ hand during the election and he went on to get his ass beat. Then Pelosi tore the damn speech up and threw it in the trash, which was kind of comical.”
Garvin, on a more serious note, described present-day America as interesting and frustrating and labeled Trump, Trump’s ongoing impeachment trial and the recent Iowa Caucus as chaotic.
“It’s interesting times in our country and we’re in a unique situation,” Garvin said. “I don’t know how this is all going to play out. Few have done more to create chaos in our country than Rush Limbaugh, and yet here he is getting an award. Hard to know what to make of things or how we get back on an even keel to where we can just run the government again. Less chaos and a little gentleness, that’s what we need in our country.”
On that front at least, Gammon and Garvin appear in tune.
“I wish the two sides would quit fighting so much and just get things done,” Gammon said. “I don’t care who gets the credit, just get it done.
“The Democrats were shocked that Trump won. You know what? I was kind of surprised he won too. I think everyone was. But he won and now let’s get on with it. We need to stop all this bipartisan crap of Democrats fighting Republicans. I’m tired of everyone yelling at everyone. We need more civility, less of this drama and grandstanding.”
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, gave Trump’s speech high marks as well.
“Tonight I took great pleasure in celebrating the great American Comeback — under President Trump’s leadership, our economy is stronger than ever and our military remains the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” Williams said. “In Texas, the unemployment rate is at a record-low, with nearly 900,000 jobs created over the last three years and wages continuing to rise. When the state of our union is strong, we all win.
“President Trump is delivering on his promises to our Texas workers, families, and businesses by creating more opportunity for growth and prosperity. I am proud to stand with the president as we put our nation and citizens first, championing policies that support American workers, keep our families safe and defend our interests around the globe.”
Trump ran through a laundry list of accomplishments during his speech.
“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 chamber, 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.” Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday said her behavior marked a “new low.”
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 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 soldier 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 wore white as tribute to the suffragettes, while a number in the party wore red, white and blue-striped lapel pins to highlight climate change, saying Trump has rolled back environmental safeguards and given free rein to polluters. Trump also left climate change out of the speech.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including California Rep. Maxine Waters and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, announced in advance of the speech that they would skip it. 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.”
Information in this
report came from
the Associated Press.