Trump gets dose of new political reality at State of the Union

It was an end-zone dance right in front of Donald Trump’s face.

The president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night — his first under a newly divided government — offered Trump an enormous platform to pitch his agenda heading into the new year.

But it was an impromptu moment between the president and the historic group of Democratic women wearing white that captured the night, shooting like a rocket across social media and encapsulating the new political reality in Washington.  


Democrats cheered, high-fived and raised the roof after Trump paid tribute to the gains women have made in the country, from their fight for voting rights a century ago to the fact that 58 percent of jobs created in the last year went to women.

It was a lightbulb moment for the Democratic women, many of whom rode an anti-Trump wave to Washington last fall.

Some Democrats said afterwards they were shocked that Trump had given them a chance to highlight the issue — and thought they’d gotten the better of him in the exchange.

After all, most women currently serving in Congress are Democrats. House Democrats have 89 female members, while the House GOP has just 13 women in its ranks. And Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiObjections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated Latest pro-democracy rally draws tens of thousands in Hong Kong Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' MORE (D-Calif.), to date the only woman to serve as the highest-ranking congressional leader, sat behind him on the dais because of Democrats’ midterm gains.

“We were super excited and high-fiving. And he really didn't realize what was going on — he didn't understand what we were doing,” Rep. Ann KusterAnn McLane KusterHouse Democrats inch toward majority support for impeachment Katherine Clark quietly eyes leadership ascent Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D-N.H.) told The Hill after the speech.

“Part of it is that we wanted to draw attention to the contrast of our caucus that reflects the diversity of the American people. … And we were hoping that just by wearing white, that the cameras would pick that up,” Kuster continued. “We didn't realize that we've have a big opportunity to demonstrate that. ... Finally, he did [understand], because he got very — he was ticked off. ...

“I think he caught on that the joke was on him."

Republicans had plenty of reasons of their own to cheer the president. Trump laid out his plans for border security, touted the booming economy and hailed his year-old tax cut law — all of which drew quick ovations from his GOP supporters. At multiple points, the Republicans broke out into a chant of “USA! USA!”

But what couldn’t be ignored in the room were the women in white.

While the GOP side of the aisle resembled a homogeneous sea of navy and black suits worn by a predominantly male group of lawmakers, the Democratic side was marked by scores of female lawmakers donning white, the color of the suffragettes.

And in a nod to the historic diversity of the freshman class, some of the “firsts” made a point of sitting together, like the first two Muslim women elected to Congress: Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTlaib suggests boycotting Maher show after he calls anti-Israel boycott movement 'bullsh-t purity test' The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown Tlaib's grandmother to Trump: 'May God ruin' you MORE (D-Minn.), sporting a blue headscarf, and Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibTlaib suggests boycotting Maher show after he calls anti-Israel boycott movement 'bullsh-t purity test' The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown Tlaib's grandmother to Trump: 'May God ruin' you MORE (D-Minn.). The first two Native American women in Congress, Reps. Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsOcasio-Cortez chief of staff to leave her office The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps House Democrats delete tweets attacking each other, pledge to unify MORE (D-Kan.) and Deb HaalandDebra HaalandWarren unveils Native American policy plan Booker eyes farm conservation, reforestation and wetlands restoration in climate plan Trump's plans for development at Bears Ears monument sparks condemnation MORE (D-N.M.), also sat together.

When Trump said he would “never abolish our heroes from ICE,” progressive superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezJoseph Kennedy mulling primary challenge to Markey in Massachusetts The latest victims of the far-left's environmental zealotry: Long Islanders Ocasio-Cortez brushes off Trump tweet claiming she is 'fuming' over Tlaib, Omar attention MORE (D-N.Y.) looked at one of her Democratic colleagues and brushed her shoulder off.

But all of the boisterous energy that ricocheted around the packed House chamber belied the long-running tensions between Trump and his audience.

At moments, those strains erupted into the open.

As Trump slammed the “ridiculous partisan investigations” during his speech, the House camera panned to Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (D-Calif.), the new Intelligence Committee chairman who is ramping up the probe into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia. New House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealNY files motion to keep Trump tax returns lawsuit out of DC court Democrats give cold shoulder to Warren wealth tax Senate Dems urge Mnuchin not to cut capital gains taxes MORE (D-Mass.) was on hand, too; he’s seeking Trump’s tax returns.

Democrats expressed disbelief after Trump explicitly warned against the expected onslaught of House oversight investigations and declared that “if there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”

“To actually say out loud that Congress couldn't both legislate and conduct oversight or investigations, which of course is a suggestion that we shouldn't do our job. And if the president thinks by getting up there and telling us not to do investigations we won't, he's sadly mistaken,” said Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHillicon Valley: O'Rourke proposal targets tech's legal shield | Dem wants public review of FCC agreement with T-Mobile, Sprint | Voters zero in on cybersecurity | Instagram to let users flag misinformation Democrat calls for public review of T-Mobile-Sprint merger agreement Pelosi: Israel's Omar-Tlaib decision 'a sign of weakness' MORE (D-R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member who also leads House Democrats’ messaging arm.

Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroTexas Democrats tap Joaquin Castro to deliver key address Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Congressional Hispanic Caucus calls for answers on Mississippi ICE raids MORE (D-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was more blunt.

“I think that telegraphed a certain nervousness that he understands the seriousness and the gravity of these investigations, and what they mean to his presidency,” Castro said.

Most of the 2020 Democrats hoping to unseat Trump — including Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand: Rosy economic outlook not 'reflected in everyday, kitchen-table issues families are facing' Chris Wallace becomes Trump era's 'equal opportunity inquisitor' Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination MORE (N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination We need a climate plan for agriculture MORE (N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Bernie Sanders vows to go to 'war with white nationalism and racism' as president Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' MORE (I-Vt.) — couldn’t be avoided either. They occupied seats in the first few rows of the chamber.

Also on the House floor for the first time: freshman Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyA US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces MORE (R-Utah), the 2012 GOP presidential nominee who in an unprecedented speech more than two years ago called Trump, then the 2016 GOP front-runner, a “fraud” and a “phony.”

Then there was Pelosi. The iconic California Democrat, seated just behind Trump’s left shoulder, was a case study in shifting emotions.

At times, she rose in gentle applause, as when Trump mentioned Congress's recent enactment of criminal justice reform. At others, she shot to her feet with a clamorous ovation, as when the president promised to rein in drug prices and protect patients with pre-existing conditions — a central element of the ObamaCare law that Pelosi had ushered into passage almost a decade ago.

For the most part, however, Pelosi sat stern and sullen behind the lectern, twisting her lips in frustration, confusion (or both) at the president's message — a silent critic of Trump's agenda, from his promise to succeed in building a border wall to his calls for the elimination of late-term abortions.

On several occasions, when some Democrats on the floor began to boo, Pelosi waved them off with a dismissive swish of her hand. Hardly a reprimand, her message to her troops seemed to be: He's not worth the energy.

Leaving the Capitol afterward, Pelosi revisited Trump’s shout-out to the history-making women of the new Congress — with an asterisk.

“I liked that he acknowledged it was the largest number of women [in congressional history],” Pelosi said, before adding that “he forgot to acknowledge” that the overwhelming majority of them are Democrats.

“It was, like, weird: You’re bringing this up?”