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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrevor Noah on lack of Pelosi nickname from Trump: 'There is a reverence for her' Trump says he would challenge impeachment in Supreme Court The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? 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 KusterGOP lawmaker draws backlash for telling Democratic colleague to 'shut up' during heated ObamaCare debate On Trump's big night, Democratic congresswomen in white stole the spotlight Trump gets dose of new political reality at State of the Union 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 OmarDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Tucker Carlson: Since immigrating to US, Omar has 'spent the rest of her life attacking this country' Pelosi: Dems may get to impeachment, but 'we're not there yet' MORE (D-Minn.), sporting a blue headscarf, and Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment The silencing of American Muslims MORE (D-Minn.). The first two Native American women in Congress, Reps. Sharice DavidsSharice Davids20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform 'Queer Eye' stars push for Equality Act First Native American Congresswoman presides over House MORE (D-Kan.) and Deb HaalandDebra HaalandPark Service defends funds used to stay open during shutdown Ben Ray Luján to run for New Mexico Senate seat New Mexico Dems brace for crowded race to succeed Udall 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-CortezDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Pelosi: Dems may get to impeachment, but 'we're not there yet' Maxine Waters is the Wall Street sheriff the people deserve 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 SchiffOn The Money: Treasury misses second Dem deadline on Trump tax returns | Waters renews calls for impeachment | Dem wants Fed pick to apologize for calling Ohio cities 'armpits of America' | Stocks reach record high after long recovery On The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Pelosi downplays impeachment post-Mueller report 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 NealOn The Money: Treasury misses second Dem deadline on Trump tax returns | Waters renews calls for impeachment | Dem wants Fed pick to apologize for calling Ohio cities 'armpits of America' | Stocks reach record high after long recovery Treasury misses second Dem deadline on Trump tax returns WH spokesman: Trump 'not inclined' to turn over tax returns to Dems 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 CicillineDems charge ahead on immigration Dems plot aggressive post-Mueller moves, beginning with McGahn Dem lawmaker: 'Quite clear' Trump committed impeachable offenses MORE (D-R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member who also leads House Democrats’ messaging arm.

Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroDems charge ahead on immigration MJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Dems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings 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 HarrisDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? K Street support to test Buttigieg MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? K Street support to test Buttigieg Kamala Harris backs putting third gender option on federal ID MORE (N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerK Street support to test Buttigieg We should welcome workers' 'powerful victory' in the Stop & Shop strike Harris adds another to her list of endorsements in South Carolina MORE (N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Minorities, older adults push Biden to top of 2020 poll The difference between good and bad tax reform MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Meghan McCain: Bernie Sanders supporting prisoners being able to vote 'bats**t insane' 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 RomneyGOP plots comeback in Orange County Trump's Fed pick on critics: 'They're pulling a Kavanaugh against me' Dem super PAC campaign urges Republicans to back impeachment 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?”