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.  

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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 PelosiOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown 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 KusterRepublicans troll Democrats with proposals to rename upcoming health care bill This week: Fight brews over Mueller testimony GOP lawmaker draws backlash for telling Democratic colleague to 'shut up' during heated ObamaCare debate 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 OmarOmar blasts Trump's comment about accepting foreign campaign dirt as 'un-American' Omar blasts Trump's comment about accepting foreign campaign dirt as 'un-American' Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data MORE (D-Minn.), sporting a blue headscarf, and Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data House Democrats question DHS over using facial recognition tech on US citizens MORE (D-Minn.). The first two Native American women in Congress, Reps. Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsEx-congressman launching PAC to defend Dem seats in 2020 Ex-congressman launching PAC to defend Dem seats in 2020 Freshman Democrats call on McConnell to hold vote on election reform bill MORE (D-Kan.) and Deb HaalandDebra HaalandOvernight Energy: Dems press Interior chief to embrace climate action | Lawmakers at odds on how to regulate chemicals in water | Warren releases climate plan for military Warren releases plan to tackle climate change threats to military House Dem's bill would require ride-hailing companies to cover drivers' Social Security costs 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-CortezOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Trump cites Ocasio-Cortez to defend himself against impeachment 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 SchiffSchiff: Intelligence agencies focused on Russian interference 'even if the president isn't' Schiff: Intelligence agencies focused on Russian interference 'even if the president isn't' Schiff: Bolton, Pompeo undercutting Trump's attempts to stay out of war 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 NealSchiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns Schiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns On The Money: DOJ offers legal opinion backing refusal to release Trump tax returns | Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage | Trump bashes Powell ahead of crucial Fed meeting | Design leaks for Harriet Tubman bill 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 CicillineOvernight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Pelosi: Congress will block Trump's arms sales to Saudi Arabia MORE (D-R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member who also leads House Democrats’ messaging arm.

Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroTrump's border funding comes back from the dead House passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' House passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' 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 HarrisBiden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Biden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Confused by polls? Watch early primary states — not national numbers MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBiden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Biden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Trump steadfast in denials as support for impeachment grows MORE (N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerFox News poll shows Trump trailing Biden, Sanders, other Democrats Fox News poll shows Trump trailing Biden, Sanders, other Democrats Poll: Biden leads, Warren surges in South Carolina MORE (N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Biden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Trump steadfast in denials as support for impeachment grows MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersConfused by polls? Watch early primary states — not national numbers Confused by polls? Watch early primary states — not national numbers Biden leads in early voting states, followed by Warren, Sanders: poll 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 RomneyMcConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' McConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' 'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls 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?”