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 PelosiTrump predicts GOP will win the House Hillicon Valley: Five takeaways on new election interference from Iran, Russia | Schumer says briefing on Iranian election interference didn't convince him effort was meant to hurt Trump | Republicans on Senate panel subpoena Facebook, Twitter CEOs | On The Money: Pelosi cites progress, but says COVID-19 relief deal might be post-election | Eviction crisis sparked by pandemic disproportionately hits minorities | Weekly jobless claims fall to 787K 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 KusterPelosi seeks to put pressure on GOP in COVID-19 relief battle Clark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race Pelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief 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 OmarTrump says he doesn't actually want Whitmer, Biden and Obama to be locked up despite chants Hillicon Valley: Threatening emails raise election concerns | Quibi folds after raising nearly B | Trump signs law making it a crime to hack voting systems Ocasio-Cortez draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch livestream MORE (D-Minn.), sporting a blue headscarf, and Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch livestream Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair MORE (D-Minn.). The first two Native American women in Congress, Reps. Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsChamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Female lawmakers, officials call for more women at all levels of government to improve equity Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report MORE (D-Kan.) and Deb HaalandDebra HaalandHispanic caucus report takes stock of accomplishments with eye toward 2021 Rep. Robin Kelly enters race for Democratic caucus vice chair OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push resolution to battle climate change, sluggish economy and racial injustice | Senators reach compromise on greenhouse gas amendment stalling energy bill | Trump courts Florida voters with offshore drilling moratorium 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-CortezHillicon Valley: Threatening emails raise election concerns | Quibi folds after raising nearly B | Trump signs law making it a crime to hack voting systems Ocasio-Cortez draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch livestream OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes 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 SchiffGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats 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 NealDemocrats express concerns about IRS readiness for next year's filing season On The Money: Kudlow confident that Trump can 'round up' Senate GOP behind coronavirus relief deal | US deficit spikes to record .1T Top Democrat: Tax credit expansions must be in next coronavirus relief package 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 CicillineJustice Department charges Google with illegally maintaining search monopoly Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL MORE (D-R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member who also leads House Democrats’ messaging arm.

Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroFormer DNC finance chairman Henry Muñoz: Latinos 'need to lead ourselves' Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches House Democrats push forward on probe of Pompeo's political speeches 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 HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage Obama says he voted by mail: 'It's not as tough as a lot of folks think' Clean energy opportunities in a time of crisis MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandInternal Democratic poll: Desiree Tims gains on Mike Turner in Ohio House race Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter's handling of New York Post article raises election night concerns | FCC to move forward with considering order targeting tech's liability shield | YouTube expands polices to tackle QAnon Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize MORE (N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden defends his health plan from Trump attacks Progressives blast Biden plan to form panel on Supreme Court reform Biden endorses Texas Democratic House candidate Julie Oliver MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden defends his health plan from Trump attacks Progressives blast Biden plan to form panel on Supreme Court reform Sanders: Progressives will work to 'rally the American people' if Biden wins 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 RomneyBipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election Biden: Johnson should be 'ashamed' for suggesting family profited from their name 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?”