Democrats tear into Trump’s speech: It was a ‘MAGA rally’

Democrats were exasperated over what they called a raucous campaign-style speech from President Trump on Tuesday night as the president made his case for reelection during the annual State of the Union address.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared disgusted during much of Trump’s third State of the Union address. By the end of it, she ripped up his speech and set it aside while her political nemesis was still standing on the House dais.

“I tore it up,” Pelosi replied when asked by reporters what she thought of the speech.

Pelosi added that it was “the courteous thing to do given the alternatives.”

In many ways, Trump’s 80-minute speech represented a starting gun for his reelection campaign. It was short on bipartisan policy proposals and included plenty of red meat for his base that he will need to turn out at the polls in order to propel him to a second term in November.

Trump took credit for the economic recovery and contended he had reversed “American decline” — a line Democrats saw as a not-so-veiled shot at President Obama’s eight years of growth. He also railed against “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants and bragged that he was building hundred of miles of new wall along the Mexico border.

And Trump used his national platform to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a man loathed by the left: conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who just announced he has lung cancer.

“If I wanted to attend a MAGA rally, I would attend a MAGA rally,” fumed Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a former House member and close Pelosi ally. “The president never misses an opportunity to further divide the country. It was a disgraceful performance.”

“The only good moments were recognizing some of the great Americans in the balcony, but the president really turned this into a circus performance,” Van Hollen said. “I’ve never seen a president disgrace the House of Representatives in the chamber the way President Trump did tonight.”

The night started on a sour note. Trump appeared to snub Pelosi when she reached out to shake his hand. 

It was downhill from there.

Trump’s Republican allies in Congress cheered almost every line he delivered, kicking off the night by chanting: “Four more years! Four more years!” 

Democrats sat on their hands for most of the night, and when they couldn’t restrain themselves they groaned and yelled “no” and shook their heads. 

Several, including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), stormed out midway through the speech in disgust.

“I just walked out of the #StateOfTheUnion. I’ve had enough. It’s like watching professional wrestling. It’s all fake,” tweeted Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), a former 2020 presidential candidate.

Tuesday’s address was expected to include tense moments, with Trump entering the same House of Representatives that had impeached him for abuse of power and obstruction of justice only seven weeks earlier.

Though Trump never uttered a word about impeachment, sitting before him were all of the characters of the impeachment investigation and trial that have consumed Washington for the past four months.

Pelosi, who led the Democrats into the effort, was seated just above Trump’s left shoulder. To his side, occupying an entire row, were the seven Democratic impeachment managers, including House Intelligence Chairman Committee Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead prosecutor who had investigated the president’s Ukraine dealings for months, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who had his hand on his chin for most of the night.

All the president’s men were seated on the House floor as well: acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and budget chief Russell Vought — members of the administration who all played a role in the impeachment inquiry but never testified before the House or the Senate.

In the front row: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who has had many late nights presiding over Trump’s Senate impeachment trial for the last two weeks. That trial will wrap up at 4 p.m. Wednesday when Republican senators — most of whom attended the speech — will vote to acquit Trump of both charges.

“Great job, great job,” a grinning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Trump as he stepped down from the elevated dais after the speech.

The night showcased a few moments of bipartisanship, however. 

Democrats and Republicans in the Problem Solvers Caucus — including Reps. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) — all sat together and sported purple ties. And Trump got a handful of bipartisan standing ovations, including when he touted a boost to military spending. 

“To safeguard American liberty, we have invested a record-breaking $2.2 trillion in the United States military,” Trump said.

More visible than the men in purple ties were the women all decked out in white. Before the address, dozens of House Democratic women — all sporting suffragist white — packed onto a stairway in the Capitol for their annual State of the Union photo. 

Several of the Democrats, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Frederica Wilson (Fla.), were absent this year, boycotting Trump’s speech altogether.

But Tlaib, one of two Muslim women in Congress, said she wanted to be on hand to show the diversity of today’s Democratic caucus. Tlaib is also part of “the squad,” the four progressive freshman women of color who were attacked by Trump last year.  

“For me, it really was about trying to represent my district and be seen,” Tlaib said after posing for the photo with Pelosi and other female colleagues. “I think me being in the audience says volumes, especially to a president that told me to go back where I came from. Well, I’m coming back to the United States House floor. … This is the most diverse class I’ve ever seen.”

After Trump’s stem-winder, Democrats retreated to Statuary Hall, which was packed with TV cameras and reporters and turned into a post-speech spin room. It was there that Democrats unloaded on Trump.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) ripped the speech as “a lot of reality TV,” while House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said its rally-like tone was extremely inappropriate.

“That’s not what the State of the Union’s supposed to be about. It’s not a political rally with some of his supporters in one of these places he goes all over the country and whips up these crowds,” Hoyer lamented.

“The speech was to whip up his base, and brought up very divisive issues on which there is disagreement. So it didn’t set the table for bipartisan agreement.”

Mike Lillis, Cristina Marcos and Juliegrace Brufke contributed to this report, which was updated at 7:40 a.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ayanna Pressley Bill Pascrell Carolyn Maloney Chris Van Hollen Dean Phillips Donald Trump Frederica Wilson Ilhan Omar Jerrold Nadler Josh Gottheimer Mick Mulvaney Mike Pompeo Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Paul Mitchell Rashida Tlaib State of the Union Steny Hoyer Tim Ryan Tom Reed

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