WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump delivered his third — and possibly final — State of the Union address Tuesday night on the floor of the U.S. House, where he was impeached in December.
And the partisan animosity that has gripped Washington throughout the impeachment proceedings was on stark display throughout the annual speech by the president to both chambers of Congress.
Democrats — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — sat soberly throughout most of Trump’s speech, some looking down and others shaking their heads in dismay as the president touted his administration’s first three years in office.
The House impeachment managers were seated prominently and together, which was ostensibly intended as a reminder of the as-yet unfinished impeachment trial against the president, who is expected to be acquitted by the Senate on Wednesday. Trump did not mention his impeachment during his speech.
For Trump, the event amounted to a pitch for his re-election. He was greeted with chants of “four more years” by congressional Republicans before he began speaking.
And to hear Trump tell it, “the state of our union is stronger than ever before.”
The future of the United States “is blazing bright,” he said as he heralded his administration’s economic policies, regulatory rollbacks, trade negotiations and foreign policy. He took several shots at Obama administration policies, labeling them disastrous.
“Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging and our country is thriving and highly respected again,” Trump said.
He pointed to the 187 new federal judges appointed under his watch as he’s reshaped the federal bench with the help of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Trump also boasted about the appointments of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both of whom were in the audience. And Trump suggested to his supporters that he’ll plow ahead, if re-elected. “And we have many in the pipeline,” he said.
Trump assailed the progressive healthcare policies pushed by Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail. He warned that Democrats were attempting a “socialist takeover of our healthcare system,” in an apparent reference to Medicare for all proposals.
As Trump called on Congress to pass legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs, many House Democrats stood to chant, “H.R. 3,” referring to legislation the chamber passed that aims to lower those costs but that’s stalled in the Senate.
Much of the speech appeared to be aimed directly at Trump’s GOP base as he prepares to face voters again in November.
He spoke of the “long, tall and very powerful wall” being built at the southern U.S. border. He also cited examples of violence in so-called “sanctuary cities,” where officials refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), while traveling back to Baltimore on Tuesday night, said he and other lawmakers felt like “props” during the address that played to Trump’s base, while failing to offer legislative policies that could bring the country together.
“He turned the State of the Union into a campaign rally, complete with cheers for his harmful immigration policies, attacks on political rivals, repeated shout-outs to conservative pet issues and made-for-TV reveals,” Cardin said in a written response.
Trump awarded conservative icon and radio host Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian awards. Trump called Limbaugh, who’s being treated for advanced lung cancer, “the greatest fighter and winner that you will ever meet.” Tuskegee Airman and Bethesda resident Brigadier General Charles McGee was greeted with sustained applause from the chamber when he was introduced as one of Trump’s invited guests.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D) pressed for legislation to authorize McGee’s promotion to the rank of brigadier general. McGee, 100, completed 136 combat missions during World War II. The promotion was signed into law by Trump on Dec. 20.
After the speech, Van Hollen noted other legislative efforts that have gone unaddressed by the president and the Senate’s Republican majority, including measures to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, reduce the costs of prescription drugs, ensure equal pay for equal work, and reduce gun violence.
“All of these important measures ― and many more ― have passed the House of Representatives, but they are now sitting in the United States Senate,” Van Hollen said. “…President Trump could have called upon the Senate to act on these bills, but he didn’t say a thing. I was deeply disappointed by this missed opportunity, but I will continue working to represent and uphold the best interests of Marylanders and the American people.”
Other members of Maryland’s congressional delegation lamented the partisan tone of the address.
U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D), who represents the 5th District, said the president “doubled-down on the rank partisanship and divisiveness that have characterized his presidency” and took credit for Obama-era economic policies.
“For now, the state of our union is strong, even if the state of this presidency is one of crisis and corruption,” Hoyer said in a written statement.
Some of Trump’s speech did win applause from both sides of the aisle, including calls for efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, expand paid family leave and pass infrastructure legislation.
Rep. Andrew P. Harris, Maryland’s only Republican in Congress, said lawmakers should move forward to work together on issues of high cost of prescription drugs and healthcare, border security, and others.
“I hope the House Majority and the Senate Minority are willing to work across the aisle in a spirit of unity with the President and the rest of Congress on these important issues,” Harris said in a statement.
But the president’s comments appeared to inflame the partisan strife on Capitol Hill.
Following Trump’s remarks, Pelosi — in full view of the cameras trained on the president — tore up her copy of Trump’s speech. She told reporters afterward that it was “the courteous thing to do considering the alternative.”