House speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected Donald Trump’s State of the Union address by ripping up her copy after he concluded the annual speech – about 90 minutes after the president appeared to refuse to shake her hand.
The California Democrat sat just over his left shoulder during the speech, looking disgusted and disinterested as he mostly read it off a teleprompter. At times, she shook her head or waved a finger dismissively. Before the commander in chief had even left the dais, she tore pages of her copy into pieces and tossed it down in front of her.
A Pelosi aide confirmed that she said after leaving the House chamber she tore up the printed version of his remarks because it was “the courteous thing to do ... considering the alternative”. The speaker did not elaborate on what that meant.
She did however fire off a tweet defending her move, writing over a picture of Mr Trump declining to shake her hand: “Democrats will never stop extending the hand of friendship to get the job done #ForThePeople. We will work to find common ground where we can, but will stand our ground where we cannot.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham responded on Twitter, highlighting parts of her boss’s speech and his guests in saying the speaker “just ripped up: One of our last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. The survival of a child born at 21 weeks. The mourning families of Rocky Jones and Kayla Mueller. A service member’s reunion with his family. That’s her legacy.”
After he snubbed her attempt to shake hands, the speaker skipped the traditional opening line that it was her “high honour” to present the president to the joint session of Congress – something speakers of both parties have done for presidents of the other party for decades.
The dramatics came as Mr Trump faced his House Democratic accusers on Tuesday night with no intention of bringing up the impeachment charges they levied against him, instead focusing his annual State of the Union address on his accomplishments as he pivoted to his re-election campaign.
As Mr Trump entered the chamber, Ms Pelosi extended her hand to the president after he handed her a bound copy of his remarks but he refused to shake it. GOP politicians responded with a “four more years” chant. Throughout the speech, the Californian Democrat did not hide when she disagreed with the president – at one point holding her hands up with her palms pointed skyward while shaking her head when Mr Trump said the elected officials gathered in the chamber had one fundamental job: “To put America first.”
Mr Trump used the speech mostly as a re-election sales pitch, touting his record and presenting himself as having delivered on his economic and national security promises. He told the country he had delivered economic growth and done more than his predecessors to secure the southern border and keep the country safe. But he also sounded several campaign-trail themes as he seeks a second term.
“We will never let socialism destroy American healthcare,” he said. “Socialism destroys nations, and always remember, freedom safeguards the soul,” he said. He immediately pivoted to boasting about his US defence budgets – a sector completely dependent on taxpayer funds, not appearing to acknowledge the irony.
“Mike Bloomberg believes that no one should suffer because they can’t afford health insurance, and no one should face financial hardships because of medical bills. Health care is a right. As president, Mike will deliver affordable, reliable health care to all Americans,” the former New York City mayor’s presidential campaign said in a statement.
Mr Trump sought to isolate Democratic candidates like Mr Bloomberg by touting his economic resume.
“Three years ago, we launched the ‘great American comeback’. Tonight, I stand before you to share the incredible results,” Mr Trump said. “In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back.”
In a rare call for both parties to work together, the president told the Republicans and Democrats seated before him to work out legislation to reduce prescription drug prices. “Get a bill on my desk, and I will sign it immediately,” Mr Trump vowed even though he told them the same about immigration reform and other issues – only to sink efforts to pass such legislation.
Democrats reject Mr Trump’s contention he has built an historically “inclusive” economy, saying he has failed to help average Americans.
As one staffer previewed earlier on Tuesday, the address did not feature the word impeachment. Aides signalled the president did not intend to bring it up directly – even as he faced his House Democratic accusers for the first time since they launched their Ukraine investigation last October.
“He understands where these fit into history,” said one White House observer, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “He’s just not going to risk very much tonight.”
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