WASHINGTON – From start to finish, President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address was marked by partisan tension that spilled out in the exchange between the leaders of both parties: Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
He refused to shake her hand after she introduced him. She tore his speech up and tossed it aside as soon he was done.
Even before the president uttered the first word of his State of the Union address, the political and personal friction between the president and the House speaker, who has been leading his impeachment, was palpable.
Pelosi omitted the customary language about it being a “high privilege and distinct honor” to introduce the president. Trump then handed the traditional copies of his speech to Vice President Mike Pence and to Pelosi, but when she reached out to shake his hand, he turned his back on her.
The awkward exchange continued the drama from last year’s address, when Pelosi clapped back at the president in a moment that went viral and Trump barely acknowledged her even though she introduced him and was seated behind him.
This year’s exchange marked the first time they’ve met since Pelosi stood up and walked out of an Oct. 16 meeting on Syria in the White House.
When Trump took the dais Tuesday, the Republican side of the House chamber erupted with chants of “Four more years,” an unusually partisan display during a State of the Union address.
Pelosi was clad in a white pantsuit again this year, as were a number of female lawmakers who sat in the gallery. The color is a form of protest as well as a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the suffragette movement that gave women the right to vote.
The tension between the two rivals – and the two parties – lasted much of the night.
Most of the time, as GOP lawmakers stood up and lustily cheered the president’s words, Democrats sat quietly, shaking their heads.
Pelosi, sitting behind the president in her customary spot behind the dais, wryly smiled when Trump talked about protecting pre-existing medical conditions first guaranteed by President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Republicans, including Trump, have tried to dismantle for years.
She shook her head when Trump took aim at California – her home state – for being a “very terrible sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants who commit crimes, and she mouthed the words “not true” during other portions of his speech.
There were some rare moments when the speaker applauded the president.
She stood up and clapped when Trump spoke of the need to depose Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and introduced opposition leader Juan Guaido, who stood in the gallery in the first lady’s box. Pelosi also stood and clapped when Trump spoke of spending on infrastructure, one of the few goals both parties agree on.
Although impeachment was not mentioned, Trump could not have missed the House lawmakers, or managers, who prosecuted the case. All but one were seated in the front row, just feet from the president they had impeached.
Pelosi was dressed in white and wearing the golden Mace of the Republic brooch she wore on the day she opened impeachment proceedings against Trump. The pin is a historic symbol of the legislative authority of the House, and Pelosi often wears it at high-profile events.
Trump was in a sour mood at last year’s State of the Union, having just caved on ending a 35-day government shutdown because of his insistence on border wall funding, and openly grousing about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 elections.
On Tuesday, the president had plenty to crow about: The Senate is about to acquit him on impeachment charges, his polls numbers are up, the strength of the economy was punctuated by Tuesday’s 408-point surge in the Dow Jones industrial average, and the glitches surrounding Monday’s Iowa Democratic caucus made a bad night for his opponents.
Despite the shadow of impeachment, some lawmakers put on a show of bipartisanship and fence-mending.
About two dozen House members from both sides of the aisle wore purple to promote unity during the president’s address.
The color – a mix of red and blue – is one of several worn by lawmakers sitting in the audience as Trump addressed the nation one day before the Senate was set to render a verdict in his impeachment trial, a dispute that has further divided Congress and the nation.
After Trump finished, Pelosi stuffed what remained of Trump’s ripped-up speech into a blue envelope. She showed it off to fellow Democrats, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, one of the House managers prosecuting the impeachment case. After she left the dais, she took the ripped pieces of paper from the envelope and waved them in the air to those left in the chamber and those in the public viewing gallery above the chamber.
As she waved the document, those in the audience could see the large and prevalent signature of the president.
As she left the the Capitol, a reporter asked her why she tore up the speech.
“Because it was the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives,” she said.
The White House responded in a tweet that Pelosi was ripping up more than a speech. Her act, it tweeted, belittled the people Trump championed in it, including Charles McGee, one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, and Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian aid worker tortured and killed by Islamic State militants.