Democrats gave President Trump a chance in his first joint address to Congress last February. After a year of norm-shattering and race-baiting, they weren’t so polite.
Many congressional Democrats sat stonily as President Trump entered the House chamber Tuesday night, refusing to join in the normal bipartisan applause for the president. They audibly groaned during many portions of his speech. Lines tailored for bipartisan applause landed flat. Democrats snickered when Trump described his hardline immigration plan as “bipartisan.” Many wouldn’t even clap when Trump proclaimed “the state of our union is strong.” And when he laid out false claims about family migration visas, more than a handful yelled “lies” at the president.
State of the Union speeches are rarely bipartisan love affairs, but a year into Trump’s presidency, his often-partisan speech and Democrats’ harsh reaction put on display just how divided he’s left America.
“The immigration portion was so xenophobic and anti-immigrant and that’s just not the foundation of America,” Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) told TPM after the speech. “I’ve always felt like you should stare a bully in the face and never walk away from a fight and it’s clear to me that this president has it out for people who don’t look like him, who are not of the same background, and that’s anti-American.”
“His speech was stoking the flames of xenophobia and racism in our country,” she continued, slamming Trump for his veiled attack against NFL players who’ve chosen to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African Americans. “I chose to come because I respect the office. But what’s clear from listening to his speech is he doesn’t respect the office. He wasn’t talking about all Americans, he wasn’t talking to all Americans tonight, he was talking to a select group of his base.”
She wasn’t alone in her fury.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told TPM she wasn’t one of the Democrats who shouted “lies” at the podium during Trump’s speech — “I yelled ‘wrong.'”
“We got teleprompter Trump tonight,” she said. “All of that belies the kind of actions he’s taken in a full year as president. He has not shown compassion. He’s not shown love. In trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act he’s not shown any care about the health issues for millions of Americans. … We’ve had a year of totally outside the norm behavior as president.”
Dozens of Democratic congresswomen wore all black, wearing “time’s up” pins to honor the #metoo movement that has been partly spurred by Trump’s treatment of women. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus wore ties and scarves with kente African print patterns, a visible protest of the president’s “shithole countries” comment.
Democrats’ palpable hostility didn’t go unreturned. Republicans noticed Democrats’ silent protests and responded by trolling them, seeming to drag out their first standing ovation as long as possible as they goaded their colleagues across the aisle. They broke into long chants of “USA” twice during the speech.
“I can’t believe they wouldn’t stand for America,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told TPM as he exited the chamber after the speech.
Democrats were furious about particular lines — the “stand for the national anthem” line, his falsehoods about so-called “chain migration,” his line that “Americans are dreamers too.”
“It was hurtful because I think he was trying to diminish them,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who stormed out near the end of the speech, told reporters afterwards. “That’s what we’re trying to say, that ‘dreamers’ are Americans. … for a man who says he cares so much, why belittle them?”
Plenty were annoyed that Trump didn’t offer specifics on bipartisan areas like infrastructure, combating opioid abuse and paid family leave. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) started off clapping during Trump’s infrastructure comments and ended with a scowl, standing and rubbing his fingers together in a “show me the money gesture” during his remarks.
But the last year clearly overshadowed the speech itself — including for many Democrats from states Trump won in 2016.
“The president said almost nothing to try to bring us together. It was a continuation, now twelve months in a row, of divisive language almost to the point of name-calling in how he did that,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told TPM. “He seems to have no interest in governing to and with and for the two-thirds of the people of the country that don’t seem to much like him.”
Correction: Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled “you lie” at President Obama during a joint address on health care policy, not a State of the Union address, as this post originally stated.