WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union address on Feb. 4 amid growing partisan tension surrounding the impeachment trial. While Republicans believed the speech was unifying, positive, and forward-looking, Democrats criticized Trump as being divisive and insulting.
Trump started his speech by touting his past achievements, calling them a “great American comeback.”
In his address to the joint session of Congress that started at 9 p.m. local time, Trump struck an upbeat note, listing his economic achievements, including record-low unemployment, deregulation, and new trade deals. Similar to his speech to world leaders in Davos, Switzerland, he described the state of the economy as a “blue-collar boom.”
“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline, and we have rejected the downsizing of Americas destiny,” he said. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never, ever going back.”
The speech, which lasted 82 minutes, offered a preview of Trumps reelection campaign, according to political analysts.
“Its a very well-crafted speech and very positive,” said David Pietrusza, political historian and author.
“Because, I think, the audience falls off as people are watching, particularly on the east coast, he frontloads it with his strongest point, the economy,” he said. “This is really his best selling point.”
His economic pitch, particularly, targeted minority voters—both blacks and Hispanics, he added.
In his speech, Trump listed other initiatives including opportunity zones, border security, energy independence, the space force, and criminal justice reform.
He also touted the killings of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani by U.S. military forces.
“Our message to the terrorists is clear: You will never escape American justice. If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life,” Trump said.
Trump ended his remarks with an optimistic and forward-looking tone.
“Our spirit is still young, the sun is still rising, Gods grace is still shining, and, my fellow Americans, the best is yet to come,” he said.
Trump–Pelosi Tension Peaks
The State of the Union address this year was overshadowed by tensions between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the president.
Before the speech, Trump appeared to ignore Pelosis offer of a handshake. Then the speaker left out the customary phrase, “I have the high privilege and distinct honor of” while introducing Trump, instead simply introducing him as “the president of the United States.”
In the final moments, Pelosi tore in half a copy of the State of the Union in front of cameras, enraging Republicans.
“I think Speaker Pelosi assumed that was the Constitution she was ripping up, because shes been doing that all year long,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said, calling her behavior “disrespectful” and “childish.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) came to the defense of Pelosi, calling the clash a “freedom of expression.”
“The Speaker handled herself appropriately throughout the presidents speech. Whatever freedom of expression she exhibited, she has a right to do,” Lee said.
“I would hope that the president could have had an opportunity even in the midst of his impeachment, to heal this nation, to bring us together. The president chose not to do so.”
Other Democrats also echoed similar frustration about the presidents speech. They also criticized Trump for taking singular credit for all initiatives, like criminal justice reform, energy independence, and the U.S.–Mexico–Canada trade agreement.
“I thought the low point is when he divides people and he picks on people like immigrants or he talks about reforms to the healthcare system as being a socialist takeover,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) said.
“I dont think thats a good way to go. I think that divides people.”
Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) accused Trump of misleading facts about Americas energy independence.
During his speech, Trump touted his “bold regulatory reduction campaign” that led the United States to become “the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world.”
Veasey said that Americas energy independence started to happen under then-President Barack Obama.
“He was completely misleading about the fact that he was the person that was the brainchild behind that,” he said.
This year, Trump had surprises for some of his guests, which turned the State of the Union address into a “reality show” for the first time, according to critics.
“Tonight, we have a very special surprise,” Trump said to Amy Williams from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“I am thrilled to inform you that your husband is back from deployment [in Afghanistan]. He is here with us tonight, and we couldnt keep him waiting any longer.”