Washington • President Donald Trump declared Tuesday night that the “state of our union is stronger than ever before” in his annual joint address to Congress, though in many ways his speech — and the reactions to it — underscored how divided the union remains.
Trump, speaking from the podium where only a couple months ago House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the passage of two articles of impeachment against him, ticked off a list of economic accomplishments and victories like reforming drug sentencing and passing paid parental leave for government employees.
“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny,” Trump said. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back.”
The theme of Tuesday’s speech was the “great American comeback,” which is a play on the president’s reelection slogan, “Keep America Great,” which in turn was a play on his 2016 campaign motto of “Make America Great Again.”
The 90-minute address brought rounds of ovations from Republicans, who got quite the workout standing and cheering throughout. Democrats, meanwhile, got their rest in the leather-bound seats.
Republicans at one point chanted, “four more years,” a nod to their hope in Trump’s reelection.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the address was “more like a Trump rally than a speech a true leader would give.”
As Trump finished his remarks, Pelosi, sitting behind him on the dais, ripped up a copy of his speech.
While the State of the Union address is often a rallying call for the country, sprinkled with lines clearly meant to elicit cheers from one side, the atmosphere surrounding Trump’s address clearly showed the partisan edges on full display.
Trump never mentioned the word impeachment during his remarks but it hung over the evening.
Senators, who on Wednesday will decide whether to remove Trump from office (spoiler alert: it won’t happen), didn’t hide where they stood. As Trump spoke, GOP senators clapped or rose to their feet, elated. Democrats mostly kept their feet firmly planted on the blue carpet.
When Trump mentioned that 7 million Americans were no longer on “food stamps” while 10 million had joined the food stamp rolls under the previous administration, Republicans jumped to applaud; Democrats let out audible groans.
Schumer slouched into his seat; Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, grinned.
Utah's members of Congress reacted to the positive notes they found in the speech.
“We are in the midst of an incredible time in America's history,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. “By almost any metric, Americans today are faring better than they were before 2016. We are safer and we are stronger, and I commend President Trump and his administration for creating an environment in which Americans can succeed.”
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said he found a sliver of bipartisanship and touted the economic message Trump delivered.
“I am thankful that even during partisan times, the American economy is strong, with record low unemployment rates and higher than average wages — including in Utah,” Curtis said. “I am encouraged to hear the president prioritize bipartisan approaches to address our healthcare and infrastructure needs.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, responded to the address by highlighting the economy, too.
“Our nation has experienced similarly strong economic growth, with rising wages, more job creation, and low unemployment for the past few years,” Romney said in a statement. “The president rightfully recognized that success and also highlighted several policy areas in which both parties should work together.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., countered that Trump had the opportunity to unite the country.
“Instead, he doubled-down on the rank partisanship and divisiveness that have characterized his presidency, using his address to attack those who disagree with him and to take credit for the successes of the prior administration while misleading on his own record,” Hoyer said.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, tweeted that he walked out of Trump's address.
Trump, a former TV reality star, brought a bit of dramatic surprise to the usually stayed tradition.
In front of the joint session and live before millions of people, the president awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh who had just announced he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
When the president honored Amy Williams, who had volunteered to help military families while her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Townsend Williams, was serving his fourth tour in Afghanistan, he went off script to announce a reunion as the Army soldier appeared in the doorway of the gallery.
As they hugged and the soldier kissed his children, 6-year-old Elliana and 3-year-old Rowan, the entire chamber stood to cheer them on.
The bipartisan feeling wasn’t sustained, though, as Trump veered into some of his more hard-line comments on immigration, referring to those in the country without documentation as “illegal aliens” and slamming “sanctuary cities.”
Trump took a shot at socialists and derided those proposing firearm restrictions.
“Just as we believe in the First Amendment, we also believe in another constitutional right that is under siege all across our country,” Trump said. “So long as I am president I will always protect your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”
In the gallery to the president’s right, Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, shouted about his daugher’s killing before security escorted him out.
In the end, Trump attempted to appeal to everyone.
“Our spirit is still young; the sun is still rising,” Trump said. “God's grace is still shining; and my fellow Americans, the best is yet to come!”
As the president finished his remarks with “God bless you; God bless America,” Republicans again rose to their feet for an elongated ovation. Democrats filed out of the chamber.
Pelosi was asked why she tore up the speech.
“Because it was the courteous thing to do,” she said.