WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump promoted the economy and trade deals on Tuesday night in his third State of the Union address, a speech that mixed theatrics with overt partisan appeals.
The address ended in spectacularly bitter fashion, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ripping up her copy of the speech as the president finished.
The unprecedented action was one of several instances of intense partisanship during Trump’s speech.
Earlier, Trump used a chunk of his address to give the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, to conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
As Trump recognized Limbaugh, almost all of the Democrats in the chamber remained seated, while many Republicans cheered loudly. First lady Melania Trump then placed the medal around Limbaugh’s neck, prompting someone in the gallery to scream, “Thank you, Rush.” Democrats in the chamber were heard groaning.
Limbaugh said Monday that he’s suffering from advanced lung cancer.
At another tense juncture, Trump, in his speech, appeared to take aim at a key tenet of the policies of 2020 presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and at another point referred to the “radical left” while talking about another policy.
“As we work to improve Americans’ health care, there are those who want to take away your health care, take away your doctor and abolish private insurance entirely. One-hundred-thirty-two lawmakers in this room have endorsed legislation to impose a socialist takeover of our health care system, wiping out the private health insurance plans of 180 million Americans,” Trump said.
“To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know, we will never let socialism destroy American health care” — an apparent attack on the “Medicare for All” policy proposed by Sanders and embraced by others in the field.
He also later slammed “the radical left” over a bill supported by some Democrats that would provide health care to undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
“Over 130 legislators in this chamber have endorsed legislation that would bankrupt our nation by providing free taxpayer-funded health care to millions of illegal aliens, forcing taxpayers to subsidize free care for anyone in the world who unlawfully crosses our borders,” Trump said.
“If forcing American taxpayers to provide unlimited free health care to illegal aliens sounds fair to you, then stand with the radical left,” he added.
At various other points during Trump’s address to the nation — which came as he remains on trial in the Senate — Democrats at various points remained seated or stood up to protest.
As Trump was announced, there was loud applause on the Republican side and in the galleries.
A trio of House impeachment managers, however — Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Jason Crow, D-Colo. — did not clap at all.
After he reached the lectern and handed copes of his speech to Vice President Mike Pence and Pelosi, Trump appeared to refused to shake her outstretched hand.
In addition, many Democrats remained seated and still during many of the lines Trump delivered to raucous applause from Republicans.
Eight Democratic House members skipped the event altogether, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Later, another two members of Congress announced that they’d up and left during the speech.
Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio tweeted that he’d “walked out” because, “I’ve had enough.”
“It’s like watching professional wrestling. It’s all fake,” Ryan said.
Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey tweeted that he left because “he can’t stand a liar.”
“This man’s presidency is a national tragedy,” he said.
During another point, while Trump was discussing prescription drug pricing policy, several Democrats stood up, in apparent protest, chanting “H.R. 3” — a bill that had been supported by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
Trump, for the most part, however, largely focused on an economic message, taking credit for a booming economy and pointing to what he says are his numerous economic accomplishments.
Three years ago, we launched the ‘Great American Comeback.’ Tonight, I stand before you to share the incredible results,” he said.
“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.”
“Our country is thriving and highly respected again,” Trump said. “The years of economic decay are over.”
“The state of the union is stronger than ever before,” he added.
Trump focused large chunks of his speech on job creation and the record-low unemployment rates in the U.S. — dubbing the growth a “blue-collar boom” — as well as his signing of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Trump, however, didn’t touch on impeachment in the speech. One administration official told NBC News that Trump, by speaking “past” impeachment, will be able to send the message to Americans that he’s working on behalf of them and not getting distracted by the trial.
Trump’s nationally televised address comes amid his Senate impeachment trial. The Senate is widely expected to acquit the president on Wednesday on two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The articles stem from the accusations against Trump that he withheld almost $400 million in aid to pressure Ukraine’s president into announcing an investigation into his potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Among Trump’s guests at his State of the Union address were Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Trump dedicated a portion of the speech to him, announcing him as the “true and legitimate president of Venezuela.”
“Mr. President, please take this message back to your homeland. All Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom,” Trump said. “Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul.”
Other guests, according to a list provided by the White House, included military families and “hardworking local leaders.”