WASHINGTON (CN) – Not a word of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday mentioned the quest to remove him from office for high crimes and misdemeanors.
But make no mistake – Trump’s speech had the tenor of a campaign rally meant to fire up Republican supporters and undermine the Democrats who made him the third impeached executive in U.S. history.
Moments before beginning his address, Trump shook the hand of the man presiding over his Senate impeachment proceedings: Chief Justice John Roberts, in a symbol of a speech crafted to focus on topics other than the trial gripping Washington.
Republicans greeted his entrance with chants of “four more years.”
Democrats offered muted applause for the president, except for Representatives Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, the impeachment managers selected to make the case for his removal, who remained silent.
Instead of the traditional introduction, “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi opted for: “Members of Congress, the President of the United States.”
What followed was the equivalent of a 1.5-hour political ad for his party and a roast of the opposition.
“The years of economic decay are over,” Trump announced, falsely characterizing the economic growth of the Obama administration’s tenure as a slump. “The days of our country being used, taken advantage of, and even scorned by other nations are long behind us.”
The remarks were one of many swipes at his predecessor during the speech, which prompted groans and boos from the Democratic side of the aisle. Trump used his House of Representatives platform to grant a Presidential Medal of Honor to Rush Limbaugh, the shock jock of right-wing radio who is now battling cancer.
“Thank you for your decades of tireless devotion to our country,” Trump told Limbaugh.
Some on the Democratic side of the aisle cried, “no,” before the honor was bestowed on the man who is known for railing against liberalism.
Trump also used the bully pulpit of the House of Representatives dais to misrepresent the White House policy on health care.
“We will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” Trump said. “That is a guarantee.”
His administration is currently fighting in court to eviscerate those protections from the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“There are those who want to take away your health care,” Trump continued later.
“You!” Democrats shouted back.
When not attacking Democrats, Trump touted his self-branded successes.
Never one to miss the opportunity to use a superlative, Trump declared: “The state of the union is stronger than ever before.”
Bluster aside, the union stands divided: The House impeachment managers, Representatives Schiff, Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Val Demings, Jason Crow, Hakeem Jeffries, and Sylvia Garcia, all sat next to each other on the Democratic side of the aisle.
As the GOP side rapturously greeted his entrance, Schiff and Nadler stood in stony silence, with their hands folded over their waists. The other House impeachment managers who did applaud opted for golf claps.
While focused on his policy, Trump’s speech was characteristically bellicose.
“From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the U.S. economy – slashing a record number of job-killing regulations, enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts, and fighting for fair and reciprocal trade agreements,” Trump said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had ready-made rebuttals in place for that message, highlighting the economic toll of tariffs and the Democrats’ overhaul to the original U.S.-Mexico trade deal passed on the day of Trump’s impeachment.
Like last year, female Democratic lawmakers came dressed in white, in a striking contrast to the darker attire – and also overwhelmingly male composition – of the Republican side.
The Senate’s refusal to hear additional witnesses and evidence at Trump’s Senate trial fueled protest from the Democratic party’s left flank, which has refused to show in growing numbers.
Before the speech, nine members of the Democratic caucus announced a boycott: Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortéz of New York, Al Green of Texas, Maxine Waters of California, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Hank Johnson of Georgia, and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi announced that they would not attend. Representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Fredericka Wilson of Florida, and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon will be skipping the speech for the second year in a row.
“After much deliberation, I have decided that I will not use my presence at a state ceremony to normalize Trump’s lawless conduct & subversion of the Constitution,” Cortez tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
“None of this is normal, and I will not legitimize it,” she added.
Their ranks swelled by one more as the evening progressed: Representative Tim Ryan.
“I just walked out of the #StateOfTheUnion,” the Ohio Democrat tweeted after he left. “I’ve had enough. It’s like watching professional wrestling. It’s all fake.”
Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, also walked out during the address.
Like his speech, Trump’s Senate trial also has been branded a sham by Democrats. His Republican loyalists are expected on Wednesday to acquit Trump of abusing his power and obstructing Congress, in a move that Democrats warn will effectively nullify the Constitution’s impeachment clause by affirming that the legislative branch will take no action if the White House refuses to cooperate in investigations.
Democrats in attendance opted to make a political statement with guests at their side, including Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., with an accuser of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein: Courtney Wild, a woman after whom a victims’ rights bill is named.
Inviting several guests to punctuate his speech’s military, foreign policy, and immigration platforms, the White House listed one of Trump’s choices as Venezuelan opposition Juan Guaidó, whom the White House wants to replace the country’s president Nicolás Maduro.
“The United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro,” Trump said, before introducing Guaidó. “Maduro is an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalizes his people.”
The Venezuelan government has characterized the Trump administration’s policy as a coup attempt.
After an extended partisan broadside on guns, religion and abortion, Trump’s closing note of optimism found no inter-party appetite.
“Our spirit is still young,” Trump proclaimed. “The sun is still rising. God’s grace is still shining, and my fellow Americans, the best is yet to come.”
With the closing words, Pelosi ripped up her copy of the speech, Democrats quickly folded outside, and Republicans lingered, smiling broadly, before exiting.