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Trump's State of the Union address hails the 'Great American Comeback'

Donald Trump delivers the State of the union address on February 4, 2020, from the Capitol building in Washington, DC.
Donald Trump delivers the State of the union address on February 4, 2020, from the Capitol building in Washington, DC. © Leah Millis, Reuters
10 min

A bitter feud between US President Donald Trump and top Democrat Nancy Pelosi boiled over at his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, with Trump snubbing her outstretched hand and Pelosi ripping apart a copy of the speech on camera.

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US President Donald Trump delivered his third annual State of the Union address Tuesday night on the eve of his expected acquittal on impeachment charges by the Senate. As Trump wrapped up his discourse, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – seated behind him – tore her hard copy of his speech in half.

Trump spoke at the Capitol, the very building where the House of Representatives impeached him on December 18 on charges of obstructing Congress during its inquiry into the Ukraine aid scandal and abuse of presidential power. 

This is the second State of the Union address in US history to be delivered by a president against the backdrop of an impeachment trial. Former president Bill Clinton delivered his 1999 address a month after having been impeached by the House on grounds of perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice related to his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The US president has delivered an annual speech since 1790, when George Washington was in office, though it has only been officially known as the “State of the Union” address since 1947, during Harry Truman’s term. 

As widely predicted, the elephant in the room – Trump’s impeachment proceedings – went unmentioned.

Upon seeing Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, for the first time since she stormed out of a White House meeting four months ago, Trump declined to shake her outstretched hand as he gave her a copy of his speech.

Pelosi appeared taken aback. She avoided citing the customary "high privilege and distinct honour" that usually accompanies the speaker's formal introduction of the president to Congress.

02:02

As Trump took the podium, he was greeted with a standing ovation and a chant of “Four more years!” from some members of the crowd. 

He listed several firsts and superlatives for which he claimed credit. During his term, he said, “the state of our union is stronger than ever before” while “the state of the economy is the strongest it’s ever been”. He also claimed that he was responsible for the lowest-ever US unemployment rates for minorities, women and veterans. He added that the stock markets had reached record highs, as had real median household income and consumer confidence.

Foreign policy

Turning to foreign policy, Trump said: “The days of being scorned by other nations are behind us.”

Trump’s surprising guest of the evening was Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president in January 2019 and has been trying for months to win face time with Trump, his most important international ally.

The president offered Guaidó exactly the sort of endorsement he’s been looking for as he struggles to oust President Nicolás Maduro from power. Trump called Guaidó “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela”.

Trump stressed the new trade agreements he has negotiated, including his “Phase One” deal with China and the treaty with Mexico and Canada he signed last month. “Unfair trade is the single biggest reason I decided to run for president,” he said.

As was widely predicted, Trump cited the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani as one of his great triumphs. “Our message to the terrorists is clear: You will never escape American justice. If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life!”

Topic to topic 

Some observers noted the whiplash-inducing second half of Trump’s address, which jumped from topic to topic without discernible transition. Part of the evening’s proceedings involved Trump introducing and recounting anecdotes about various people in the audience whom he had invited. 

Trump also announced that the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the country’s highest civilian honours, would go to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who is perhaps best known for coining the term “feminazis” in the early 1990s. Earlier in the day, Limbaugh had announced that he was undergoing treatment for advanced lung cancer.

Trump later introduced a toddler named Ellie Schneider, who was born premature in 2017. Trump said he was allocating $50 million for neonatal research and then linked neonatal research with his condemnation of late-term abortions.

Trump then switched to the topic of trees, saying that the US would “join the 1 trillion trees initiative” to “plant trees in America and all around the world”. Immediately after, he launched into a defence of school prayer and the Second Amendment right to bear arms. 

Trump lauded his much-mocked plans for a Space Force and what he called the “Manifest Destiny of the stars”, which he said includes his ambition to make America “the first nation to plant its flag on Mars”. 

As she rose from her seat immediately following the address, Pelosi ripped up the hard copy she had of Trump’s speech, a move that quickly became the most-discussed moment of the evening across social media platforms.

"The manifesto of mistruths presented in page after page of the address tonight should be a call to action for everyone who expects truth from the President and policies worthy of his office and the American people," Pelosi later tweeted.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

 

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