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Emotions flare at divided State of the Union

On Tuesday night, President Trump became only the second president in U.S. history to deliver a State of the Union address after being impeached. Current partisan divisions were illustrated by the varying and emotional reactions of Democrats and Republicans present. Yamiche Alcindor reports, and she and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss the president’s words and the response to them.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We now move to the other end of the Capitol, where, in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber last night, President Trump addressed the nation.

    The deep political divisions of our time were on clear display.

    Yamiche Alcindor is back to unpack the speech.

  • Paul Irving:

    The president of the United States!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Last night, President Trump made history. He became the second man ever to deliver the State of the Union as an impeached president.

    The night began with President Trump seeming to decline a chance to shake hands with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Thank you very much.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It ended with the speaker ripping up her copy of the president's address.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The state of our union is stronger than ever before.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Throughout the night, Republicans cheered on the president. They even called for his reelection with chants of four more years.

  • Chamber:

    Four more years! Four more years!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Democrats often sat silently in their seats. At other times, they loudly voiced their disapproval.

  • Chamber:

    HR-3, HR-3, HR-3!

  • President Donald Trump:

    Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president touted bipartisan themes, like a strong economy and low unemployment. He also invoked the country's cultural and political divisions.

    President Trump spoke at length about his signature topic, immigration.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Days later, the criminal alien went on a gruesome spree of deadly violence.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He railed against so-called sanctuary cities. He also recognized the brother of a man who had been killed by an undocumented immigrant.

    Then there were the made-for-TV moments of the night.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Rush Limbaugh.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump awarded conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh with the Medal of Freedom.

    Limbaugh, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, got a standing ovation from Republicans. But Democrats and many others voiced outrage over the move. The radio host for years pushed the racist conspiracy theory that President Obama wasn't born in the United States.

    They also criticized Limbaugh's history of derogatory comments about women, like this remark on his radio show in 2012:

  • Rush Limbaugh:

    So, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In true Trump style, the speech was part campaign rally and part reality TV.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Janiyah, I have some good news for you. An opportunity scholarship has become available. It's going to you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    There was the bid to drum up support for school choice efforts.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Your husband is back from deployment. He is here with us tonight. And we couldn't keep him waiting any longer.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president also reunited, on live TV, a military wife and family with their father, Sergeant 1st Class Townsend Williams. He came home after his fourth deployment to Afghanistan.

    But President Trump's speech was also filled with false or misleading statements.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We will always protect patients with preexisting conditions.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He again claimed that Republicans are protecting health care coverage for preexisting conditions. But his administration is currently urging federal courts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and protections for preexisting conditions along with it.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The years of economic decay are over.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president also claimed that he pulled the U.S. out of an economic tailspin. But the U.S. economy has been expanding for a decade. And monthly job creation was higher under President Obama's last three years in office than during President Trump's first three years.

    One word the president didn't mention last night? Impeachment. And with his party loudly behind him, the president made clear he's ready for his 2020 reelection fight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche and Lisa are back with me now.

    So, let's talk about last night, Lisa.

    You were telling me this morning that what you saw in the chamber was even more divided than we typically see there.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The only context I can give is, it reminded me of sitting in the chamber for the Kavanaugh hearings. It was that intense.

    Judy, I have never seen from Democrats that kind of look, not just of anger, but sort of deeper, personal offense at what the president was doing. You could see they were gritting their teeth the whole time when Rush Limbaugh was recognized and throughout.

    And that exploded into some of their chanting. Members who have never chanted before in the chamber on both sides were chanting. That is completely new.

    For Republicans, that roar of approval was a wave I had not heard before. Of course, Republicans loved that. But it seemed like it was reacting to almost anything this president said.

    And, of course, Speaker Pelosi, a woman who sort of runs on her own dignity, she's someone who thinks about that a lot. For her to make — to take that step was a very big one.

    So it tells me, Judy, that now this kind of governing by emotion is something that's dominating for both sides. And it is not temporary. It feels like this has gone more deeply into lawmakers.

    It was something that I could feel physically in the chamber.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where the president appeared to decide not to shake her hand when he first walked up, and where she then clearly tore up the speech.

    Yamiche, what more do we know about what you call those made-for-TV moments, where they recognized the 100-year-old former Tuskegee Airmen? And there were several moments like that, visitors in the gallery.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    To fully understand last night's State of the Union, one has to remember that President Trump has a deep history in reality TV, and at one point was part of the very successful reality TV show in "The Apprentice."

    I'm told by White House sources that President Trump in part came up with the idea to have these made-for-TV moments. It felt in some ways like the famous Oprah Winfrey show where she was saying, you have a car and you have a car, giving away cars to her guests.

    And that's what the president was going for. He was going for this feeling of emotion. He wanted people watching to feel like he was doing something for this country. And that's why you had scholarships given away. You had a wife reunited with her husband on live television.

    You had a conservative radio host who some see as racist and others see as a darling in the conservative movement be given that Medal of Freedom.

    So, what the president was doing there was really going back to his roots, his deep roots in reality TV.

    I should also note that I have asked the White House about Rush Limbaugh, because it was very controversial to give him a Medal of Freedom award. And they say they understand that he's a controversial figure, but that the president sees him as someone who's worthy of that medal.

    Of course, Rush Limbaugh is someone who had a lot of — a lot of controversial statements, to say the least. But, tonight, the White House is sticking with that decision.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, coming back to what you and I were just discussing, the move by the speaker to tear up the speech, the chanting, how much of that do you think was planned ahead of time? What do you know about the motivations there?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We have some reporting. I have been reaching out, of course, to Speaker Pelosi's staff.

    And they have passed on what she told her House Democrats this morning in their private meeting. She told them that she felt that every page of that speech contained lies, and that that is why she ripped it up. She told them and the understanding is that she did that on the fly, that she made that decision while she was standing there.

    She also made some very interesting comments, Judy, that might have more long-term consequences. She said she felt liberated by the speech, meaning, this is the president saying things that she knows to be false or she believes they're false, meaning, to me, she feels liberated to be so openly at odds with him, vs. a speaker who's trying to work to compromise, vs. a speaker who reached her hand.

    By the end of the speech, she felt liberated to be the speaker who ripped up the speech, a big change just in the course of one State of the Union.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And quickly, Yamiche, to you.

    You referred in your report to what you call — what's been referred to as either misleading or inaccurate statements the president made during the State of the Union.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    The president has been someone who has not shied away from bending the truth if it suits his political will. And this speech was no different. He talked about a lot of different things that were misleading, including the fact that immigrants were committing a lot of crimes.

    Study after study shows that undocumented immigrants do not commit more crimes than American citizens. He also talked about the border wall. It's clear that, even though the president is saying that he's building a lot of border wall, only about a mile of new border wall has been built.

    Most of the wall that he talks about is actually existing fencing, where exactly — where existing fencing was.

    So we saw the president really lean into that. And he has leaned into that, because he has millions of social media followers who only believe what he says. And that's part of the — what the president's been doing.

    He's been able to kind of really galvanize his supporters, to make sure that they believe what he's saying, and to create an enemy of the media and others who say — who point out when he's wrong on the facts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you both.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thank you.

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