6 takeaways from Trump’s State of the Union speech

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President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 4, 2020, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on.

Roughly two weeks after his impeachment trial began, President Donald Trump claimed the Capitol Hill spotlight on his own terms Tuesday night, delivering his third State of the Union address in front of a Congress set to acquit him Wednesday.

A partisan atmosphere loomed over the House floor from the very start of Trump’s speech, when Republican lawmakers chanted “four more years” after the president stepped up to the rostrum. The hostility carried through to the end, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up a copy of the address after he finished delivering it.


But Trump, who spoke at the same spot where Pelosi announced the articles of impeachment, made no mention of the news of the day. Instead, he proclaimed that the economy was setting records, that American enemies were on the defense, and that the American spirit had been renewed.

“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny,” he said. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago and we are never going back.”


Here are six key takeaways from Trump’s speech.

Trump’s first point of order was all about the economy.

Trump dove into the state of the economy at the top of the speech, making broad declarations about tax cuts, deregulation and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the new version of which he signed into law last week.

He correctly pointed out that the unemployment rate was the lowest in half a century. But he incorrectly claimed that he had enacted “record-setting tax cuts,” that the economy was “the best it has ever been” and that stock markets have “soared 70%,” exaggerating the real percentage. He also took undue credit when he claimed that the United States had become the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world, thanks to a “bold regulatory reduction campaign.”

Trump’s boasts came at a time of surging economic optimism. Forty percent of Americans say they are now better off financially than they were at the same time last year, according to a survey conducted last month for The New York Times.

Yet the public attitude belies harsher truths: Economic improvement has slowed in blue-collar, “middle-wage” sectors. By most conventional measures, including wage growth for typical workers and the growth rate of the economy, the economy is far from the best ever, as Trump argued Tuesday.

Among the few legislative proposals: health care.

Trump addressed two pieces of potential health care legislation that remain a top priority for both parties in the coming months: surprise billing and prescription drugs.

He said that he had spoken with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to urge him to pass legislation that lowers the price of prescription drugs.

“Get a bill on my desk, and I will sign it into law immediately,” Trump declared, as Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, looked in the direction of Democrats in the room.


Trump also mentioned an executive order he signed in June requiring “price transparency,” an attempt to curb the phenomenon of surprise billing at hospitals, when patients unexpectedly receive care from doctors outside their insurance networks.

Rush Limbaugh reacts after first lady Melania Trump presented him with the the Presidential Medal of Freedom as President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020.

Bringing the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the House chamber.

Rush Limbaugh, the pro-Trump conservative radio host who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, sat next to Melania Trump, the first lady, who bestowed a surprise award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Melania Trump hung the medal around Limbaugh’s neck as Republicans gave him a standing ovation. Overwhelmed, Limbaugh clasped his hands and closed his eyes.

Sitting nearby was a collection of guests representative of some of Donald Trump’s pet issues: a border patrol agent and the brother of a man killed by an immigrant living in the country illegally.

He used their presence to rail against drug-smuggling at the U.S.-Mexico border and against “sanctuary cities,” calling for the enactment of legislation that would allow them to be sued by victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants.

Trump also invited Carl and Marsha Mueller, the parents of Kayla Mueller, who was imprisoned and killed by the Islamic State. Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, the first black fighter pilots, was cheered by the room.

And then there was a made-for-TV moment — accompanied by chants of “USA” — when Trump reunited the wife, son and daughter of Sgt. 1st Class Townsend Williams, who is on his fourth deployment to the Middle East, with a surprise appearance by the sergeant in the first lady’s box.


On the floor, there were themed groups that offered a kind of visual confrontation to the president. The House Democratic managers in the impeachment trial, who concluded their arguments Monday, sat together behind members of the House leadership. That bloc included Reps. Adam B. Schiff of California and Jerrold Nadler of New York.

Lawmakers who didn’t attend also drew notice, including a collection of House Democrats. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of those lawmakers, said she would use Instagram’s live video platform to chat with her New York constituents about Trump’s speech.

An eye toward China and the Middle East.

After signing an initial trade deal with China last month, Trump pointed Tuesday to the tariffs he has imposed on the country to take on its “massive theft of America’s jobs.” He said that “our strategy has worked.” Economists, though, say the tariffs have weighed on the manufacturing sector he set out to help and have led to higher prices for consumers.

Trump’s attention on foreign policy later swung to the Middle East, when he highlighted two terrorists his administration killed in recent months: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, and Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian commander.

More conflict, Trump asserted, would not extend to the war in Afghanistan, which he said he was eager to wind down by bringing U.S. troops there home.

“I am not looking to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan, many of them innocent,” he said.


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Appealing to his “America First” credo, he added that it is “not our function to serve other nations as a law enforcement agency.”

Socialism is threatening Venezuela and the United States, Trump said.

Attacks on socialism have become regular talking points for Republicans before the 2020 election, particularly in reference to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is near the top of the polls in the Democratic primary. Trump seized on the theme in his speech.

He claimed that 132 lawmakers “in this room” have endorsed a “socialist takeover” of health care, likely referring to bills that would create a “Medicare for All” system.

“To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know: We will never let socialism destroy American health care,” he said.

Trump also went after socialist politics abroad with help from a notable guest: Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader, who received a standing ovation as Trump criticized the country’s socialist president, Nicolás Maduro. “Socialism destroys nations,” Trump said. “But always remember, freedom unifies the soul.”

What impeachment?

Trump never directly addressed impeachment, the story that still felt inescapable in the House chamber Tuesday, with Pelosi, its instigator, sitting directly behind him. But the tension between the speaker and her president was palpable throughout the night. As the president entered the room, he refused to shake the speaker’s hand after she extended hers. By the end, her copy of his speech was in pieces.


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