4 takeaways from Trump’s State of the Union address
Here are some takeaways from the speech.
1. Impeachment bad blood spills overYou wouldn’t know from Trump’s speech that he was about to wrap up his Senate impeachment trial — he didn’t mention “impeachment” once — but that didn’t mean it didn’t loom over the proceedings.
Indeed, the speech began by Trump not shaking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) offered hand. Trump simply handed her a copy of his speech, as presidents do, and turned around. It’s not clear if that was an intentional snub, but it was, at best, an awkward way to start the night.
Things got more clearly adversarial from there; Raw feelings were on display throughout the speech, as Democrats expressed dissent when Trump made over-the-top claims or took what they felt to be unfair shots.
There was even a brief protest by Democrats. When Trump mentioned lowering prescription drug costs, they stood and chanted “HR-3,” putting three fingers in the air. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has declined to take up a House-passed bill on that topic. It was a scene you don’t usually see in these speeches, and it was difficult to divorce from the events of the past four months.
Pelosi concluded the scene by ripping up Trump’s speech as he left the podium, doing it in installments.
2. A (repeatedly) overstated economic caseThere is no question that the U.S. economy is strong and is a feather in Trump’s cap as he confronts a reelection campaign. But in his speech Tuesday, Trump offered plenty of trademark hyperbole — and false claims.
“The years of economic decay are over,” Trump said toward the beginning of his remarks, saying he “moved rapidly to revive the economy.”
To hear that, you’d think Trump had arrested the backward momentum of his predecessor, rather than — in large part — continuing the progress and slightly bettering it. Gross Domestic Product growth has ticked over 3 percent in a few quarters on Trump’s watch, but otherwise it has been around 2 percent for most of his presidency — right where it was in the final years of Barack Obama’s. It’s been around 2 percent over the past three quarters, in fact — far shy of the 4, 5 and even 6 percent Trump has floated.
Trump added: “Since my election, we have created seven million new jobs, five million more than government experts projected during the previous administration.” And: “In eight years under the last administration, over 300,000 working-age people dropped out of the workforce. In just three years of my administration, 3.5 million working-age people have joined the workforce.”
As with Trump’s repeated comparisons of his record in three years versus Obama’s in eight, this is in large part because of the recession that Obama inherited. Job growth under Obama in his final years was about where it’s been under Trump.
Trump has a good story to tell on the economy — and creating jobs when you’re at or near full employment would be a great point to make! — but he insists on apples-to-oranges comparisons and pretending the economy he inherited was in some kind of free fall, which just wasn’t the case.
3. Running in 2020 … against Obama?Trump entered the House chamber to a raucous welcome by the Republicans in the crowd who just fought off his removal from office, including chants of “four more years.”
And the speech, perhaps not surprisingly given the man and the context, quickly took on the feel of a campaign rally. But as with some of the above quotes, you could be forgiven for thinking he was running against Obama, rather than Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren.
“If we hadn’t reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration, the world would not now be witnessing this great economic success,” Trump said.
He added at another point: “That’s why my administration reversed the failing policies of the previous administration on Cuba."
And: “If we had not reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration, the world would not now be witness to America’s great economic success.”
And: “Under the last administration, more than 10 million people were added to the food stamp rolls. Under my administration, seven million Americans have come off food stamps and 10 million people have been lifted off of welfare.”
That latter claim is factually incorrect; about 4.2 million people have stopped receiving food stamps since February 2017, according to the latest data — not 7 million.
That aside, this is how Trump builds up his progress. And some of the comments seemed geared toward Trump’s long-running campaign to use Obama as a foil rather than simply making a favorable comparison with him — or making 2020 Democrats his foil.
4. The Rush Limbaugh momentTrump chose to include an unusual moment in his speech — and one rather clearly designed to elicit a reaction.
Nearly an hour into the speech, Trump recognized conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who was seated next to first lady Melania Trump. He then announced he was awarding Limbaugh a Presidential Medal of Freedom — on the spot. The first lady put it around his neck right then and there, as Limbaugh expressed surprise.
Limbaugh announced this week that he has been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. His opponents this week have been balancing their distaste for Limbaugh’s political with their regard for his humanity. Trump seemed to invite the conversation to go even further with the highly unorthodox awarding of the highest civilian honor.