Congress

‘Taking off the gloves’: Pelosi ripping SOTU draws parties into their corners

House Democrats give speaker standing ovation, as she describes being ‘liberated’ after tearing copy of Trump’s speech

Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds up the copy of President Donald Trump’s speech that she ripped up at the conclusion of his State of the Union address on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi “is taking off the gloves.” The California Democrat “did what she needed to do,” and “she knew exactly what she was doing.”

That’s how House Democrats reacted Wednesday to Pelosi’s decision the night before to tear up her copy of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech on national television. 

Pelosi addressed the move during the weekly Democratic Caucus meeting, telling her members that Trump’s speech was a “manifesto of mistruth” and that she felt “liberated” ripping it up.

“We gave her a standing ovation,” Florida Rep. Lois Frankel said, noting that she personally viewed the move as Pelosi “taking off the gloves.”

Paraphrasing Pelosi’s message to the caucus, Frankel said Trump “basically disgraced us, disgraced the nation, his office because he used the event really as a political infomercial.”

What Pelosi seemed most upset about — “she basically said she had had it” — was that Trump’s speech was full of untruths, Frankel said.

“He’s pretending he’s protecting preexisting conditions? No. Or how about lowering the price of drugs? No,” the Florida Democrat said. “It’s the complete opposite of what he’s doing.”

Frankel acknowledged that tearing up the speech was a bit out of character for Pelosi, who has often spoken about her respect for the office of the presidency despite her personal disagreements with Trump. Pelosi has also urged her caucus to show respect and maintain decorum in formal settings, like when she shushed Democrats who started cheering during the House impeachment votes. 

“It’s very frustrating, let me tell you, because we have to sit there and be polite,” Frankel said. “And so I think Nancy Pelosi’s act … when you have to sit there and just take it, to me that was the least she could do. Or maybe it’s the most she could do sitting there to really show the disgust that we had.”

‘What she needed to do’

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries had a similar interpretation. 

“As far as I’m concerned, the shredder wasn’t available, and so she did what she needed to do,” the New York Democrat said.

California Rep. Anna Eshoo, one of Pelosi’s closest friends in Congress, said the speaker was composed as she tore up the speech.

“She knew exactly what she was doing,” Eshoo said. 

Pelosi’s action “said a lot,” Eshoo added, characterizing her statement to the public as: “Those words are not worth keeping.”

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney tweeted that Pelosi was right not to normalize Trump’s behavior. 

“We all have an obligation to find a way to make clear that what the president is saying is false and rooted in lies,” the New York Democrat said. “She found a way to do that.”

Pelosi has shown increasing frustration over the years with Trump’s flexibility with the facts. As she left the House chamber Tuesday night, she told reporters that ripping up the speech to “was the courteous thing to do, considering the alternatives.”

Several House Democrats walked out of the speech in protest, but Pelosi didn’t have that option as she sat behind Trump on the dais.

The speaker’s office declined to elaborate on her remarks to the Democratic Caucus.

Republican criticism

While Democrats applauded Pelosi, Republicans criticized her. The reactions were unsurprising coming from a polarized Congress that has rarely found common ground when assessing Trump, his performance and his intentions. 

Trump pleased his party in not mentioning impeachment during his speech, providing Republicans with the opportunity to describe his speech as inspiring and optimistic. 

Pelosi tearing the speech up made it easier for Republicans to draw a contrast they likely would’ve made anyway. 

“It was a very moving speech. I’ve been to many States of the Union, as have my colleagues, and this was among the very, very best. It was a really special speech,” Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney said.

“In stark contrast to that, Speaker Pelosi had a tantrum. She disgraced herself, she dishonored the House. She showed once again that she is an embarrassment, that she is unfit for office,” the Wyoming Republican added. 

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise called Pelosi’s action “disgraceful.” 

“It wasn’t just President Trump’s speech,” the Louisiana Republican said. “It was the names of those military servicemen and women. … The country was watching. It was unbecoming of a speaker of the House to react that way.”

Trump has yet to personally address Pelosi’s actions, but he spent Wednesday morning retweeting Twitter users who criticized the speaker, many using #PelosiTantrum — one of several Pelosi hashtags that have been trending since the State of the Union. 

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, told Fox News on Wednesday that Pelosi should either be censured or the Senate should  adopt some other resolution denouncing her behavior.

Trump’s snub

Pelosi’s tearing up of Trump’s speech has become the dominant story out of the State of the Union. Overshadowing what the president said was probably part of her intention. 

But her action effectively also gave her the last word, after Trump appeared to have snubbed her earlier in the night by not shaking her hand before the speech started. 

“She said she didn’t care about that,” Frankel said. 

Eshoo also said Pelosi wouldn’t have torn up the speech as a form of payback for Trump not shaking her hand. 

“No, she’s not small in any way, shape or form — except for her height, she’s small, but not in terms of a human being,” she said. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump and Pelosi’s snubs were not the same. Pelosi tore up an “official document,” the California Republican said. 

McCarthy defended Trump from any responsibility when asked if he and Pelosi needed to reconcile. 

“If someone needs to sit down and change, it comes to the speaker,” McCarthy said.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said he didn’t buy the GOP line about Pelosi. 

“[Trump] can behave like a jackass, but we have to jump all over her back?” he told MSNBC on Wednesday. “I don’t get the double standard.” 

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer put the blame on Trump, calling the president “the author of animosity … of division.” But the Maryland Democrat didn’t seem to think the State of the Union snubs would change anything in Washington.

“The president doesn’t like Nancy Pelosi, and Nancy Pelosi is not wild about Donald Trump,” Hoyer said. “That could be said of a number of different Congresses, probably, and presidents, but we have a responsibility to work together. We have done that. We’re prepared to do it.”

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