U.S. President Donald Trump’s state of the union address on Feb. 4 was memorable.
He told members of Congress about his various political and economic achievements. He awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. He honoured a wide assortment of figures, from Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to 100-year-old retired U.S. Air Force Col. Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. He even reunited Sgt. Townsend Williams – who was deployed in Afghanistan – with his wife Amy and their two young children.
Yet, the most memorable moment of the state of the union address actually had nothing to do with the president . It had to do with the vile, disgusting actions of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
After Trump had finished speaking, Pelosi ripped up the address in full view of Congress, Supreme Court justices, invited guests and the media.
Why did she do this?
“Because it was a manifesto of mistruths,” she said to several reporters when they asked her in the hall. And she told others it was “the courteous thing to do considering the alternative.” It’s not entirely clear what alternatives she could have been considering.
It’s no big secret that Trump and Pelosi don’t get along. Their working relationship has been tense since 2018 and they reportedly hadn’t said one word to each other since the president’s impeachment hearings were first announced.
It’s also plausible that Pelosi’s eruption was based on something that happened between her and the president before he spoke to Congress.
During the state of the union, Trump followed procedure and handed printed copies of his address to Vice-President Mike Pence and Pelosi. He turned around just as she extended her hand and didn’t shake it.
Was it a snub?
Perhaps, although he didn’t shake Pence’s hand, either.
Regardless, there’s a huge difference between not shaking someone’s hand – which can be interpreted as either accidental or childish – and tearing up a state of the union address.
Just imagine if a Republican house speaker like John Boehner or Paul Ryan had done something like this to one of then-president Barack Obama’s state of the union addresses. There wouldn’t have been much silence on the left side of the media aisle – and the descriptions would have been far more intense.
What Pelosi did wasn’t illegal, of course. But it was disrespectful to every adult and child who was honoured by the president last week, as well as the memories of those mentioned in his address who are no longer with us.
She should be reprimanded for her actions in some fashion.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives will obviously not do anything to Pelosi. But the Republican-controlled Senate should strongly consider passing a non-binding censure motion after Trump’s presidential trial has ended.
In particular, former Republican house speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted on Feb. 4, “As Speaker of the House for four State of the Unions by a President of the other party I am disgusted and insulted by the viciously partisan action of Nancy Pelosi tearing up the speech. She isn’t clever or cute her childishness insults our American traditions – should be censured.”
I agree. If you truly respect tradition and decorum in politics, Pelosi’s staged performance in front of the cameras was about as low as you can get.
Republican senators have an opportunity to send an important message to the Democratic house speaker that these sorts of shenanigans aren’t acceptable in Congress. Let’s hope they do it.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.