WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump delivered his annual State of the Union address Tuesday night, just one day before the Senate decides whether to acquit him of impeachment charges.
Trump addressed the joint session of Congress, members of his cabinet, and Supreme Court justices. The speech began just after 9 p.m. in the House chambers. The president is expected to speak about the economy and the 2020 agenda, sidestepping impeachment talk ahead of his near-inevitable acquittal. The move would be a deviation from last year's speech when he brought up the House investigations that led to the impeachment inquiry.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” Trump said during his 2019 State of the Union speech.
Though Trump did not bring up impeachment explicitly, the president ignored House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she reached out for a handshake just before his speech began. Pelosi led House Democrats in impeaching Trump in December. At the end of his remarks, Pelosi tore up her copy of his speech.
Senate Republicans said this week they would rather Trump didn’t bring up impeachment at all during his State of the Union but warned anything could happen.
“If I was him I wouldn't talk about it tomorrow night,” Sen. Roy Blunt told reporters on Monday. “I’d try to set the stage for what's been done and how we move forward. But he often likes to take things head-on and he might take this head-on.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota echoed that sentiment.
“It's just not what I would do, but Donald Trump is the only Donald Trump we know and I suspect he’ll be himself,” Cramer told reporters on Monday.
During his speech, Trump announced that he would award conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who announced Monday he had been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, with the presidential medal of freedom. First lady Melania Trump gave Limbaugh, one of the president's State of the Union guests, mid-speech Tuesday night.
At one point during his speech, Trump addressed another of his guests, Amy Williams, whose husband was deployed to Afghanistan. Williams attended the speech along with her two younger children and Trump thanked them for their sacrifice, which "makes it possible for all of our families to live in safety and in peace." Then Trump announced that as "a very special surprise," her husband had returned, as he walked into the chamber to greet his family.
Following Trump's speech, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered the Democratic response. Whitmer was elected governor in 2018, two years after Trump narrowly carried the state over Hillary Clinton. Freshman Rep. Veronica Escobar was charged with delivering the House Democrats’ Spanish-language response to Trump's speech and spoke from the district she represents, in El Paso, Texas. Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley boycotted Trump's State of the Union, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she delivered a response for the Working Families Party.
Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts, who is overseeing Trump's impeachment trial, attended Tuesday's speech. Many members of Trump's cabinet also attended, but Interior Secretary David Bernhardt served as the designated survivor.
Pelosi invited Trump to address the joint session two days after House Democrats voted to impeach the president. Democrats impeached Trump on charges of abuse of power after he made the decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine until the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to announce an investigation into Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden. House Democrats also impeached Trump on obstruction of Congress after the president blocked witnesses from testifying during the impeachment inquiry.
The address comes as senators spent more than two weeks listening to arguments from House managers and the president’s defense team. All 100 senators will vote on whether to remove the president from office on Wednesday around 4 p.m. The Senate is expected to acquit him.
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