President Trump went on the offensive against socialism and left-wing policies during a defiant third State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday night -- drawing groans from Democrats in attendance and prompting a furious House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to rip up her copy of Trump's speech as soon as it concluded in a remarkable scene.
Asked about the moment by Fox News afterward, Pelosi said she had destroyed the speech “because it was the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives.” She also said she was "trying to find one page with truth on it" but "couldn't."
The White House responded almost immediately by referencing several of the guests of honor whom Trump had introduced during the State of the Union address.
"Speaker Pelosi just ripped up: One of our last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. The survival of a child born at 21 weeks. The mourning families of Rocky Jones and Kayla Mueller. A service member's reunion with his family," the White House said in a tweet. "That's her legacy."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., told Fox News that Trump's speech was "rough" in parts. Responding to Pelosi ripping up the speech, he added, "None of that’s good."
And, speaking to Fox News' "Hannity," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called Pelosi's actions "disgraceful" and "disgusting," saying they made him "angry."
Some commentators accused Pelosi of hypocrisy, noting that back in 2009, she had called on a Republican congressman to apologize or face formal censure for shouting during President Obama's State of the Union address, "You lie!"
In an apparent attempt at reconciliation, Pelosi tweeted late Tuesday that Democrats "will never stop extending the hand of friendship to get the job done #ForThePeople." Pelosi also released a statement saying Trump did not issue a positive message on health care, and calling his speech a "manifesto of mistruths."
The flareup was a harsh reminder of the partisan discord pervading the halls of Congress, even as Trump in his speech all but ignored the historic impeachment drama that flanked this year's address -- a fight virtually certain to end with Trump's overwhelming acquittal on Wednesday. Trump opted in his remarks to publicly challenge Democrats on policy grounds while touting what he called the "blue-collar boom" in the country.
The tensions over impeachment appeared to surface early on, however, as Pelosi refused to introduce Trump by saying it was her "distinct honor" and "high privilege" to do so, as is tradition. Instead, she simply introduced him as the President of the United States.
Seconds earlier, Trump seemingly snubbed a handshake offer from Pelosi, while Republican lawmakers chanted, "Four more years!" But, the president did not shake Vice President Mike Pence's hand, either, and it appeared he may simply not have noticed Pelosi reaching out her hand.
The night was full of other dramatic, made-for-TV moments: Trump introduced a warfighter back from his fourth Afghanistan deployment to his shocked wife (which was not included in prepared remarks of the speech delivered in advance to reporters); awarded radio host Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the spot; issued an academic scholarship to a needy family; and introduced a surviving member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
And he began to shape what could be part of his re-election campaign message.
"As we work to improve Americans' health care, there are those who want to take away your health care, take away your doctor, and abolish private insurance entirely," Trump said. "One hundred thirty-two lawmakers in this room have endorsed legislation to impose a socialist takeover of our healthcare system, wiping out the private health insurance plans of 180 million Americans. To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know: We will never let socialism destroy American health care."
He added: "Over 130 legislators in this chamber have endorsed legislation that would bankrupt our Nation by providing free taxpayer-funded healthcare to millions of illegal aliens, forcing taxpayers to subsidize free care for anyone in the world who unlawfully crosses our borders. These proposals would raid the Medicare benefits our seniors depend on, while acting as a powerful lure for illegal immigration."
Pelosi appeared to mouth "not true" as Trump said Democrats would pay illegal immigrants' health care -- although virtually all Democratic presidential contenders indicated they would support such a measure during a recent debate.
"This is what is happening in California and other States -- their systems are totally out of control, costing taxpayers vast and unaffordable amounts of money," Trump continued. "If forcing American taxpayers to provide unlimited free healthcare to illegal aliens sounds fair to you, then stand with the radical left. But if you believe that we should defend American patients and American seniors, then stand with me and pass legislation to prohibit free Government healthcare for illegal aliens!"
Drawing some audible murmurs of disapproval from Democrats in the chamber, Trump repeatedly took aim at the Obama administration's economic and foreign policies.
"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," Trump said. "Under the last administration, more than 10 million people were added to the food stamp rolls. Under my administration, 7 million Americans have come off of food stamps, and 10 million people have been lifted off of welfare."
"Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul."
As he did during the 2019 State of the Union, Trump again directly condemned socialism -- and introduced a high-profile guest from embattled Venezuela.
"Joining us in the gallery is the true and legitimate President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó," Trump said. "Mr. President, please take this message back to your homeland. All Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom! Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul."
Drawing more audible complaints from Democrats, Trump further hammered "sanctuary city" policies that shield illegal immigrants from federal immigration authorities.
"Tragically, there are many cities in America where radical politicians have chosen to provide sanctuary for these criminal illegal aliens," Trump said. "In Sanctuary Cities, local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed. Just 29 days ago, a criminal alien freed by the Sanctuary City of New York was charged with the brutal rape and murder of a 92-year-old woman. The killer had been previously arrested for assault, but under New York's sanctuary policies, he was set free. If the city had honored ICE's detainer request, his victim would be alive today. The State of California passed an outrageous law declaring their whole State to be a sanctuary for criminal illegal immigrants -- with catastrophic results."
Trump praised Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), saying the agency "has arrested over 5,000 wicked human traffickers -- and I have signed 9 pieces of legislation to stamp out the menace of human trafficking, domestically and around the globe."
"The state of our union is stronger than ever before," Trump declared early on to applause, as most Democrats -- including those who have recently sought to have the president removed from office -- remained seated, stone-faced and apparently dejected.
"Since my election, the net worth of the bottom half of wage-earners has increased by 47 percent -- 3 times faster than the increase for the top 1 percent," Trump said. "After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast -- and, wonderfully, they are rising fastest for low-income workers, who have seen a 16 percent pay-increase since my election. This is a blue-collar boom."
As he often does during his campaign rallies, the president went line-by-line through unemployment statistics, drawing some applause from even Democrats in the chamber.
"The unemployment rates for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans have reached the lowest levels in history," Trump said. African-American youth unemployment has reached an all-time low. African-American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded. The unemployment rate for women reached the lowest level in almost 70 years -- and last year, women filled 72 percent of all new jobs added.
"The veterans' unemployment rate dropped to a record low," he continued. "The unemployment rate for disabled Americans has reached an all-time low. Workers without a high school diploma have achieved the lowest unemployment rate recorded in United States history. A record number of young Americans are now employed."
The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Trump said, would only accelerate job growth.
"One of the single biggest promises I made to the American people was to replace the disastrous NAFTA trade deal," Trump said. "In fact, unfair trade is perhaps the single biggest reason that I decided to run for President. Following NAFTA's adoption, our Nation lost one in four manufacturing jobs. Many politicians came and went, pledging to change or replace NAFTA -- only to do absolutely nothing. But unlike so many who came before me, I keep my promises. Six days ago, I replaced NAFTA and signed the brand new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) into law."
The USMCA, Trump maintained, "will create nearly 100,000 new high-paying American auto jobs, and massively boost exports for our farmers, ranchers, and factory workers. It will also bring trade with Mexico and Canada to a much higher degree, but also to a much greater level of fairness and reciprocity. This is the first major trade deal in many years to earn the strong backing of America's labor unions."
Honored guests -- and a shocking reunion
Limbaugh, who announced on Monday he is battling advanced lung cancer, unexpectedly received the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the address, courtesy of First Lady Melania Trump.
"Thank you for your decades of tireless devotion to our country," Trump said as Limbaugh rose. "Rush, in recognition of all that you have done for our Nation, the millions of people a day that you speak to and inspire, and all of the incredible work that you have done for charity, I am proud to announce tonight that you will be receiving our country's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I will now ask the First Lady of the United States to please stand and present you with the honor."
Separately, after touting his criminal-justice reform bill, Trump pushed Congress to build what he called an "an inclusive society" by "making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream." He turned his attention to one student in the chamber.
"To rescue these students, 18 States have created school choice in the form of Opportunity Scholarships," Trump said. "The programs are so popular, that tens of thousands of students remain on waiting lists. One of those students is Janiyah Davis, a fourth grader from Philadelphia. Janiyah's mom Stephanie is a single parent. She would do anything to give her daughter a better future. But last year, that future was put further out of reach when Pennsylvania's Governor vetoed legislation to expand school choice for 50,000 children.
"Janiyah and Stephanie are in the gallery this evening," Trump said. "But there is more to their story. Janiyah, I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over. I can proudly announce tonight that an Opportunity Scholarship has become available, it is going to you, and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice! Now, I call on the Congress to give 1 million American children the same opportunity Janiyah has just received. Pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act -- because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school."
Pelosi stared ahead, apparently reading from a copy of Trump's speech as other lawmakers cheered.
"Opportunity Zones are helping Americans like Army Veteran Tony Rankins from Cincinnati, Ohio," Trump additionally remarked, bringing Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., to her feet. Sinema, who notably did not wear white as some of her colleagues did as a show of feminine solidarity, was one of a handful of Democrats to stand and applaud during Trump's remarks at various points.
"After struggling with drug addiction, Tony lost his job, his house, and his family -- he was homeless. But then Tony found a construction company that invests in Opportunity Zones. He is now a top tradesman, drug-free, reunited with his family, and he is here tonight. Tony: Keep up the great work."
Trump also praised Ellie Schneider, who was born after just 21 weeks weighing less than a pound.
“Through the skill of her doctors and the prayers of her parents, little Ellie kept on winning the battle of life,” Trump said. “Today, Ellie is a strong, healthy two-year-old girl sitting with her amazing mother Robin in the gallery.”
He added: "Ellie reminds us that every child is a miracle of life. And thanks to modern medical wonders, 50 percent of very premature babies delivered at the hospital where Ellie was born now survive. It’s an incredible thing. . . . That is why I’m also calling upon members of Congress here tonight to pass legislation finally banning the late-term abortion of babies."
The comments prompted angry responses from pro-choice activists.
Later, Trump honored Charles McGee, one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American pilots who fought in World War II.
"Charles McGee was born in Cleveland, Ohio, one century ago," Trump said. "Charles is one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen -- the first black fighter pilots -- and he also happens to be Iain's great-grandfather. After more than 130 combat missions in World War II, he came back to a country still struggling for Civil Rights and went on to serve America in Korea and Vietnam. On December 7th, Charles celebrated his 100th birthday. A few weeks ago, I signed a bill promoting Charles McGee to Brigadier General. And earlier today, I pinned the stars on his shoulders in the Oval Office. General McGee: Our Nation salutes you."
Amid his immigration discussion, Trump highlighted a gruesome murder that he said was made possible in part by Democrats' immigration policies.
"In December 2018, California police detained an illegal alien with five prior arrests, including convictions for robbery and assault. But as required by California's Sanctuary Law, local authorities released him. Days later, the criminal alien went on a gruesome spree of deadly violence. He viciously shot one man going about his daily work; he approached a woman sitting in her car and shot her in the arm and the chest," Trump said.
"He walked into a convenience store and wildly fired his weapon," the president continued. "He hijacked a truck and smashed into vehicles, critically injuring innocent victims. One of the victims of his bloody rampage was a 51-year-old American named Rocky Jones. Rocky was at a gas station when this vile criminal fired eight bullets at him from close range, murdering him in cold blood. Rocky left behind a devoted family, including his brothers who loved him more than anything. One of his grieving brothers is here with us tonight. Jody, would you please stand? Jody, our hearts weep for your loss -- and we will not rest until you have justice."
The president also honored Kelli and Gage Hake, who lost their father, Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Hake, to a roadside bomb reportedly funded by Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general slain in a U.S. drone strike earlier this year. Soleimani had recently organized a proxy militia's assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
In perhaps the night's most unexpected moment -- which was not included in the prepared remarks provided in advance to reporters -- the president introduced a soldier who had just gotten back from his fourth deployment to Afghanistan.
“War places a heavy burden on our nation’s extraordinary military families, especially spouses like Amy Williams from Fort Bragg, N.C. and her two children, six-year-old Eliana and three-year-old Rowan,” Trump said.
“Amy works full time and volunteers countless hours helping other military families," the president continued. "For the past seven months, she has done it all while her husband Sgt. 1st Class Townsend Williams is in Afghanistan on his fourth deployment to the Middle East. Amy’s kids haven’t seen their father’s face in many months. Amy, your family’s sacrifice makes it possible for all of our families to live in safety and peace, and we want to thank you.
“Amy, there is one more thing,” Trump went on, as the chamber erupted. “Tonight we have a very special surprise. I am thrilled to inform you that your husband is back from deployment. He is here with us tonight and we couldn’t keep him waiting any longer.”
Sgt. Williams, a U.S. Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, entered the gallery to resounding cheers from both sides of the aisle.
Some prominent Democrats, including Reps. Maxine Waters and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, were not in attendance for the speech or the drama that unfolded, saying they were doing so out of protest.
Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution dictates that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union.” George Washington delivered the first such speech to Congress.
But Thomas Jefferson halted the practice, instead submitting a missive to Congress. It would be more than a century until President Woodrow Wilson rekindled the process of giving a speech to Congress.
The designated survivor not in attendance at the Capitol was Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Fox News has learned.
Fox News' Chad Pergram, Jason Donner, Marisa Schultz, and Matt Leach contributed to this report.