President Trump may have had an hour and a half to deliver his message to the American people, but all it took was a few seconds for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Immediately after Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Pelosi stood and emphatically ripped a copy of his speech in half, tossing it back on the lectern.
During his speech, Trump railed against “criminal illegal immigrants,” promised to protect health care for people with preexisting conditions (when in fact his administration has fought to get rid of such protections), and heaped praise on conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh (who has a decades-long history of sexist and racist statements).
At least two Democrats were so disgusted with the speech that they walked out. Several others, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, chose to boycott it.
Pelosi, meanwhile, saved her protest for the end. Clad in white to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, she stood and — three times — ripped sheets of paper in half. A spokesperson for the speaker confirmed to Vox that it was a copy of the president’s speech, which he had handed her earlier in the evening.
Pelosi also told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that tearing up the speech was “the courteous thing to do given the alternative.”
Asked why she ripped up Trump’s speech, @SpeakerPelosi said because it was “a courteous thing to do considering the alternative. It was such a dirty speech.”— Mary Bruce (@marykbruce) February 5, 2020
The moment was part of a contentious evening between Trump and Pelosi. The president began the night by appearing to refuse to shake the speaker’s hand.
Wow! Pelosi tried to shake Trump's hand but he seemed to refuse pic.twitter.com/nZhpwnXKCU— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 5, 2020
In response to Pelosi’s action, the White House tweeted its own statement saying that the speaker had ripped up “a service member’s reunion with his family,” insulting the families and individuals honored by Trump in his speech.
Speaker Pelosi just ripped up:— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 5, 2020
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.
That's her legacy.
The moment had echoes of a previous Pelosi move — at the 2019 State of the Union, her smirking applause for the president became a meme, with many assuming it was sarcastic. She insisted it was genuine, but Pelosi has always had a flair for imagery.
#waybackwednesday - oh yes that clap took me back to the teen years. She knows. And she knows that you know. And frankly she’s disappointed that you thought this would work. But here’s a clap. #youtriedit pic.twitter.com/vUCX2uAUvv— Christine Pelosi (@sfpelosi) February 6, 2019
In October, Trump tweeted a photo of Pelosi gesticulating at him and other members of his administration, in an attempt to make her look bad. But the photo — a woman literally standing up to a roomful of men — didn’t quite have the desired effect. Pelosi made it her Twitter background, and #PelosiOwnsTrump began trending.
Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown! pic.twitter.com/RDeUI7sfe7— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2019
Pelosi’s decision to rip up Trump’s speech was just the latest public skirmish between the two — and the latest reminder that if Trump knows how to use political theater to make his points, Pelosi certainly does too.