Friday 19 July 2019

Trump jeered after hailing women in his Union speech

Mocking: House speaker Nancy Pelosi claps Donald Trump as he delivers his State of the Union speech. Photo: AP
Mocking: House speaker Nancy Pelosi claps Donald Trump as he delivers his State of the Union speech. Photo: AP

Ben Riley-Smith, Nick Allen and Rozina Sabur

Donald Trump hailed the historic number of women elected to Congress during his State of the Union address and was greeted with mock celebration from Democrats in an exchange that underscored his political vulnerability.

The US president unexpectedly noted the record number of female candidates who won Senate or House of Representative seats in the 2018 midterm elections, despite most being picked up by his political opponents.

The remark got one of the most energetic reactions of the night as dozens of Democratic Party congresswomen, dressed in white to protest against the president, jumped to their feet, whooping and applauding the achievement.

"You weren't supposed to do that," a surprised Mr Trump said when the Democrats' first wave of celebrations began before he completed the point, adding: "Don't sit yet, you're going to like this."

The moment, which lasted just a few minutes, highlighted both the Republicans' struggle to elect women to Congress and Mr Trump's own difficulty winning women voters given his controversial past comments.

The US president struck a deliberately bipartisan tone during his 82-minute address, urging congressmen to put aside their party differences and govern in the interests of "one nation". "Victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country," Mr Trump said.

He added later: "We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction. Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness."

The call for unity was born in part from political necessity. Mr Trump must win Democrats' votes if he hopes to pass any new legislation, given his opponents now hold a majority in the House.

Mr Trump named improving the nation's "crumbling infrastructure", measures to reduce the "wrong" and "unfair" high prices for prescription drugs and a push to "defeat Aids in America" as areas of possible joint agreement.

But that bipartisan message was undermined by a series of swipes at political opponents and a reiteration of the importance of securing funding for the Mexico border wall - one of Mr Trump's most contentious policy priorities.

"Simply put - walls work and walls save lives," Mr Trump said, criticising "wealthy politicians and donors [who] push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards".

It was the president's demand of $5.7bn (€5bn) for building the wall, and the Democrats' refusal to oblige, that led to the historic 35-day government shutdown. Another shutdown begins after February 15 if no immigration deal is reached.

Mr Trump also attacked "ridiculous partisan investigations" into his presidency, an apparent reference to both the Russian election meddling probe and Democrat inquiries being launched through the House committees they now control. "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation," Mr Trump said.

But it was his interaction with the more than 70 Democratic congresswomen who wore white to the address in honour of female suffrage that caught the eye.

"No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58pc of the new jobs created in the last year," Mr Trump said, in the first of three comments that prompted the impromptu celebration among newly elected Democratic representatives. Throughout the address Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats' House speaker, also dressed in white, was sitting behind Mr Trump and closely watched for reaction.

At one point Ms Pelosi appeared to applaud sarcastically as Mr Trump turned to look at her.

Before the address, Mr Trump had hinted he would use it to declare a national emergency, allowing him to use the military budget to pay for his border wall.

However, facing some Republican opposition, he did not do so.

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