Trump's State of the Union filled with pride, partisanship and theatrics

The speech ended in spectacularly partisan fashion, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ripping up her copy of his address.

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By Adam Edelman

President Donald Trump promoted the economy and trade deals on Tuesday night in his third State of the Union address — an unusual speech that mixed unprecedented theatrics, including reuniting military families and doling out civilian awards, with overt partisan appeals.

The event ended in spectacularly bitter fashion, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ripping up her copy of the speech as the president finished — a climax to a tense evening chock-full of strain and division between the two leaders and, more broadly, among members of both political parties.

Pelosi's move was one of several instances of visibly intense partisanship during Trump's nearly 80-minute speech, which came amid his Senate impeachment trial. The Senate, which will vote Wednesday on Trump's verdict, is widely expected to acquit the president on two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Earlier in the evening, after Trump reached the lectern, he did not shake Pelosi's hand. At other points while Trump was speaking, Pelosi was seen shaking her head.

Pelosi told NBC News that she tore up the speech because "it was the courteous thing to do, considering the alternative."

Trump used a chunk of his address to give the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

As Trump recognized Limbaugh, almost all of the Democrats in the chamber remained seated, while many Republicans cheered loudly. First lady Melania Trump placed the medal around Limbaugh's neck, prompting someone in the gallery to scream, "Thank you, Rush." Democrats were heard groaning. Limbaugh said this week that he is suffering from advanced lung cancer.

The evening included several other instances of unorthodox dramatics. At one point, Trump made a surprise announcement to a woman in the chamber that her husband, who had been serving overseas in the military, had returned. The man then entered the chamber and embraced his wife and their two children.

At another point, Trump announced to another of his guests — a young African American woman and her young daughter — that he would award the girl a school-choice scholarship for which she had been on the waiting list.

But hanging over most of the speech was a broad overcast of partisan tension and overt disapproval from Democrats.

At one particularly tense juncture, Trump appeared to take aim at a signature policy of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a Democratic presidential contender.

"One hundred thirty-two lawmakers in this room have endorsed legislation to impose a socialist takeover of our health care system, wiping out the private health insurance plans of 180 million Americans," Trump said.

"To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know: We will never let socialism destroy American health care" — an apparent attack on the "Medicare For All" policy proposed by Sanders and embraced by others in the field.

He also later slammed "the radical left" over a bill supported by some Democrats that would provide health care to undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

"Over 130 legislators in this chamber have endorsed legislation that would bankrupt our nation by providing free taxpayer-funded health care to millions of illegal aliens, forcing taxpayers to subsidize free care for anyone in the world who unlawfully crosses our borders," Trump said.

"If forcing American taxpayers to provide unlimited free health care to illegal aliens sounds fair to you, then stand with the radical left," he added.

At various other points, Democrats remained seated or stood up to protest at lines that prompted raucous applause from Republicans, such as when the president's reference to prescription drug policy had his opponents on their feet chanting "H.R. 3" — a bill that had been supported by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

As Trump was announced, there was loud applause on the Republican side and in the galleries. A trio of House impeachment managers, however — Democrats Adam Schiff and Jason Crow of California and Jerry Nadler of New York — did not clap at all.

Eight Democratic House members skipped the event altogether, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Later, two more members of Congress announced that they had left the chamber during the speech, fed up with its content.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, tweeted that he'd "walked out" because "I've had enough."

"It's like watching professional wrestling. It's all fake," Ryan said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., tweeted that he left because he "can't stand a liar."

"This man's presidency is a national tragedy," he said.

For the most part, however, Trump largely focused on an economic message, taking credit for a booming economy and pointing to what he says are his numerous economic accomplishments.

"Three years ago, we launched the 'Great American Comeback.' Tonight, I stand before you to share the incredible results," he said.

"In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America's destiny," Trump said. "We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back."

"Our country is thriving and highly respected again," Trump said. "The years of economic decay are over."

"The state of the union is stronger than ever before," he added.

Trump focused large chunks of his speech on job creation and the record-low unemployment rates in the U.S. — dubbing the growth a "blue-collar boom" — as well as his signing of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

And Trump dedicated part of the speech to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, announcing him as the "true and legitimate president of Venezuela."

"Mr. President, please take this message back to your homeland. All Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom," Trump told Guaidó, who was in the chamber. "Socialism destroys nations. But always remember: Freedom unifies the soul."

One topic Trump didn't touch on: impeachment. One administration official told NBC News that Trump, by speaking "past" impeachment, would be able to send the message to Americans that he was working on their behalf and not getting distracted by his Senate trial.