As President Donald Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress last night, it wasn’t hard to miss a group of Democratic lawmakers—all women--dressed in white amid a sea of navy, black and charcoal suits. Multiple women, notably African American legislators, also sported an accessory: black flowers pinned to their lapels.
Yet this wasn’t a fashion statement, far from it. Rather, it was a collective symbol of political dissent, aimed squarely at America’s 45th president.
Even as Republicans largely cheered the Commander in Chief on Tuesday night, many of their Democratic counterparts expressed reactions that ran the gamut from disappointment to defiance.
The black flowers, said one Capitol Hill aide, were worn “because black women will need to stand together in solidarity to resist Trump's assault on communities of color.”
“The white [clothing] was in honor of the Suffragists,” he added, calling the gesture “a sign to Trump that Democratic women will not allow him to turn back the clock on progress.”
Yet Trump, who adopted a far more subdued tone than his inauguration address and on the campaign trail, told the nation that his Administration is already making progress.
“I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart,” he said, opening with remarks acknowledging Black History Month and denouncing “hate and evil” such as recent attacks on Jewish sites around the country. “A new chapter of American Greatness is now beginning."
Trump highlighted a range of issues that included the economy, job creation, national security and terrorism, along with his signature campaign promises: repealing the Affordable Care Act, and building a wall on the U.S./ Mexico border to purportedly stem illegal immigration and crime. He also defended his recent travel ban, which critics say unfairly targets Muslims.
Along the way, he talked about everything from rebuilding America’s inner cities, to strengthening the military, tax reform, child care for families, and tackling the epidemic of addiction nationwide.
“We've financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit -- and so many other places throughout our land,” Trump said.
“We've defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross -- and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate. And we've spent trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.”
While at least two national polls have showed that many Americans had a favorable reaction to Trump’s message, clearly partisan and ideological divides remain. More than a few Democrats expressed their disapproval. And Maxine Waters (D-CA) declined to attend.
“President Trump’s address was the most pessimistic and divisive message I have ever witnessed from a sitting president,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who was dressed in a white suit accessorized with a black flower.
“In the 40 days since he was inaugurated, the President has done nothing to create jobs or raise wages for American families,” she said. “Instead, he has lined the pockets of billionaires and doubled down on Republicans’ heartless crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act. President Trump has peddled falsehoods, cozied up to Russia and advanced polices to tear immigrant families apart.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) compared Trump to his predecessor, Barack Obama, charging the current administration with "going backwards."
“By this point in his presidency, President Obama had already signed legislation to help ensure equal pay for women, expand children’s access to health insurance, and bring our economy back from the brink of collapse,” he said.
He accused Trump of making it easier for Wall Street to prey on Americans’ hard-earned retirement savings; appointing people to key posts in his administration who "want to slash" Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; and declaring "war on Americans’ right to health care."
“While he is rolling back our progress, the American people are waiting on President Trump to keep his promises,” Cummings continued. “Where is his alternative to the Affordable Care Act that will provide even better and more affordable health care for everyone? Where is his plan to invest in our nation’s infrastructure? Where is his plan to help Americans living in urban areas like Baltimore?”
Rep. Robin Kelly, (D-IL) echoed a similar sentiment. “The president laid out a lot of rhetoric but very little policy. Talking points, but no solutions.”
“It's kind of like how he talks about Chicago but does nothing to help. I've invited him to come to Chicago, to put some action behind his rhetoric, and help find solutions to create job opportunity and reduce gun violence in our community. My invitations have been met with pure silence.”
Yet Republicans such as Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) conveyed that they were encouraged by the president’s message and “the unifying moments” shared.
“I especially appreciated the honor and sentiments shared for the widow of fallen Navy Seal Ryan Owens, who was killed in a recent Yemen raid,” said Love, the only black woman representing the GOP in Congress.
"This new Administration and I share many of the same goals on a variety of issues,” she continued, citing “honoring our nation’s veterans, reining in the regulatory state, fixing our broken healthcare system and unlocking our economic potential. I am working hard today, to advance this bold agenda. … If we do this, I am confident that our best years lie ahead."
After the speech, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) posted on his Twitter feed that “we heard many ideas from the President… where I believe we can find common ground and produce real solutions for the American people.”
Scott, the lone African American man to serve as a Senate Republican, cited violence, which he wrote “is harming many of our communities.”
“I believe this means bringing our law enforcement and communities together to better understand and find solutions for the issues they both face.”
Today, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is hosting a panel examining what a press release termed "the constitutional, ethical, and national security implications of the Trump Administration’s first month in power." Last night, CBC Chair, Cedric Richmond (D-LA), challenged most of the president’s policies and plans.
“President Trump says he wants to make America great again, but, as the actions of his Administration and his remarks. ... prove, he only wants to do this for the wealthy and powerful, not African Americans and other marginalized communities,” said Richmond, who cited examples such as repealing Obamacare, restoring “law and order” and school choice programs.
“Our nation is great when all Americans, including African-Americans, can live their best lives. If President Trump wants to make the country greater, then these policies and programs and others he outlined tonight are a very bad start.”
Michael Steele, former Lt. Governor of Maryland and a past Republican National Committee chairman, described Trump's speech as "very good." He also believes that while the president's outreach to African Americans may feel "awkward" at times, his efforts are sincere.
"The speech was very focused, he really had a message he wanted to deliver, particularly given what some would call a chaotic first 40 days. [Trump] laid out his marching orders for his cabinet and what types of things he hopes to achieve. It was an opportunistic, bridge building moment for the president."
"The next test will be in the next 24 hours," Steele added. "Does he undo the good work and good will with a Tweet?"