Over his shoulder, a female speaker of the House. In the audience, a sea of suffragette white.
President Trump spent his last two speeches to Congress surrounded by men. But on Tuesday, in the glare of television spotlights, he began his State of the Union address with a new salutation.
“Madam Speaker,” Trump said as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took her seat above him on the dais, beaming.
Only two words in and the moment was no longer Trump’s alone. He was sharing the energy and the optics with Democrats and women.
The changes that swept Washington after November’s elections had never been so apparent as on Tuesday night, when Trump entered a chamber that for two years gave him a warm Republican embrace and now confronted him with symbol after symbol of his curtailed power.
But even as Trump gestured to bipartisanship at the beginning of his speech, he quickly began needling Democrats with applause lines that visibly divided their ranks — especially the women in white.
When the president delivered sound bites on job growth and the economy and described the United States as a “net exporter of energy,” some Democrats stood and others did not.
As Trump called on lawmakers to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other new members turned to one another as if wondering how to respond.
Trump’s comments on illegal immigration elicited groans, leading Pelosi to raise her hand in an attempt to quiet her members. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a former Somali refugee, listened while holding her head in her hands.
Putting Democrats on the spot appeared to please Trump, who remained confident and playful as the speech went on.
“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations,” Trump said, as cameras panned to a stoic Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Later, when Trump credited women with filling 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year, the Democratic women stood and cheered.
The president told them not to “sit yet” because they would like his next line about more women holding congressional seats than ever before. The audience laughed and soon began to chant “USA! USA!”
Before the speech, Democrats’ new gains in power were evident in the chamber.
Chef José Andrés sat in the front row of Pelosi’s box wearing a blazer and T-shirt that read: “Immigrants feed America.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president, was engaged in conversation with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), known for her controversial vow to “impeach the motherf---er.”
Women around the chamber wore green buttons endorsing the Equal Rights Amendment.
Even the date of the speech hinted at Pelosi’s influence. The speaker had withdrawn her invitation for Trump to deliver the State of the Union last month because of the partial government shutdown. Less than two weeks ago, Trump bowed to pressure, federal agencies opened their doors and the speech was rescheduled.
Trump, wearing a bold red tie with his dark blue suit, made a quick journey down the center aisle. He shook hands with Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, stopping for a moment to exchange greetings. Many of the Democrats, particularly the women wearing white, stood silent for much of his entrance, giving polite applause at first before stopping altogether.
The president began by invoking bipartisanship and shared American values. “I stand here ready to make historic breakthroughs for all Americans,” he said, drawing the first standing ovation of the night.
During the speech, Pelosi’s face remained in a tight smile as she watched her members and paged through a printed copy of the remarks.
When Trump declared that “America is winning each and every day,” Pelosi appeared to meet eyes and chuckle with another Democrat. And when Trump mentioned the threat posed by “ridiculous partisan investiations,” Pelosi sighed and rolled her eyes.
Some Democrats seemed to chuckle as if at the brazenness of Trump’s remarks.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!” he said to scattered laughs.
The speech seemed to put new Democratic lawmakers in an awkward spot. Ocasio-Cortez, when she stood for applause lines, often did not clap.
“Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” Trump said. “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who describes herself as a Democratic socialist, smiled during these lines as Republicans applauded and chanted: “USA! USA!”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.