Most Democratic lawmakers, dressed in black, refused to stand to greet President Trump for his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, setting the tone for one of the most divisive receptions for a president in modern history.
Many sour-faced Democrats also declined to stand and applaud first lady Melania Trump, who countered their black outfits with a bright white pantsuit.
First ladies are usually warmly greeted no matter what the party. But Mr. Trump’s presidency has been different from the start, with the president pursuing a conservative agenda and Democrats vowing total resistance from the start — including attempting impeachment before his first year was done.
Democrats even sat on their hands when Mr. Trump celebrated historically low unemployment rates and vowed not to forget people suffering from natural disasters.
Most Democrats did, however, applaud the heroes sitting with first Lady Melania Trump who rescued Americans from natural disasters, or the police officer who along with his wife adopted the baby of a heroin addict. And nearly all Democrats gave a standing ovation to Rep. Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican shot by a deranged leftist at a baseball practice last year.
Democrats’ confusion over when to stand was on full display when Mr. Trump suggested Americans should stand for the National Anthem.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stood and tapped her hands together, looking around at her colleagues still sitting and giving them a quick shrug. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, her chief lieutenant, stayed seated.
Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, was a glaring exception, regularly joining Republicans in standing ovations.
Despite the stone faces, some Democrats afterward said they found plenty of areas of agreement.
“If the president chooses to follow through on his prepared remarks tonight, he will find Democrats ready to work with him on lowering prescription drug prices, making massive new investments in America’s crumbling roads and bridges, passing meaningful paid family leave legislation, and protecting Dreamers,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.
Mr. Trump appeared to acknowledge the divisions in the room, asking for lawmakers to seek beyond the rancor.
“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve,” he said.
Seven years ago, after the shooting of them-Rep. Gabby Giffords just ahead of a State of the Union address, lawmakers vowed to tone down the partisanship. Many of them vowed to cross the aisle to sit with friends or members of their state delegation from the other party.
That practice has all but petered out, though a few Republicans crossed the center aisle to sit on the Democratic side.
Two of them — Reps. John Culberson and Michael McCaul — sat with fellow Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.
At one point the two Republicans leapt to applaud and, after giving them a few seconds, Mr. Cuellar grabbed their suit coat hems and began to pull them back into their seats.