- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2018

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was an island unto herself on Tuesday, sticking out sorely as she stood and clapped for President Trump’s call to respect the national anthem.

To her right and left, her Democratic colleagues — including the party’s other top leaders — sat on their hands, unmoved by Mr. Trump’s State of the Union appeal.

Turning to survey her colleagues’ sour faces, Mrs. Pelosi gave a slight shrug, then kept applauding.

The public appears to agree with her: The president’s speech won strong support in polls from viewers who said his appeals for unity and bipartisanship struck the right notes of challenge to a deeply divided Congress.

A CBS News poll found that 75 percent of those who watched the speech gave it a thumbs-up, calling it unifying and backing the policies the president laid out.

Democrats saw a different speech. They emerged to accuse the president of racism for highlighting black families whose teens were slain by MS-13 gang members.

SEE ALSO: Democrats refuse to stand for Trump arrival at State of the Union

“From his racist, demonizing comments on immigrants to the complete lack of any mention in relation to securing our democracy from the Russian government, the speech wasn’t new, it wasn’t good and it won’t change any fundamental dynamics of our nation moving forward,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Democrats said whatever the president’s calls for unity, the burden is on him to move toward them on immigration, infrastructure spending and other big issues.

“While I am always willing to work with my colleagues across the aisle, the president’s call for bipartisanship and unity rings hollow,” said Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. “You cannot reject bipartisan plans to improve health care and protect Dreamers or sow hate and division — and then turn around the next day and say you want to work together.”

Kevin Sheridan, a Republican Party strategist, said Democrats’ reaction showed a party trapped by its distaste for anything having to do with Mr. Trump.

“They loathe this man; we get it,” Mr. Sheridan said. “It is just what else do they have to offer voters? That is it? That is not a positive and optimistic agenda. They are just running on Trump hatred, and it manifests itself in everything they say or do, including in Nancy Pelosi’s scowling face.”

He said Democrats could end up as their own worst enemies.

“Republicans are not in a good place, but the only thing that could stop the wave is Democrats themselves,” Mr. Sheridan said. “They have no message. They have no policy agenda other than ‘We hate Donald Trump.’”

The potential pitfalls of going all in against Mr. Trump were illustrated in a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday that showed public support for the tax overhaul that Democrats have written off as a giveaway to the rich is on the rise — as is Mr. Trump’s approval rating, which jumped 10 percentage points to 42 percent.

“It looks like the needle has moved in the Republicans’ direction since passage of the tax bill,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Republicans also are betting that Democrats could end up regretting aligning themselves with the “resistance movement” and Hollywood types when it comes to the debate over young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers.

Democrats have balked at Mr. Trump’s offer to provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 million of them — which would nearly triple the size of the program under former President Obama — in exchange for, among other things, $25 billion for a border wall.

At a “People’s State of the Union” this week in New York, actor Mark Ruffalo sported a T-shirt that said, “We are all Dreamers.”

Democrats’ biggest outlier Tuesday was Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who applauded Mr. Trump’s address more than any of his Democratic colleagues.

Considered one of the more vulnerable Democrats up for re-election, Mr. Manchin on Wednesday said he heard some good things from Mr. Trump, such as addressing the opioid epidemic and advancing “clean coal” technology.

“The president’s laid out some things that I can work with,” Mr. Manchin said on CNN’s “New Day.”

The State of the Union address and other presidential appearances before joint sessions of Congress have evolved into venues for lawmakers to try to score points with constituents and activists tuning in across the country.

They also have become more partisan, leading to some major breaches of decorum. In 2009, Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, yelled, “You Lie!” at Mr. Obama.

On Tuesday, Democrats set a stiff anti-Trump tone early on when they failed to give a hearty welcome to first lady Melania Trump in the chamber.

During most of the speech, Democratic leaders — including Mrs. Pelosi — sat stone-faced through the president’s calls for action.

“I think Nancy Pelosi looks like that all the time,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on CNN. “I think she should smile a lot more often. I think the country would be better for it. She seems to kind of embody the bitterness that belongs in the Democrat Party right now.”

The most dour group on Tuesday, though, was the all-Democrat Congressional Black Caucus, which refused to cheer Mr. Trump’s claim that black unemployment is at a record low and later accused Mr. Trump of trying to steal credit for the strong economy he inherited from Mr. Obama last year.

“The Congressional Black Caucus can now answer the question he posed to the African-American community in 2016 with 100 percent certainty: African-Americans have a lot to lose under the Trump administration, and we have lost a lot already, especially when it comes to his justice, voting rights, education, housing and health care policies,” said Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, the Louisiana Democrat who leads the group.

In a press briefing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Mrs. Pelosi said the nation deserves a “real leader” and that Mr. Trump showed once again why people should not have high expectations for his presidency.

“He stooped to a new low in terms of how he dealt with issues,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Mr. Trump “tried to put a fresh coat of paint on a failing presidency.”

“It didn’t work,” Mr. Hoyer said. “Americans see through the rhetoric and understand the reality. The president has made our country less safe, less strong and less proud over the past year.”

• Dave Boyer and Sally Persons contributed to this report.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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