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Pelosi defends ripping Trump’s speech as message to American people about SOTU falsehoods

‘I don’t need any lessons from anybody, especially the president of the United States, about dignity,’ speaker says

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday, February 6, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday, February 6, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday defended her decision to rip up President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, saying she decided about a quarter or third of the way through the address that something had to be done to indicate to the American people that his words were not the truth.

“I tore up a manifesto of mistruths,” the California Democrat said at her weekly news conference, noting the falsehoods in Trump’s speech on Tuesday evening were “dangerous to the American people if they believe what he said.”

[‘Taking off the gloves’: Pelosi ripping SOTU draws parties into their corners]

Republicans have criticized Pelosi for ripping up the speech, calling it a “tantrum” and a “disgraceful” display that is unbecoming of the speaker. Later Thursday, House Republicans will force a vote on a resolution to disapprove of Pelosi’s actions, which Democrats are expected to move to table, or kill. 

The speaker did not reference the resolution, but she noted: “I don’t need any lessons from anybody, especially the president of the United States, about dignity.” 

Pelosi said tearing up the speech was the “courteous” thing to do considering the “exuberances” in Trump’s SOTU. She criticized the president for using the Capitol and the House chamber as a forum for a political rally. 

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“That was not a State of the Union,” she said. “That was his state of mind.”

The speaker also defended her behavior as respectful considering the circumstances. 

“I’m always dignified,” she said. “I thought that was very dignified.”

Like she told her caucus the day before, Pelosi told reporters she feels “liberated” in standing up to Trump and his falsehoods (the speaker said she doesn’t like to use the word “lies.”)

“I feel like I’ve extended every possible courtesy,” she said. 

Asked if she would be reluctant to invite Trump back for another address to Congress should he win reelection, Pelosi did not want to envision that scenario. 

“Next year we will have a new president of the United States,” she said.  “That is an absolute imperative for our country.”

‘Nothing to do with’ handshake snub

Pelosi also addressed Trump not shaking her hand as she extended it to him before the speech Tuesday, saying that “had nothing to do with” her decision to tear up the speech.

“I extend the hand of friendship to him, to welcome him as the president of the United States,” she said. “He didn’t want to shake hands. That was that. That was nothing to me.”

Pelosi acknowledged that she’s always had a strained relationship with the Trump, but she said they’ve been able to work together in some instances, like on December measures to fund the government and finalize the trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada. 

Asked if anything has changed after the SOTU snubs, Pelosi said, “That would be up to him. Certainly hasn’t changed when it comes to us.”

While Pelosi riffed about her decision to tear up Trump’s SOTU speech, she only did so in response to reporters’ questions about and after complaining that it’s hard to get the media to talk about the issues Democrats are working on.

To that end, the speaker said she’s still willing to work with Trump to get laws passed on policies important to both parties, like infrastructure and lowering prescription drugs. 

“Everybody is a possible ally in whatever comes next,” she said. 


Pelosi’s comments to reporters Thursday come just hours after she and Trump attended the National Prayer Breakfast. The president held up a copy of USA Today with an “ACQUITTED” banner headline when he arrived at the prayer breakfast. As Trump took the podium, he took a clear and obvious swipe at Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was sitting to his left at the head table, as well as Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney.

“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said, alluding to Romney invoking his faith Thursday as he announced he would vote to convict Trump on the abuse of power article of impeachment. 

“Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so,” the president added, referring to Pelosi, an observant Catholic who often says that she prays for the president. “So many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go on.”

Trump was more specific in naming Pelosi during a White House speech Thursday afternoon, saying, “I doubt she prays at all.”

Pelosi addressed Trump’s prayer comments during her press conference, calling them “so inappropriate” and noting that what he said about Romney “was particularly without class.”

“I don’t know if the president understands about prayer or people who do pray. But we do pray for the United States of America. I pray for him,” she said, noting she did so for other presidents as well “because it’s a heavy responsibility.”

But Pelosi noted her prayers for Trump are unique. 

“I pray hard for him because he’s so off the track of our Constitution, our values, our country … He really needs our prayers,” she said. “He can say whatever he wants, but I do pray for him and I do so sincerely and without anguish.” 

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. 

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