Washington: US President Donald Trump spoke for more than 80 minutes as he delivered his State of the Union address on Wednesday, but a five-second clip of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is all many Americans are talking about.
Mr Trump was flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Ms Pelosi on the floor of the House of Representatives as he appealed for political unity in what was the third-longest State of the Union address in history.
But his wide-ranging speech was largely overshadowed by a brief clip in the live broadcast of Ms Pelosi’s seemingly condescending clap of appreciation.
The internet applauded Nancy Pelosi’s clapping moment at the State of the Union #SOTU https://t.co/OwwwiZ7uBA pic.twitter.com/qtVkKWbcGb — TIME (@TIME) February 6, 2019
Ms Pelosi, an outspoken adversary of the Republican President, limited her reaction during the speech to subtle head-shaking, pursed lips and eye rolls, while often distracting herself by staring at her notes.
But as the President concluded his address, the House Speaker rose from her seat and ostentatiously applauded Mr Trump with her hands oddly extended in a manner that screamed of anything but appreciation. As Mr Trump turned to face her, she appeared to pout and smirk.
Late night hosts, social media users and US new outlets were quick to crown Ms Pelosi the “Queen of Condescending Applause”, and proclaimed the clip the “Sarcastic Clapback Heard Around the World” and the “iconic picture for the ages”.
Even Ms Pelosi’s daughter, a Democratic political strategist and author, joined in Thursday morning, declaring she was no stranger to the sardonic applause.
#waybackwednesday – oh yes that clap took me back to the teen years. She knows. And she knows that you know. And frankly she’s disappointed that you thought this would work. But here’s a clap. #youtriedit pic.twitter.com/vUCX2uAUvv — Christine Pelosi (@sfpelosi) February 6, 2019
Others rushed to use the distinctive hand clap to comical affect in an ever-growing numer of online memes.
The Nancy Pelosi Clap: The Best Of.#twitterverse pic.twitter.com/1NPjvYRqJc— Emu (@colinm0212) February 6, 2019
Mr Trump used his first State of the Union address to a divided Congress to warn the Democrats that “ridiculous partisan investigations” could derail the nation’s economic progress.
In a speech peppered with calls for bipartisanship, he urged Washington to govern “not as two parties, but as one nation”.
But the President’s message clashed with the rancorous atmosphere he has helped cultivate in the nation’s capital, as well as the desire of most Democrats to block his path during his next two years in office.
In a 90-minute speech that ranged across the economy, immigration, abortion and trade with China, Mr Trump almost announced he’d hold another summit with North Korea in February.
Mr Trump’s address came at a critical moment in his presidency, after he pushed his party into a lengthy government shutdown over border security, only to cave to the Democrats.
With another shutdown deadline looming, the President has few options for getting Congress to fund a border wall, and he risks further alienating his party if he tries to circumvent lawmakers by declaring a national emergency instead.
Postponed a week, the evening began without the customary opening of the speaker pounding the gavel, calling the chamber to order and presenting the president. Pelosi stood at the lectern behind Trump, gavel on the desk in front of her, apparently ready to perform the task as her Republican predecessor, Paul Ryan, had done before. But instead of allowing the introduction, Trump began delivering his speech. Pelosi, second in line to the presidency, sat.
Had she been offended, asked Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. in a Wednesday meeting?
“Who really cares,” she replied, according to an aide in the room granted anonymity to discuss the private session of House Democrats. “I do want to applaud our entire caucus for the decorum. I thought you were very, very respectful of the office that he holds, respectful of the position that we have.”
But not necessarily the man who occupies that office, a distinction Pelosi has suggested throughout Trump’s presidency.
A year ago, she privately counseled Democrats to stay out of the way of Trump being “his slobbering self.”
In the Oval Office in December, she maintained a respectful stance but warned Trump: “Don’t characterize the strength that I bring.” And afterward in another private meeting, Pelosi said Trump’s demand for a southern border wall is a “manhood thing” — a comment immediately leaked to the media.
Then there was Pelosi’s invitation to deliver the speech, her suggestion that he postpone it because of the shutdown, and her formal dis-invitation. When Trump capitulated to a deal that reopened the government until Feb. 15, Pelosi re-issued the invitation to the House chamber, her control of the event established.
Pelosi set the tone even before Trump spoke. When he arrived on the dais, she looked the president in the eye and applauded, pointing her hands at him even as she made them clap. As soon as he looked away, she did, too — and smirked.
“Oh yes that clap took me back to the teen years,” tweeted Pelosi’s daughter, Christine. “She knows. And she knows that you know. And frankly she’s disappointed that you thought this would work. But here’s a clap.”
The moment signaled Pelosi’s example to the Democrats she leads. It came after she forced him to agree Jan. 25 to reopen the government with zero dollars for his border wall. Throughout the address, she threw her special brand of shade at Trump — an eye roll here, a chuckle there — even as she raised a hand to shush outbursts of groaning among the Democrats.
At one point, when Trump saluted the record number of women serving in Congress, Pelosi stood and gestured to the sea of new lawmakers dressed in white on the Democratic side of the aisle. They leapt to their feet, pointed to each other and high-fived. Pelosi stood and reached out with both hands to acknowledge them.
Pelosi applauded Trump’s mentions of a strong military and creating jobs.
When he declared that the “state of our union is strong,” she shook her head with a tight smile and stayed seated. Republicans jumped to their feet and chanted, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
But when Trump posited that the nation’s “economic miracle” can only be interrupted by “foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations,” she rolled her eyes. A camera zoomed in on House intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who this week said he would do everything possible to make sure special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian ties to Trump’s 2016 campaign is made public. Schiff smiled.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation there cannot be war and war and investigation,” Trump said.
Democrats on the floor and in the gallery groaned before Trump had finished the sentence.
Pelosi held up a hand below shoulder level and threw a glance in their direction to quiet down.