President Donald Trump giving his 3rd State of the Union address on February 4, 2020.
Official White House Photo

President Trump delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday, and there was plenty of controversy. Perhaps the most memorable moment came from Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She ripped up her copy of the President’s speech while sitting behind him during the speech.

Some over-eager Republicans have tried to literally turn this into a Federal case, suggesting Pelosi committed a crime. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich didn’t go that far, but he did call on Speaker Pelosi to be censured. Is this reasonable? Consider two of the last three members of the House were censured for having sexual relations with minor pages and the other for being a tax cheat.

Regardless, Speaker Pelosi’s actions were wrong. She would’ve been well within her rights to not invite the President to deliver his speech in person. If she had asked the President to submit his report in writing, she would have the thanks of myself and all other Americans who are tired of the over-the-top, monarchal nature of State of the Union Addresses. 

However, she decided to invite the President as the guest of the House. Then she disrespected him and his office in his presence. It was an utterly classless act that’s beneath the dignity of her office.

While she shouldn’t be censured, she should be reprimanded as then-Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) was for screaming, “You lie!” at President Obama’s Address to Congress in 2009 during Pelosi’s speakership. Both Pelosi’s and Wilson’s actions were violations of the decorum of the House chamber. 

Pelosi’s actions are significant because of the prominence of her position. Reprimanding Pelosi would be an opportunity for Democrats to show they’re serious about upholding high standards and not just playing to their base by going after Trump. Given the unapologetic nature of Pelosi and the Democrats, I don’t expect they’ll avail themselves of the opportunity.

Speaker Pelosi wasn’t the only one to misbehave. President Trump did his part to contribute to their lousy relationship by refusing to shake her hand. These two seventy-somethings are acting like children, and they both need to grow up. They don’t need to be best friends. They don’t need to like each other. They’re the most influential members of two parties that are engaged in political trench warfare so one can understand a certain level of rancor between them. 

However, they both are supposed to work for the American people. Their relationship has to be functional, and it’s not. One example was the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, where President Trump left Pelosi out of the loop on the decision to take action. Pelosi is not only the Speaker of the House, but she’s also third in line for the Presidency, which means she would have to take command in a crisis if something happened to both the President and Vice President. Keeping her in the dark on crucial decisions and foreign policy strategies makes America less safe. 

Pelosi and Trump are going to do things that will infuriate each other, but they have to be far more professional than what we’ve seen for the good of the country. With a considerable number of Republican retirements in the House, there’s little chance the GOP will replace Pelosi as Speaker.

Right now, the odds are better than not that President Trump will be re-elected, which means there’s a good chance that these two will be stuck with one another for the next five years. They have to find a way to make the best of it.

Another big controversy of the night was Rush Limbaugh receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Some have suggested that awarding the Medal to Limbaugh tarnished it. Others have compared Limbaugh unfavorably to past recipients as the Washington Post did with the headline, “Rush Limbaugh joins the likes of Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks as a recipient of highest civilian honor.”

If the Medal went only to inspirational humanitarian figures who are not controversial, then the criticism would have a point. However, if you review the list of recipients, you’ll see the awards range across many fields, and quite a few names are controversial. There are left-wing activists like Gloria Steinem and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Bill Cosby received the Medal. Bill Clinton was awarded a Medal despite his affair with a woman young enough to be his daughter while serving as President, his disbarment, and credible accusation of rape when he was Attorney General of Arkansas. Limbaugh isn’t any more controversial than Jackson or Steinem, and he can’t diminish the award any worse than Cosby and Clinton have already diminished it.

The President can honor whoever he wishes with the award. While Limbaugh is no Mother Teresa, he’s not out of line with the historical choices for the Medal of Freedom. It’s fair to take issue with awarding the Medal as a general principle since it’s become the American equivalent of granting knighthood. To make a big deal out of Limbaugh receiving the Medal while he’s battling cancer is petty partisanship. 

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