House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered a vivid Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address -- without speaking a word.

When Trump delivered the traditional line that “the state of our union is strong,” Pelosi just slightly shook her head in disagreement. She frequently checked her copy of the president’s speech as he delivered, grimacing at some lines, placidly skimming others.

She visibly scoffed in disbelief when Trump said only “politics or ridiculous partisan investigations” can slow down the “economic miracle” of the U.S. The speaker’s political Twitter account almost simultaneously defended Congress’s constitutional oversight responsibility.

On at least two occasions, though, when Trump’s words brought groans and grumbling from Democrats, Pelosi applied the brakes with a subtle raise of her hand signaling to them to pipe down.

The standoff between Trump and Pelosi has been the dominant narrative of the new era of divided government in Washington. With Democrats in control of the House, Pelosi has used her power as speaker to confront the president and assert congressional authority. The dynamic was central to the 35-day government shutdown that ended only when Trump backed down in the face of Pelosi’s resistance to his demands for money to build a border wall.

Embedded Image
 U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, right, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, applaud U.S. President Donald Trump during a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. Doug Mills/Pool via Bloomberg

Speaker’s Invitation

As speaker, it was Pelosi’s prerogative to invite the president to deliver his State of the Union address and preside over the event, sitting just behind Trump on the rostrum of the House chamber.

Despite the political rancor, Democrats largely remained polite and disciplined throughout the speech -- though frequently exchanging looks when Trump said something potentially provoking.

Not all of the reactions to Trump’s words from Pelosi and Democrats were disapproving. The record number of women in the House, overwhelmingly Democrats, stood and broke into cheers when Trump cited the record number of women in the workforce in the U.S.

The reaction seemed to take him by surprise. “You weren’t supposed to do that. Thank you very much. Thank you very much,” he said.

Warming to the idea of cheers from Democrats amid the partisan bitterness that marked most of this year, Trump said: “Don’t sit yet. You’re going to like this.”

“And exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than at any time before,” he said.

There are 127 women in the House and Senate this year, up from 104 in the last Congress. The surge of female candidates running and winning in the 2018 election was a major factor in Democrats taking control of the House.

Once again cheers rose among the female Democrats, many of them dressed in white in homage to suffragists who fought for the right of women to vote.

Pelosi wasn’t the only one using facial expression to deliver her message. Before Trump was even finished speaking, New York senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted a video clip of her rolling her eyes with a link to her campaign fundraising page.