After an awkward moment when President Donald Trump appeared to refuse to shake her hand, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) maintained decorum throughout last night’s State of the Union address. Then, at the end, she let one fly that became the stuff of meme legend.
It also led conservatives to call for her arrest.
As the audience applauded, Pelosi picked up her copy of Trump’s speech and tore it down the middle. She later told a Fox News reporter that “it was the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives.” She continued, “I tore it up. I was trying to find one page with truth on it. I couldn’t.”
The move came across as an orchestrated attempt to steal the news cycle, much as Pelosi did at last year’s SOTU, when she condescendingly clapped at Trump.
To that end, tearing up the speech was effective. Republicans wasted no time lambasting her. Newt Gingrich, who once said he fought with his (now ex) wife out of a “habit of dominance,” tweeted that he was “disgusted and insulted” by the “viciously partisan action.”
Trump himself went on a spree of retweeting people critical of Pelosi.
Even the White House joined the pearl-clutching. It tweeted that Pelosi “ripped up: One of our last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. The survival of a child born at 21 weeks. The mourning families of Rocky Jones and Kayla Mueller. A service member’s reunion with his family.”
Speaker Pelosi just ripped up:
One of our last surviving Tuskegee Airmen.
The survival of a child born at 21 weeks.
The mourning families of Rocky Jones and Kayla Mueller.
A service member's reunion with his family.
That's her legacy.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 5, 2020
Charlie Kirk, who once said “just because you are offended doesn’t mean you are right,” took the outrage to another level. He wondered if Pelosi had committed the crime of destroying government records, which he gleefully noted is “punishable by up to three years in prison.”
Kirk’s fans were thrilled by the prospect of the House Speaker going to prison for ripping some paper. Said one, “[Pelosi] should be expelled from Congress, arrested, charged and convicted.” Another wondered when the charges would be filed.
As others quickly pointed out, however, the law Kirk refers to doesn’t apply to ripping up a copy of a record so long as the original exists; if such were the case, every federal employee who cleaned out their office would be in prison.
It’s also noteworthy that the Trump administration has quietly, and arguably illegally, directed the destruction of millions of records. In fact, Trump’s habit of tearing his own documents into pieces—which could also run afoul of the law—is so pervasive that in 2018 Politico reported that there are federal employees whose job is literally taping his papers back together.
It was a copy, original preserved.
Trump has violated the Presidential Records Act since day one.
See 44 U.S.C. §§2201–2207
It’s against the law for him to delete tweets—e.g, the Kansas tweet on Sunday.
Chuck, you’re not even citing law code correctly.https://t.co/TpgmeUsu4Q
— Trinity (@TrinityResists) February 5, 2020
Good ole’ Captain Hypocrite was on the case.
Trump and his Administration have been doing this continually and openly since he took office.
Like all the rules and laws they violate (Emoluments, Hatch Act etc) they don’t care because nothing happens to them.
— Mark Walters (@MhWalt3067) February 5, 2020
The moment and the tweets quickly became the subject of mockery and memes by both sides.
Whoa I thought she just ripped a piece of paper https://t.co/nKFdOQm1cm
— Laura Bassett (@LEBassett) February 5, 2020
She tore up the 100 yr old Tuskegee Airman
She tore up the American girl tortured then killed by ISIS
She tore up the soldier killed by Soleimani
She tore up the 2yr old benefiting from neo natal care
She tore up Americans having jobs and prosperity
Shame on @SpeakerPelosi
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) February 5, 2020
Trump: READ THE TRANSCRIPT!
Pelosi: RIP THE TRANSCRIPT!
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) February 5, 2020
This is what Nancy Pelosi ripped up. A truly shameful move, even for her. pic.twitter.com/I7mNMZn4sj
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 5, 2020
— Chris Cheyenne (@CheyenneMelody1) February 5, 2020
In Trump's speech, he called for a new law that would sentence pregnant women to death. Given that alone, it's amazing Nancy Pelosi didn't rip up the speech, burn it, and shove it into Trump's mouth, Annie Wilkes style.
— Bob Cesca (@bobcesca_go) February 5, 2020
— VoteOutDemoRats (@DemoOut) February 5, 2020
— CK (@charley_ck14) February 5, 2020
From S3E2: "… disillusioned by the dishonesty of government officials, Lisa tears up her essay and writes a more painful, yet truthful essay … 'Cesspool on the Potomac' disdains and condemns the government system of corruption and greed…" https://t.co/08ybNdBF7q
— Steve Mullis (@stevemullis) February 5, 2020
Wicked Witch of the West suffered a meltdown without anyone throwing a bucket of water on her
— David Knight (@libertytarian) February 5, 2020
And remember, when you have trash on paper, for recycling purposes you should shred it first.#NancyPelosiROCKS
— Michelangelo Signorile (@MSignorile) February 5, 2020
Speaker Pelosi treated the SotU speech the way Senate Republicans treated the Constitution #SOTU #StateofOurUnion #StateOfTheCoverup #StateOfTheUnion #StateOfTheUnion2020 #PelosiRocks #NancyPelosi #NancytheRipper #NancyPelosiROCKS pic.twitter.com/fP3QFGwUQE
— PatsyDee (@Australopatscus) February 5, 2020
— We Saw the Devil (@WeSawtheDevil) February 5, 2020
Pelosi later released a statement referring to the speech as a “manifesto of mistruths.” She accused Trump of lying about his healthcare policies, and argued for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure “in a green and modern way.”
She did not address calls for her arrest.