WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s call in the State of the Union address last week for a new era of bipartisan co-operation seems like a distant memory.
Now, he’s calling Democrats “un-American” and perhaps “treasonous” for not clapping during that address — part of a larger trend of recent insults and slights as the president turns his ire on the opposition party for failing to go along with his plans.
His treason quip on Monday triggered an uproar among Democrats. The White House quickly responded that the president was joking, although Trump hasn’t said — or tweeted — as much.
Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee veteran of the Iraq War, tweeted her umbrage, working in a reminder that Trump had deferments during the Vietnam War for bone spurs.
“We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy,” she wrote. “I swore an oath_in the military and in the Senate_to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.”
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted that, “Every American should be alarmed by how @realDonaldTrump is working to make loyalty to him synonymous with loyalty to our country. That is not how democracy works.”
Some Republicans, too, said Trump had gone too far.
“You don’t have to always agree with those on the other side of the aisle, but all members of Congress love their country, and none are treasonous,” wrote Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who also took to the Senate floor Tuesday to blast the president’s comments.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley insisted the president had made the comment in jest.
“It was tongue in cheek. The president was obviously joking. But what’s serious is it seems as though the Democrats put their personal hatred for this president over their desires to see this country succeed,” he said.
Flake said he didn’t buy it: “I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now-weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek. But treason is not a punchline, Mr. President,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee retorted: “I don’t really care what Sen. Flake has to say.”
Trump made his treason remark during an appearance at an Ohio manufacturing plant, where he said Republicans went “totally crazy, wild, they loved everything” about his State of the Union address. He described Democrats as refusing to applaud even positive news, and said they’d prefer to see him do badly than the country do well.
“Can we call that treason? Why not?” he asked, lobbing an extraordinary accusation. “They certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much,” Trump added.
Trump also accused the party of not wanting to secure the nation’s borders.
“They don’t care about the security of our country,” he said. “They don’t care about MS-13 killers pouring into our country.” That was a reference to a violent street gang.
It was a significant departure from the night a week earlier when Trump talked of “extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, colour, religion and creed,” all the while pushing a hardline immigration plan that Democrats have rejected as a nonstarter.
Trump’s plan would provide a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million young people living in the country illegally, in exchange for billions for his promised border wall and immigration enforcement, as well as major cuts to legal immigration that Democrats say they can’t get behind.
Trump has tried to put the onus on Democrats for failing to embrace his plans.
In tweets the morning after his speech, Trump said Democrats were doing nothing to help the young immigrants, whose protection from deportation and ability to work in the country Trump put in jeopardy last year.
“They Resist, Blame, Complain and Obstruct – and do nothing,” Trump complained, adding: “We have a great chance to make a deal or, blame the Dems!”
The criticism continued throughout the week.
In evening remarks to Republican Party leaders and donors Thursday, Trump accused Democrats of being “missing in action” and not wanting to pass immigration legislation so they can use the issue as a wedge in the 2018 midterm elections. He continued to hammer away at the message Friday, telling top Homeland Security personnel he didn’t think Democrats wanted to reach a deal on the young immigrants.
Trump’s frustrations appeared to intensify Monday when he turned his ire on California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which has been probing potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides. Trump called Schiff “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington” and said he “Must be stopped!”
But his angriest comments came during what should have been a feel-good speech in Ohio about the tax cuts he signed into law last year.
Instead, Trump complained that Democrats had refused to applaud his accomplishments during his State of the Union speech and went after Pelosi for comparing the bonuses some workers have received as a result of the tax cuts to “crumbs.”
“Well, she’s a rich woman who lives in a big, beautiful house in California who wants to give all of your money away,” said Trump, a real estate mogul. He equated the comment with 2016 rival Hillary Clinton’s description of some of his supporters “deplorables.”
“She’s our secret weapon,” he went on to say of Pelosi, and asked how he was supposed to be able to make a deal with her.