ABC: ‘Political’ Trump Honoring ‘Divisive,’ ‘Racist’ Limbaugh Undercuts Tuskegee Airmen

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With NBC's need for a panic room on Tuesday night after President Trump’s State of the Union and CBS needing a thank you card from Trump, ABC came down closer to the peacock network. For ABC, they repeatedly harped on the “political” President honoring the “controversial and divisive” and “racist” Rush Limbaugh to what they deemed a slap in the face to the Tuskegee Airmen Trump hailed earlier in his speech.

Chief anchor and former Clinton official George Stephanopoulos first conceded that Trump had “a litany of economic good news that you can't deny a President,” but he then bashed Trump for leveling “gut punches to Democrats” and making “a controversial move” to award Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 

 

After Stephanopoulos stated that the Limbaugh section was “getting a lot of attention online,” senior White House correspondent Cecilia Vega acted as though she was grossed out:

[I]t appears this was completely an unprecedented move....awarding that Presidential Medal of Freedom, not just in the chamber, but to someone as controversial and divisive as Rush Limbaugh who past comments on race, whose past women are already making the rounds on Twitter. People are, many offended by this, but you heard those applause inside that chamber there, George, the Republicans in there see Rush as a very strong person in their party and they were happy to see this happening. 

Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl followed his network colleagues in bemoaning that Trump’s speech made for “the most partisan and divided chamber I have ever seen for a state of the union” and knocked Republicans for changing “four more years.”

Democracy in Action CEO Yvette Simpson served as one of three devoted liberals analysts (Matthew Dowd and Rahm Emanuel the others) and amplified the liberal journalists by devoting her remarks to Limbaugh:

I will tell you that, that Rush Limbaugh recognition probably undercut the thing. You think about what Rush Limbaugh has meant for — with his racist rhetoric. I mean, I feel like he — he gives with one hand and he takes with another. You honor the Tuskegee Airman and then you honor Rush Limbaugh. Like that juxtaposition doesn’t last on people. It is black history month and I think it was probably right of him to recognize the history of African-Americans in this country, but when you honor someone like Rush Limbaugh right after honoring someone who risked his life to fight for this country, I think African-Americans know better. 

To Emanuel’s credit, he agreed with the President’s assessment that the word “socialism” and socialized medicine were Democratic weak spots and praised the speech as “effective.” 

While he did complain about Limbaugh, Emanuel also hit back at the faux outrage about state of the unions being political, admitting that he “worked on nine state of the unions, every one of them, regardless of where they come in the presidency, are political speeches.”

Initially replying to a Stephanopoulos query about criminal justice reform, senior Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas sounded like Simpson and Vega about Limbaugh (click “expand”):

THOMAS: [B]ut George, I must say that the divisions here were stark. 

SIMPSON: Yeah.

THOMAS: Seeing that African-American general who was honored by the president tonight and then having Rush Limbaugh honored in the same way was just another reminder of just how divided the country truly is. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about that. 

VEGA: Well, the Trump campaign believes firmly that they can make some inroads in the African-American community in this upcoming election. You saw that with criminal justice reform, with school choice, but to Yvette's point, 8 out of 10 black Americans believe that the President is racist. 9 out of 10 are not happy with his job performance. They have a long way to go on this issue. 

Thankfully and amidst this liberal gripe fest, ABC News had contributor and former Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) onboard (click “expand”):

CHRISTIE: The Democrats saw tonight what they're going to be up against for the next ten months. That's Donald Trump at his best. He was disciplined. As many times as they booed and heckled, he didn't respond, which we've seen him do before on a number of occasions — including —

STEPHANOPOULOS: Couldn't help himself at the very beginning. 

CHRISTIE: — including that chamber. Right. I mean, he — he looked at them, he watched what they were doing, he stayed disciplined, he stayed on the speech. We were following along with the text. There were very few deviations from the text and he laid out his argument and laid it out strongly and clearly and directly and there’ll be all kinds of people quibbling back and forth about things, that's the nature of politics today, but the President gets an A+ tonight, because if — I heard this thing, it's a political speech, of course it’s a political speech. It's the beginning of a big year when he’s running for reelection.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not a criticism. It's an observation. 

CHRISTIE: Right, no but there was some — Jon, I think Karl, in the beginning was being a little critical that it was more political than he's ever seen. Well, I've watched a lot of first-term presidents give this speech and it's always very political and this was political tonight, but I think the President made his case and I think Democrats saw the kind of campaigner they're going to run against this time. 

To see the relevant ABC transcript from February 4, click “expand.”

ABC State of the Union
February 4, 2020
10:25 p.m. Eastern

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump's election year State of the Union ends on an optimistic note, absorbing the applause right there. He came out of reality television and he displayed that talent tonight. 78-minute extravaganza that touched on emotions high and low over those 78 minutes. Began with a double snub. President Trump refused the hand of Speaker Pelosi. She refused to say it was her high honor and distinct privilege as speakers usually do to introduce the president of the United States. Then a ringing declaration from the president: “The State of the Union is stronger than ever before.” And a litany of economic good news that you can't deny a President who has the good fortune to be in charge when that economic good news is being shared by so many Americans, reached out to the African-American community. In an emotional way, you hear him get the praise there from Republican members of Congress, introducing one of the Tuskegee Airman and his great-grandson who wants to be an astronaut. There were also gut punches to Democrats on health care and illegal immigration. Something you’ve never seen before: a congressional medal of honor given out during the State of the Union for Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio host. That's certain to be a controversial move. And something else we've seen on reality TV on morning television, I know it well, a family reunion, an American serviceman coming home to greet his family, as I said, so many emotions touched. Jon Karl, you were in the chamber.

JONATHAN KARL: George, this is the 11th time I've been in the chamber for a state of the union address. Three different presidents. I have never seen anything like this. There were the high moments, certainly with Charles Mcgee, the Tuskegee Airman that unified the chamber, but this was the most partisan and divided chamber I have ever seen for a state of the union, even exceeding Trump a year ago. I don't know if you noticed this, but just after the President finished his speech, Nancy Pelosi somewhat dramatically tore the speech up behind him. As he came into this chamber, none of the Democratic side applauded. That's a standard thing, everybody applauds when the President comes in, that did not happen here. And when the speech was over, the Democrats ran for the exits. You know, usually you see the President's the first to leave the chamber. The Democratic side was almost completely empty by the time he worked his way to where he is now and George, also, the other moment that stands out, chants of “four more years,” the Republican side, as the Democrats often booed and groaned during the speech. We had that moment towards the beginning where the President actually was greeted with a chant of “four more years” on the Republican side, something I've just — I’ve never seen in a state of the union address. 

(....)

10:31 p.m. Eastern

STEPHANOPOULOS: As we said, 78 minutes where the President laid out his agenda for re-election, also hit some chords of emotion and did something, as we said, that has never been done before, giving the presidential medal of freedom during the state of the union. Our senior White House correspondent Cecilia Vega is here with us. That is getting a lot of attention online. 

CECILIA VEGA: Yeah because it appears this was completely an unprecedented move that just appeared in there, awarding that Presidential Medal of Freedom, not just in the chamber, but to someone as controversial and divisive as Rush Limbaugh who past comments on race, whose past women are already making the rounds on Twitter. People are, many offended by this, but you heard those applause inside that chamber there, George, the Republicans in there see Rush as a very strong person in their party and they were happy to see this happening. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: He has been a strong supporter of President Trump, as well.

(....)

10:44 p.m. Eastern

MARY BRUCE: The reaction from Democrats here leaving the chamber has been that they feel that they just attended a Trump campaign rally. One top Democrat saying he was just at a MAGA rally and there is no question this was a much more political in the tone and tenor than your usual state of the union address. That was clear from the chant straight off the bat of “four more years.” If there was any doubt this was Donald Trump's Republican Party, that was solidified tonight when it became very clear throughout that Republicans are completely behind this President, even though, of course, George, over recent days, we have seen a few of them, a growing number, come out and say that while not impeachable, they feel the President's actions with regard to Ukraine, were not right and were not appropriate, but the reaction from Democrats here overwhelming is they feel that Donald Trump is simply launching into his fall campaign here, George. 

(....)

10:50 p.m. Eastern

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Listen. The Democrats saw tonight what they're going to be up against for the next ten months. That's Donald Trump at his best. He was disciplined. As many times as they booed and heckled, he didn't respond, which we've seen him do before on a number of occasions — including —

STEPHANOPOULOS: Couldn't help himself at the very beginning. 

CHRISTIE: — including that chamber. Right. I mean, he — he looked at them, he watched what they were doing, he stayed disciplined, he stayed on the speech. We were following along with the text. There were very few deviations from the text and he laid out his argument and laid it out strongly and clearly and directly and there’ll be all kinds of people quibbling back and forth about things, that's the nature of politics today, but the President gets an A+ tonight, because if — I heard this thing, it's a political speech, of course it’s a political speech. It's the beginning of a big year when he’s running for reelection.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not a criticism. It's an observation. 

CHRISTIE: Right, no but there was some — Jon, I think Karl, in the beginning was being a little critical that it was more political than he's ever seen. Well, I've watched a lot of first-term presidents give this speech and it's always very political and this was political tonight, but I think the President made his case and I think Democrats saw the kind of campaigner they're going to run against this time. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think Jon's point was more about the partisan environment in the chamber, but I take your point, as well. Yvette Simpson, it was hard to mistake, you know, especially in the beginning, the President's strong outreach towards the African-American community for the first section of the speech. 

YVETTE SIMPSON: You know, he knows he's doing really, really poorly with African-Americans. He's going at it. I will tell you that, that Rush Limbaugh recognition probably undercut the thing. You think about what Rush Limbaugh has meant for — with his racist rhetoric. I mean, I feel like he — he gives with one hand and he takes with another. You honor the Tuskegee Airman and then you honor Rush Limbaugh. Like that juxtaposition doesn’t last on people. It is black history month and I think it was probably right of him to recognize the history of African-Americans in this country, but when you honor someone like Rush Limbaugh right after honoring someone who risked his life to fight for this country, I think African-Americans know better. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Rahm, it was clear the President, where the President thinks Democrats vulnerabilities are going into 2020, the word socialism, Medicare for All, health care for illegal immigrants. 

RAHM EMANUEL: Yes, yes and yes. You got it. I mean, here's the thing. Was he going to turn the page and look to the future, give people a sense that the country was on the move? And look, I'm not a supporter, obviously. It was an effective speech and of course it's political, I worked on nine state of the unions, every one of them, regardless of where they come in the presidency, are political speeches. They set out the agenda, they set out your accomplishments and they honor America's spirit in this character. He did that. Now, I do think there are things he's done, like Rush Limbaugh, that are actually work against that grain. But in the end of the day, when you look at the people he honored, outside of Rush Limbaugh, you look at some of the policies he talked about going forward, which were more bipartisan, on child tax credit, infrastructure bill, you go down to planting trees, down the list, it was, let's work together and he didn't — I think Chris is exactly right, he didn't take the bait and he talked about a country on the move. For his goal, it's a B+, A-.

(....)

10:55 p.m. Eastern

SIMPSON: This was not — This was not a unifying speech. I don't know what you guys were watching. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: One issue where he has brought — one issue where he has brought Congress together and he mentioned it briefly was criminal justice reform. Our senior Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas is here. That is — that was the president considered his signature bipartisan accomplishment last year. 

PIERRE THOMAS: He did indeed and that's an area where you see Democrats and Republicans in strong favor of doing more to make the criminal justice system more fair, but George, I must say that the divisions here were stark. 

SIMPSON: Yeah.

THOMAS: Seeing that African-American general who was honored by the president tonight and then having Rush Limbaugh honored in the same way was just another reminder of just how divided the country truly is. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about that. 

VEGA: Well, the Trump campaign believes firmly that they can make some inroads in the African-American community in this upcoming election. You saw that with criminal justice reform, with school choice, but to Yvette's point, 8 out of 10 black Americans believe that the President is racist. 9 out of 10 are not happy with his job performance. They have a long way to go on this issue. 

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