Duluth mayor shares her State of the Union observations from behind the podium

Emily Larson said she considered the discord at the speech predictable.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson attended President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday evening in Washington, D.C. (file / News Tribune)

Mayor Emily Larson may not have had exactly what most would consider the best seat in the house when President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night, but her gallery view from above and behind him gave her an interesting perspective.

"It meant that I could see every single legislator's reaction, and that was really fascinating to see the body language and the reaction of everyone on the floor and everybody in the gallery," she said.

Recalling the unmistakable signs of deep division, Larson remarked: "It was something that really struck me as a very clear moment in time politically."

As someone quite familiar with public speaking, Larson said: "When you're writing a speech, there are several decisions you have to make ... about how political you will be, what signals are you sending, what are you overtly saying and what are you not saying but your audience will hear. The president took a very clear and deliberate step into a series of issues that are highly divisive. That's a choice, and it showed in the reaction of people in that room."

Those reactions were at times dramatic, as evidenced when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tore up a copy of the president's speech upon its conclusion.


While Larson could not see Pelosi's act of disapproval from her vantage, she said she was unsurprised to learn what the Speaker had done as an act of defiance, especially in light of the president's refusal to shake her hand at the beginning of the event.

"When the president comes into the room and makes the choice not to accept a handshake, he is choosing to set a tone that will lead to other choices for people to make," Larson said.

"But I think she (Pelosi) did the right thing in extending her hand," Larson said.

Larson, who attended the speech as Sen. Tina Smith's guest, described the ensuing discord as predictable.

"It's very clear that the choice the president made was to put together a campaign speech based on issues that are very divisive for our country — the positions on school vouchers and abortions and prayer in public schools and building a wall and immigration," she said.

"He probably achieved what he wanted to, which was to send a very clear message to his base of how he wants to use his power to advance a very limited scope of very big issues in a very specific way," Larson said.

"There was a very clear tone of 'us versus them,' and policy-wise truly most issues that impact people are not about these major, mega, highly divisive political issues. People really need government to work. They need it to be reliable," she said.

"So the choice to spend that speech in a very clear quadrant of division sets a very specific tone for him for the rest of the year, and that's fine. Every president gets to choose how they want to do that event. I would have preferred a different set of topics presented differently, but this is his speech," Larson said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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