An image purportedly showing Democratic lawmakers checking their phones during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address was posted by Breitbart’s White House correspondent Charlie Spiering on 30 January 2018 along with the claim that the image occurred during a portion of the speech about caring for veterans. This tweet was then turned into a meme and subsequently posted to Facebook pages such as USA Patriots for Donald Trump:
The claim that it occurred during a portion of the speech about caring for veterans is also mostly true. One could quibble with this assertion and argue that this image was actually broadcast after President Trump mentioned a variety of groups and topics (including Americans, senators, Supreme Court Justices, the 2nd Amendment, and veterans) and just before he mentioned a piece of legislation aimed at caring for veterans.
Here’s a transcript of this portion of the speech. The bolded “screenshot” signifies when the image appeared on screen:
Americans love their country. And they deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return. For the last year, we have sought to restore the bonds of trust between our citizens and their government.
Working with the Senate, we are appointing judges who will interpret the Constitution as written, including a great new Supreme Court justice and more circuit court judges than any new administration in the history of our country.
We are totally defending our Second Amendment and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty. And we are serving our brave veterans, including giving our veterans choice in their health care decisions.
Last year, Congress also passed, and I signed, the landmark V.A. Accountability Act. Since its passage, my administration has already removed more than 1,500 V.A. employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve, and we are hiring talented people who love our vets as much as we do.
It’s also true that the pictured lawmakers were Democrats. ABC News labeled this section of the audience as “Democratic Members of Congress” in the caption of a photograph, and we believe we have identified the two women at the center of the photograph as Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam).
Here is video of the moment:
The image of these Democratic lawmakers using a phone during the State of the Union is real. This behavior, however, is not unprecedented. Cellphones are nearly ubiquitous and lawmakers may have used these devices to jot down notes, fact check portions of the speech, or monitor social media to see which portions of the speech were striking a chord with their constituents.
A spokesperson for Lofgren told us via e-mail that the California representative was sharing a news article with her colleague and that the “controversy” over her use of a phone during the State of the Union equated to “faux outrage”:
Lofgren was sharing a news article with her colleague, but perhaps this faux outrage would be better directed towards the man who routinely disrespects and attacks grieving gold star families and ridicules U.S. servicemen taken prisoners of war.
We also found a handful of other people using phones during President Trump’s speech.
Democrats certainly weren’t as enthused as their Republican counterparts during Trump’s first State of the Union, but the “disrespectful” act of using a cellphone appears to have occurred on both sides of the aisle. We have not been able to identify the politicians using their phones in the following image, but this section of the crowd was labeled “Republican” by the Washington Post. Well-known Republicans such as Peter King can also be seen in close proximity to the two men on their phones:
Similarly, some Democratic lawmakers were spotted on their phones during another portion of the speech:
In other words, the use of a phone during the State of the Union address is not unprecedented or uncommon. And while some may argue that this is a sign of disrespect, it is not a habit inherent to any specific political party.
Updated [31 January 2018]: Added quote from Lofgren's spokesperson.
Phillips, Amber. “Congress’s Telling Body Language During Six Key Moments of Trump’s State of the Union Address.”
Washington Post. 30 January 2018.