Cheers, Jeers—and Some Chaos—as Republicans Watch the Big Speech

As the President delivered his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night, more than 100 card-carrying Republicans gathered in the Upper East Side at the Metropolitan Republican Club to cheer him on. It was an energy filled night for these Manhattan Republicans, who have waited nearly nine years to listen to one of their own deliver one. But it was also marred by dysfunction, a row that ended with one guest carried out by security in a headlock as others screamed and cursed at one another.

Before the speech, many Republicans at the Club expressed optimism about what President Donald Trump would say in what is only his second prime-time address. “I think he will give the audience a lot of confidence in where America is going,” said Cathy Han, 38, a real estate professional. Brian Kolb, the New York Assemblyman from the 131st District and minority leader of the Assembly, has tempered his own expectations. “It’s a work in progress. You’re not going to change Washington in one year,” Kolb said, before adding, “I expect him to be pretty positive tonight.”

Kolb, a Republican, who is running for governor against Andrew Cuomo in this Fall’s election, said a few words to the room before the speech and elicited cheers, “No one gave him a chance, but he proved with the right heart, the right message,” he said of the president, “you can be a great success in New York State.”

The proceedings at the Metropolitan Republican Club began as one could expect in the first year of a GOP President. About 110 people packed into an old ballroom in the back of the club, a four-story brick townhouse at 122 East 83rd Street. All rose for the national anthem, which was sung in unison, and chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” once the president appeared on-screen. About a quarter of the attendees were women. There was a smattering of different races and ethnicities, and three African Americans could be counted. About fifteen attendees wore their iconic red “Make America Great Again” hats. One person in a hat, Michael Shapiro, 55, also walked around the room holding a gigantic Trump flag. “I want the wall built,” he said. “I want people to come here legally, not illegally.”

Alcohol, pizza, and refreshments were served at the event and club members sat in a dimly-lit ballroom together with strangers, as the event was open to the public. Audience members were active participants in the speech, clapping and cheering at many of the president’s words, booing lustily at politicians they disapprove of. Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi elicited the loudest boos, along with hissing and laughter. Representative Steve Scalise, the Republican “Legend from Louisiana,” received the loudest cheers, with many in attendance standing and clapping as President Trump brought up his heroic tale of surviving a Capitol Hill shooting.

Things took a turn about halfway through the president’s speech. In the far left corner of the front row, an unidentified woman in glasses could be heard cursing and screaming, apparently at both the projection screen and those around her. Many in the audience yelled back and asked her to respect the proceedings. After a few minutes of tense confusion, the Metropolitan Republican Club’s security guard put the woman in a headlock and carried her across the room, as the crowd cheered and waved good-bye. The woman soon collapsed on the stairs leading up to the coatroom,  crying and calling the security guard “a Democratic operative.” She said she’d “been assaulted.”

The viewing party was further disrupted as members of the audience then began screaming at one another, the woman, as well as at members of the Club’s Board. Curses could be heard and some people were pushing and shoving.

“Pour some wine on her!” one man in a blue suit screamed. “Attack the animal!” said another, as the woman in question was being led out.

Debbie Coughlin, president of the club, tried  to calm the situation, but one man holding a wine glass began yelling in her face during the commotion, apparently blaming her for the row. Eventually the disruptive woman was led out of the room by club members holding her arms and waist. Police were not called.

“She was out of control,” said Jaime Fider, an Executive Board member of the club. 

“I have not witnessed that before,” said Brian Jung, 36, who has been a member since 2012. Club President Coughlin declined to comment.

Ian Walsh Reilly, the Chairman of Board of the club, said that the woman “was drunk and showed up drunk and she had a person with her.” Reilly went on to add that scenes like that were totally uncharacteristic of the Republican Metropolitan Club. “We had 16 debate watch parties, four presidential debate watch parties, numerous events,” he said. “Nothing like that has ever happened before.”

Eventually, attendees finished watching the speech, but in a more subdued manner than before. Following the president’s address, the chandelier lights in the ballroom came back on, and the crowd ended the evening by singing a spontaneous rendition of “God Bless America.”

Once outside, many in attendance gave the president high marks for his first State of the Union address.

“The president said all the right things,” said Bill Mahlan, 57, an attorney.

“It was an encouraging speech,” said Cathy Han. “He reiterated the belief in the American Dream.”