Carryn Owens, the widow of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, garnered 2 minutes and 11 seconds of thunderous, sustained applause when Trump acknowledged her during his joint address to Congress.
The moment was the emotional highpoint in Trump’s key speech. Owens looked up at the ceiling, seemingly to her late husband, as she sat crying next to Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter.
In recognizing the fallen SEAL, Trump attempted to set to rest questions about the success of the operation, the first military mission he approved as commander in chief.
“Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero — battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” Trump said after speaking about the dedication of men and women in uniform.
Seemingly acknowledging the length of the standing ovation, Trump said directly to Carryn Owens: “Ryan is looking down, right now, and you know that, and he is very happy, because I think he just broke a record.”
Carryn Owens smiled and clapped at the comment.
The raid in Yemen occurred in late January during the second weekend of Trump’s presidency. Owens died, an aircraft crashed, several service members were injured and reports have indicated many civilians were killed. Some of Trump’s aides backed up the raid by arguing it was first authorized by the Obama administration, something aides to the former president reject.
Bill Owens, Ryan Owens’ father, has demanded an investigation into the deadly raid, which has set off a public back and forth between the Trump administration and former Obama administration officials over who approved the mission.
Facing this controversy, sources told CNN earlier Tuesday that White House aides asked the Pentagon for information about the controversial raid that it could make public in Trump’s speech to better explain the mission’s purpose and demonstrate that the results were worth its costs.
Trump quoted Defense Secretary James Mattis’ positive assessment of the raid during his speech Tuesday.
“I just spoke to General Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, ‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies,'” Trump said. “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you.”
“As the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Trump said. “Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom — we will never forget Ryan.”
The White House kept Owens’ attendance under wraps, not publicly releasing the name when aides rolled out a slew of other participants over the 24 hours before the speech.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a comment about Owens’ invite.
Van Jones, CNN contributor and former Obama administration official, said Trump “became president of the United States in that moment. Period.”
“He did something extraordinary, and for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he would find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment,” Jones said.
Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator and now a CNN contributor, said, “In front of the world to say your husband’s life mattered and served this country well, and she responded to that, that was a moment. It is an emotional moment … That was a very healing moment for everybody.”