Pelosi shuts down Trump on State of the Union | Eurasia Diary -

21 August, Wednesday

Pelosi shuts down Trump on State of the Union

Republican lawmakers accused speaker of engaging in a cheap political stunt designed to embarrass the president.

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday officially blocked President Donald Trump from giving the State of the Union address in the House, an unprecedented move that underscores how bitter partisan tensions have paralyzed Washington.

Trump and Republican lawmakers blasted Pelosi for her decision, accusing her of engaging in a cheap political stunt designed simply to embarrass the president.

Yet the California Democrat — with the support of her colleagues — isn't backing down, and Trump is now looking for an alternative to an address on the House floor.

It's the latest chapter in an increasingly personal tit-for-tat between the two national leaders, and maybe the lowest point in a political crisis that grinds on with no end in sight. At the moment, the only thing that Trump and Pelosi can agree on is they can't sit in the same room for an hour, even if it's the cavernous House chamber.

"Now Nancy Pelosi, or 'Nancy,' as I call her, she doesn't want to hear the truth and she doesn't want to hear, more importantly, the American people [to] hear the truth," Trump told reporters after the speaker's announcement that she would not let the speech proceed. "It's a disgrace."

Trump then hinted that he may give his address at another location. "We'll do something in the alternative. We'll be talking to you about that at a later date," Trump added.

Late Wednesday evening, Trump acquiesced to Pelosi's request and ended the back and forth over the timing of his second State of the Union, agreeing to delay the address until after the shutdown is over. The president's decision, announced in a series of tweets, was due in part to his belief that no setting could rival a joint session of Congress in the House chamber.

"I am not looking for an alternative venue for the SOTU Address because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber," Trump said in a series of tweets.

Earlier, Trump had insisted in a letter to Pelosi that the annual speech should proceed as planned inside the House chambers. Pelosi had tried to effectively scuttle the event because of what she called security concerns, specifically the prospect of forcing employees not being paid to protect the Capitol that night.

"It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!" Trump wrote.

Within hours, Pelosi responded in a letter of her own: Not in my House.

Pelosi told the president that the House wouldn't vote on a resolution to green-light his appearance until the shutdown ends. "I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has reopened," she concluded dryly.

Republican leaders blasted Pelosi, accusing her of putting partisanship above her responsibility to both the House and the country as speaker.

“Very disappointing. I would never think a speaker would put so much politics before the American public and not have a State of the Union," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). "It just shows that this speaker is much more political than she is a speaker of the House."

Pelosi has refused to yield on her opposition to Trump's border wall, and she lays the blame for the shutdown squarely at Trump's feet, as he requested weeks ago in a televised Oval Office meeting. And for Pelosi and congressional Democrats, it can’t be business as usual with the government shutdown for 33 days and counting.

“My response is we need to open up this government, period," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "There’s no excuse for shutting down the people’s government. And there’s no reason why if we do it this time, he won’t do it every time we have a disagreement. It’s unacceptable.”

Technically Trump cannot give the State of the Union in the House without Pelosi's consent. While typically that's just a formality, Pelosi can block the resolution and Trump in the process, which is what she said she would do.

Republicans had hoped to pressure Pelosi into officially rescinding her invite to Trump by delivering a one-two punch — first Trump sent a letter saying he still planned to show up and shortly after McCarthy introduced a resolution to hold the address on Jan. 29.

Republicans had hoped Pelosi would officially cancel the event in response, which they believed would look petty to the larger public, according to several sources familiar with the plan.

"I don't think anybody in America would agree with that position," McCarthy said before Pelosi responded to Trump on Wednesday. McCarthy noted that he had talked to Pelosi on the House floor Tuesday night and she told him then — before Trump’s official response — that she didn’t know what she was going to do.

White House aides had encouraged the president to continue fighting to hold the speech in the House chamber because backing off would make it look like he gave in. But they've also been making contingencies for a speech outside of Washington, according to one of the White House officials, if he’s not able to give the speech in Congress. And outside advisers think an alternative speech outside of the Beltway would resonate with his base.

White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway underscored the president's strategy on Wednesday after he sent his letter.

"I think it would be remarkably petty of the speaker to disinvite the president of the United States to address the nation that they both serve at the highest level," Conway said on Fox News.

The letter from Trump is just the latest incident in a sparring match that has intensified between Pelosi and the president over the last week. First, Pelosi surprised Trump by sending a letter suggesting he delay the State of the Union. Trump responded by canceling Pelosi's planned trip to Afghanistan about an hour before she and other Democrats were set to depart.

Before Trump sent his letter Wednesday, Pelosi was discouraging fellow Democrats from flying out family members or other guests to the speech, without tipping her hand as to whether she was officially canceling the event.

“I wouldn’t make a plans for family to come to the State of the Union, even if it happens,” she told lawmakers in the closed-door meeting, according to a source in the room.

“I would say, without any inference to be drawn from it as to whether I think he’s coming or not, government should still be open…I wouldn’t spend any money to come out here.”

In her letter last week, Pelosi cited the shutdown as the reason to postpone Trump's speech, saying the stalemate has hobbled both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security and could harm the security planning process.

But on Wednesday, Trump rejected Pelosi's explanation and said he has been contacted by DHS and Secret Service officials who said "there would be absolutely no problem regarding security with respect to the event," something DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen first said last week.
The White House and Democratic leaders have failed to make any meaningful headway in ending the shutdown. Trump has refused to back down from his demand for $5.7 billion for border wall funds.

Democrats have so far not budged in their refusal to appropriate the funds but House Democratic leaders are weighing a counteroffer to Trump that would likely include several billions of dollars for border security without funding the wall.

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