Nancy Pelosi To Trump: Cancel The State Of The Union Until The Government Reopens
Nancy Pelosi is "suggesting" to the President that the State of the Union be rescheduled for a time after the government shutdown ends, but it clearly seems like more than just a suggestion.
In a sharply worded letter, Speaker Of The House Nancy Pelosi sent a letter this morning to President Trump suggesting that the State Of The Union Address, currently scheduled for January 29th, be rescheduled in light of the ongoing government shutdown:
WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing security constraints from the ongoing government shutdown, has asked President Trump to reschedule his Jan. 29 State of the Union address or deliver it to Congress in writing unless the government reopens this week.
Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government reopens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has reopened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to Congress on January 29,” she said in a letter on Wednesday.
Neither the White House nor the Secret Service had an immediate comment on Ms. Pelosi’s letter.
With the leadership of all three branches of government gathered in one place, the State of the Union is one of the highest-stakes events for federal law enforcement each year, requiring weeks of preparation. The Secret Service, the lead agency coordinating security for it, is among the agencies affected by the shutdown.
Both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have not been funded for 26 days now — with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs,” Ms. Pelosi wrote.
But rescheduling would have other benefits, too.
With Democrats and Mr. Trump at an impasse over his demands for funding for a wall along the southern border, the speech would give Mr. Trump a nationally televised bully pulpit to hammer away at Ms. Pelosi and her party.
More from The Washingon Post:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday asked President Trump to postpone his State of the Union address — or deliver it in writing — citing security concerns related to the partial federal government shutdown.
The suggestion, which could deny Trump an opportunity to make his case for border-wall funding in a prime-time televised address, came as White House officials were urgently lobbying Republican senators against signing a bipartisan letter that would urge an end to a shutdown, now in its 26th day.
In a letter to Trump, Pelosi said the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, both of which have key responsibilities for planning and implementing security at the scheduled Jan. 29 address in the House chamber, have been “hamstrung” by furloughs.
“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,” Pelosi wrote in the letter.
The White House had no immediate response.
Pelosi later told reporters that the letter was intended as a suggestion and that she was not rescinding the invitation for Trump to speak. “He can make it from the Oval Office if he wants,” she said.
State of the Union addresses are traditionally made in the House chamber at the joint invitation of the House speaker and Senate majority leader.
Pelosi stressed that no address had ever been delivered during a government shutdown.
“We would have the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the entire Congress of the United States, the House and Senate, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Cabinet of the United States, and the diplomatic corps all in the same room,” she said. “This requires hundreds of people working on the logistics and security of it. Most of those people are either furloughed or victims of president’s shutdown. … The point is security.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) responded on Twitter, suggesting Democrats were trying to deny Trump an opportunity to make his case to the nation.
“#ShutdownNancy shut down the government, and now #SOTU. What are Democrats afraid of Americans hearing? That 17,000+ criminals were caught last year at the border? 90% of heroin in the US comes across the southern border? Illegal border crossings dropped 90%+ in areas w/ a wall?” he wrote.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md). stressed to reporters that the Democratic-led chamber has already passed a series of bills to reopen shuttered government departments that have been declared dead on arrival in the Senate.
Hoyer said the House plans to pass another bill this week that would reopen government until Feb. 28 to “give us an opportunity to resolve differences in a democracy the way you ought to, through discussion, debate and votes — not through shutting down government.”
Although it’s usually just a matter of form, it has been a tradition that the ability of the President or anyone else to speak in the chamber of the House of Representatives has always been something that has been a matter of discretion for the House, acting through the office of the Speaker of the House. Because of this, the normal procedure since the tradition of President’s delivering a State of the Union in person was reinstated by President Woodrow Wilson has been that the Speaker of the House issues an invitation to the President to speak on a date that has usually been agreed to in advance by the House, the Senate, and the White House and the White House sends an acceptance of that invitation. Alternatively, there have been occasions such as situations involving national emergencies where the White House has requested permission to address a Joint Session of Congress, but in those cases as well it technically requires an invitation from the Speaker’s Office to allow the President access to the House floor. In part, this is meant to recognize the fact that Congress is a co-equal branch of government and that it does not exist to do the bidding of the President.1 It’s on this basis that Speaker Pelosi sent her initial letter on January 3rd inviting the President and this letter today.
There is one part of Pelosi’s letter that strikes me as largely nonsensical. The idea that there would be a significant security concern due to the fact that the government is partially shutdown is, as James Joyner put it, clearly just a pretext for what is largely a political move on Pelosi’s part as part of the ongoing shutdown showdown. As James notes the Secret Service personnel who would be responsible for Presidential security are exempt from furlough during the shutdown. Additionally, the shutdown does not impact the Capitol Hill Police due to the fact that the Legislative Branch was one of the parts of government whose appropriations bill was passed prior to the shutdown so the employees on Capitol Hill are being paid and not subject to furlough. The same is true about the District of Columbia police and other support personnel that may be called on to help with security during one of these events. While this is the excuse that Pelosi is using in her letter, then, it’s clear that this is yet another move in the ongoing chess match that is the government shutdown.
While the letter itself, which I’ve embedded below, reads as a suggestion to the President, it seems clear that this is effectively a revocation of the prior invitation and that the invitation will be more formally revoked if the President doesn’t agree to either reschedule the address or to deliver it in writing. As I’ve argued in the past, as you can see in examples here, here, and here, this second option is perhaps the ideal solution both to the current situation and to the extent to which the State Of The Union has become something akin to Queen Elizabeth’s address from the Throne that is delivered at the start of each new session of Congress. Contrary to what many Americans may think and what several cable news hosts have already stated on the air, there is no requirement in the Constitution that the President deliver a State of the Union Address to Congress, or that it be done annually. The only requirement is found in Article II, Section 3, which states that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” While it quickly became the tradition that a President would advise Congress of the state of the union and policy provisions he believes should be enacted on an annual basis as President Washington did, the idea of a formal address wasn’t the practice for a significant period of American history. From Thomas Jefferson to William Howard Taft, Presidents would satisfy their Constitutional duty by sending a written message to Congress addressing those issues, That tradition remained unbroken until Woodrow Wilson, whose Presidency saw the establishment of several bad precedents and bad decisions, opted to address Congress, a tradition that every President has followed since then. Even after Wilson’s decision, though, the State of the Union didn’t take on the air of importance it undeservedly has today until 1965 when Lyndon Johnson became the first President to have a State of the Union address televised on live television. With television now part of the tradition, the speech has taken on ever more over-inflated importance. The hype has only gotten worse since we started living in the world of a 365/24/7 news cycle thanks to cable news, the Internet, and political social media.
Given that, the government shutdown and Pelosi’s letter offers the President the opportunity to return to what had been the status quo for more than 100 years, but he also has other alternatives that could effectively amount to him calling Pelosi’s bluff. One option would be for the Republicans to invite the President to address the Senate exclusively. Although this would not be an address to a Joint Session of Congress and would lack much of the pageantry associated with that event, it would be a way for Republicans to hit back against House Democrats. Alternatively, the President could decide to deliver his form of a “State of the Union” from the White House, perhaps in the Oval Office or perhaps with a friendly audience of House and Senate Republicans in the East Room. Finally, Trump could choose to hold one of his campaign-style rallies before an adoring audience of supporters and use it as an occasion to bash Democrats in general and Nancy Pelosi in particular. On the other hand, Trump is perhaps even more aware of the value of appearances than most other Presidents and he clearly understands the value of addressing a Joint Session of Congress. Additionally, a State of the Union Address would get coverage on not only the cable networks but also on the broadcast networks. As a result, it seems likely he’d still want to do that. In order to get an invitation, though, he’s going to have to help bring an end to the government shutdown, or at least a significant part of it, and he shows no sign of being willing to do that.
Here’s the letter:
Letter to President Trump SOTU by on Scribd
1 An interesting hypothetical that rises out of this is the question of what the situation would be if the President were a former member of the House of Representatives. This includes both former members of the House and members who are now Senators, Governors, or hold some other office. Under the rules of the House, former House members are allowed access to the House floor although they, of course, cannot engage in debate or vote. If the President were a former House member, it’s unclear how that might impact all of this, but that’s not the situation here.