WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing security constraints from the partial government shutdown, asked President Trump on Wednesday to scrap his Jan. 29 State of the Union address, and a bipartisan group of senators called on him to reopen the government while they negotiated a compromise on border security.
“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,” Pelosi said in a letter to Trump on Wednesday. She suggested he forgo the annual presidential ritual of addressing a joint session of Congress in a televised speech during prime time and submit a written message instead.
While she couched her request in logistical concerns, Pelosi’s proposal served as a reminder to Trump that, with Democrats in control of the House, she has the power to frustrate his agenda and upend his plans amid a prolonged stalemate over his demands for a wall on the southwestern border. It intensified the pressure on the president as a group of centrist House Democrats and Republicans headed to the White House for talks with Trump in the Situation Room aimed at resolving the impasse.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, called the meeting “constructive.” “They listened to one another, and now both have a good understanding of what the other wants.”
During the meeting, lawmakers told Trump he must abandon his demand for funding for a border wall in exchange for reopening the government, said Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, one of seven Democrats who attended the meeting, in a statement.
A separate group of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were circulating a letter calling on Trump to drop his demand that wall funding accompany any bill to end the shutdown, urging him to agree to sign a three-week stopgap government funding measure to allow time to forge a “broad bipartisan agreement” on border security spending.
“We commit to working to advance legislation that can pass the Senate with substantial bipartisan support,” said the letter, which is being spearheaded by Senators Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat. “During those three weeks, we will make our best efforts following regular order in the appropriate committees and mark up bipartisan legislation relating to your request.”
The letter has support from several other Republican senators including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, and Rob Portman of Ohio, as well as centrist Democrats including Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, according to several officials familiar with it who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the effort. But the idea is identical to one the president has ruled out both publicly and privately, saying he would not reopen the government without first securing funding for the wall.
Behind closed doors last week, Vice President Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, made it clear to senators that the idea could not work because they feared that once the government was reopened, the White House would lose control of the legislative process of hammering out a border security compromise and end up with a product that the president could not support.
Still, a growing number of senators in both parties argue that if they demonstrate that there is enough support in the Senate to force consideration of such a plan, Trump might reconsider.
“If we can show a critical mass of folks that think we should reopen the government and then allow us the regular process to work, where a group of folks would come forward with ideas, I think we’ve got to do something,” Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said Tuesday. “No one is going to negotiate while the government’s shut.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen denied anyone’s safety is compromised, saying both agencies ‘‘are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.’’
Trump did not immediately respond to the request and the White House, thrown off guard by the move, had yet to offer any official response hours later. But GOP allies accused Pelosi of playing politics, with Republican Representative Steve Scalise tweeting that Democrats are ‘‘only interested in obstructing @realDonaldTrump, not governing.’’