Pelosi tells Trump: No State of the Union address until government is opened
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday rescinded her invitation to President Trump to deliver the State of the Union in the House next week — denying him a national platform for the annual speech in an extraordinary standoff between the two most powerful figures in the nation.
The cancellation — part of an at times personal feud between the newly elected Democratic speaker and the Republican president — illustrates the extent of the dysfunction that has gripped Washington and America’s body politic amid the longest federal government shutdown in US history.
The imbroglio also underscores the extent of the enmity that has developed between Trump and Pelosi, as their standoff continues over the president’s demand for money to fund part of his promised wall along the US-Mexico border.
The president late Wednesday night appeared to attempt to deescalate the disagreement over the annual speech. In a tweet, Trump said it was Pelosi’s “prerogative’’ to take back the invitation.
“I will do the Address when the Shutdown is over. 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 tweeted.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders appear increasingly confident of their position in the fight as the impact of the government closures worsens while voters in numerous recent polls heap blame primarily on Trump and Republicans for the impasse.
The sparring has now led to the effective cancellation of a decades-old tradition in which presidents aimed to unify the nation, even in times of divided government. An annual show of unity has devolved into disunity.
At a meeting earlier Wednesday with conservative leaders at the White House, Trump was more combative. ‘‘We’re supposed to be doing it, and now Nancy Pelosi — or ‘Nancy,’ as I call her — she doesn’t want to hear the truth. And she doesn’t want, more importantly, the American people to hear the truth,’’ he said.
Trump had initially tried to call Pelosi’s bluff, saying he planned to honor the speaker’s invitation she extended earlier this month when the partial government shutdown was still in its relative infancy. Not delivering it in the House chamber, Trump wrote to her, would be ‘‘very sad.’’
But later Wednesday, Pelosi, a California Democrat, officially called off the address in the House chamber, asking instead for a new, ‘‘mutually agreeable’’ date once the government has reopened. Trump, faced with that reality, said he would be doing ‘‘something in the alternative.’’
The squabbling extended a fight that erupted last week when Pelosi suggested to the president that they postpone the address, citing security concerns caused by the shutdown that were later dismissed by administration officials.
The historic partial government shutdown, now in its 33rd day, has left hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay while the Trump administration began preparing for a funding lapse that could stretch into the spring.
Since President Woodrow Wilson in 1913, both Republican and Democratic presidents, with the House speaker and the vice president sitting behind them, have addressed the nation and Congress in a House chamber.
Pelosi’s decision appears to be without precedent, as there seems to be no other instance of House speakers denying the use of the chamber for a president’s State of the Union, according to congressional historians.
‘‘There’s none. There’s nothing close to it,’’ Tim Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University who is the coauthor of the book ‘‘Impeachment: An American History.’’
The challenge for Democrats, Naftali said, is to avoid giving the impression that they are reacting to Trump with pettiness.
‘‘They should welcome hearing from him all the time,’’ Naftali said of Democrats, noting that one of the recent critiques of the White House is that it has cut back on press briefings. ‘‘He should be invited in a secure location wherever he wants to, and Democrats certainly shouldn’t give the impression that they’re boycotting. . . . If you don’t allow both sides to emerge as winners, divided government results in paralysis.’’
One similar parallel was in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan asked Speaker Tip O’Neill for permission to deliver a speech lobbying lawmakers on aid for contra rebels in Nicaragua in advance of a closely watched vote. But O’Neill turned down the president’s request, which was not for a State of the Union.
In her letter to Trump on Wednesday, Pelosi said the president can give the annual speech at the Capitol once the government shutdown is over. When she extended Trump the invitation earlier this month on Jan. 3, ‘‘there was no thought that the government would still be shut down,’’ Pelosi wrote.
‘‘I am writing to inform you that the House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the president’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened,’’ Pelosi wrote to Trump.
‘‘Again, I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened.’’
The House and Senate must pass a concurrent resolution for a joint session of Congress to hear the president.
Pelosi’s letter came just a few hours after Trump had informed her that he planned to show up at the Capitol on Jan. 29 to deliver the annual speech to Congress.
Pelosi maintained in a brief exchange with reporters at the Capitol that her offer to Trump still stands as long as they are able to find a ‘‘mutually agreeable date.’’
Her decision drew a sharp rebuke from congressional Republicans, especially among the president’s closest allies.
Shortly before Pelosi released her letter, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, released a resolution that would permit the president to deliver his address.
But Pelosi’s statement means that the measure stands little chance of being taken up by the Democratic-led House.