The White House is moving forward with plans for President Donald Trump to deliver his State of the Union speech next week in front of a joint session of Congress — despite a letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting he delay it.The White House sent an email to the House sergeant-at-arms asking to schedule a walk-through in anticipation of a Jan. 29 address, according to a White House official who was not authorized to discuss the planning by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Nancy Pelosi made the invitation to the president on the State of the Union. He accepted,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “At this point, we’re moving forward.”
The move is the latest in a game of political brinksmanship between Trump and the House Speaker as they remain locked in an increasingly personal standoff over Trump’s demand for border wall funding that has forced a partial government shutdown that is now in its second month.
The gamesmanship began last week when Pelosi sent a letter to Trump suggesting that he either deliver the speech in writing or postpone it until after the partial government shutdown is resolved, citing security concerns. But the White House maintains Pelosi never formally rescinded her invitation, and is, in essence, calling her bluff. “She has not canceled it. She asked us to postpone it,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in an interview Tuesday with Fox News Channel.
“We have no announcement at this time,” he said, “but Nancy Pelosi does not dictate to the president when he will or will not have a conversation with the American people.” At the same time, the White House is continuing to work on contingency plans to give Trump a backup in case the joint-session plans fall through. The president cannot speak in front of a joint session of Congress without both chambers’ explicit permission. A resolution needs to be agreed to by both chambers specifying the date and time for receiving an address from the president.
Officials have been considering a list of potential alternative venues, including a rally-style event, an Oval office address— as Pelosi previously suggested — a speech before the Senate chamber, and even a return visit to the U.S.-Mexico border as Trump is expected to continue to hammer the need for a barrier, according to two others familiar with the discussions. Multiple versions are also being drafted to suit the final venue.
The Constitution states only that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union,” meaning the president can speak anywhere he chooses or give his update in writing. But a joint address in the House chamber, in front of lawmakers from both parties, the Supreme Court justices and invited guests, provides the kind of grand backdrop that is hard to mimic and that this president, especially, enjoys. Still, North Carolina’s House Speaker Tim Moore wrote a letter inviting Trump to deliver the speech in the North Carolina House chamber. And Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield on Friday invited Trump to deliver the address at the state Capitol in Lansing instead. Trump called Moore Monday evening, according to his office, and spoke by phone with Chatfield Tuesday morning, Chatfield tweeted. “I understand you have other plans for #SOTU, but as we discussed, I look forward to hosting you in Michigan again soon,” Chatfield wrote.
Pelosi in her letter had cited the impact of the ongoing shutdown on the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service, questioning whether they could secure the speech given that they have been operating without funding. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen responded by assuring that DHS and Secret Service were “fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”
Asked about the letter by reporters Tuesday, Pelosi did not address the White House’s decision, saying only: “We just want people to get paid for their work.”
Senior White House staff had been in a morning huddle discussing the upcoming speech when news of Pelosi’s letter first broke on TV. The power play — which Trump countered by revoking Pelosi’s use of a military aircraft, thereby canceling a congressional delegation visit to Afghanistan — had put the status of the marquee speech in limbo, leaving staff scrambling to figure out how to proceed. “We’ll keep you posted,” Sanders had told reporters when asked for a status update Friday. In their standoff, Trump has also accused Pelosi of behaving “irrationally,” while Pelosi has refused to negotiate with Trump on border funding until he agrees to reopen the government.
In a tweet Sunday, Trump wrote that he was “still thinking about the State of the Union speech” and that there were “so many options – including doing it as per your written offer (made during the Shutdown, security is no problem), and my written acceptance.” “While a contract is a contract,” he wrote, “I’ll get back to you soon!”q
By JILL COLVIN