WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday rescinded her invitation to President Donald Trump to deliver the State of the Union in the House next week – denying him a national platform for the annual speech in an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 move that appears to be without precedent.
In an escalating spat between the two most powerful political figures in the nation, Trump tried to call Pelosi’s bluff earlier Wednesday, saying he would be “honoring” 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 on Wednesday, Pelosi, D-Calif., officially called off the address, telling Trump the House will not take up a resolution that would allow a president to use the chamber for his address until the government has re-opened. Passage of such a measure is usually pro forma.
Trump, faced with that reality, said he would be doing “something in the alternative.”
“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,” Trump said at a meeting with conservative leaders at the White House.
“I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened,” Pelosi wrote to Trump on Wednesday afternoon.
The back-and-forth came in the 33rd day of the historic partial government shutdown, when hundreds of thousands of federal employees were going without pay and the Trump administration began preparing for a funding lapse that could stretch in the spring.
It also solidified the animosity between the newly-elected Democratic speaker and the Republican president, whose public approval has dropped as polls show he is widely blamed for the shutdown.
Days of back-and-forth have now led to the effective cancellation of a decades-old tradition that typically unified the nation despite divided government.
Both Republican and Democratic presidents, with the House speaker sitting behind them, have for many decades addressed the nation and Congress in a House chamber packed with guests, members of the diplomatic corps, the Supreme Court and the joint chiefs of staff.
In her letter to Trump on Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi said that the president can give the annual speech at the Capitol once the government shutdown is over.
Pelosi said 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’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 his annual speech to Congress.
The House and Senate must pass a concurrent resolution for a joint session of Congress to hear the president.
Asked about Pelosi’s letter at a White House event Wednesday afternoon, Trump responded, “I’m not surprised.”
“It’s really a shame, what’s happening with the Democrats. They’ve become radicalized,” Trump said. He added: “This will go on for a while. Ultimately, the American people will have their way, because they want to see no crime.”
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.”
Shortly before Pelosi released her letter, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced that he had submitted 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 chamber.
“I don’t think anyone in America would agree with that position,” McCarthy said when asked about the possibility of Pelosi canceling the speech. “I understand people have different politics. I understand people come from different parties. But the one thing you should do when you’re elected [is] put America’s public first.”
Earlier Wednesday, Trump said in a letter to Pelosi that he is pressing ahead with plans to deliver his address at the Capitol, dismissing the speaker’s concerns about security due to the shutdown.
“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!” he said.
Pelosi had sent a letter to Trump this month inviting him to deliver his annual address at the Capitol. But with Democrats and the White House at an impasse over Trump’s long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall, Pelosi wrote to Trump again last week urging him to delay the speech, or deliver it in writing.
Trump responded by denying Pelosi the use of a military plane for a trip to Afghanistan. Pelosi accused Trump of then publicizing her and other lawmakers’ plans to make the journey on a commercial flight, forcing them to abandon the trip. The White House has denied Pelosi’s claims.
In a speech to the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi made no mention of the presidential address. She continued to accuse Trump of “holding the health, safety and paychecks of the American people hostage” and said that Democrats fear he may do so again in future if they agree to his demands.
“That is why we must hold the line on this shutdown,” Pelosi said.
The House has passed a number of bills that would reopen the government without border wall funding, and Democrats plan another vote Thursday. The Republican-controlled Senate is planning votes Thursday as well on two competing proposals, neither of which is expected to garner the 60 votes necessary for passage.
While Pelosi last week suggested that Trump reschedule the address, until Wednesday, she had not formally rescind her invitation – a detail upon which top White House officials had seized in arguing that Trump’s speech should go forward as originally planned.
In an exchange with reporters Wednesday morning, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security had “satisfied” the safety concerns raised by Pelosi, without giving further details.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News that there was uncertainty around the presidential address and that Trump had written his letter “to put that to rest so people can plan.”
First lady Melania Trump has been inviting guests to the State of the Union, she added, and if Pelosi disinvites them, “then she’s going to have some explaining to do.”
“The president intends to go to the chamber on Tuesday night to address our great nation and give them an update on the state of our union,” Conway said. “It would be, I think, 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.”