WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing security constraints from the partial government shutdown, asked President Donald 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.
Today, I wrote to @realDonaldTrump recommending that we delay the State of the Union until after government re-opens, as the @SecretService, the lead federal agency for #SOTU security, faces its 26th day without funding. https://t.co/K2oL8WGvqo pic.twitter.com/g3fIlxDbbK
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 16, 2019
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 were heading to the White House for talks with Trump in the Situation Room aimed at resolving the impasse.
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 Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del. “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,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Tuesday. “No one is going to negotiate while the government’s shut.”
Neither the White House nor the Secret Service had an immediate comment on Pelosi’s letter. But Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, said on Twitter that her decision “makes clear what we already know: Democrats are only interested in obstructing @realDonaldTrump, not governing.”
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,” Pelosi wrote.
But rescheduling would have other benefits, too.
With Democrats and Trump at an impasse over his demands for funding for a wall along the southern border, the speech would give Trump a nationally televised bully pulpit to hammer away at Pelosi and her party.
“What are Democrats afraid of Americans hearing?” Scalise said in a posting, branding Pelosi #ShutdownNancy. “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?”
The Constitution says the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.” But what is now a speech to a joint session of Congress in the Capitol has taken different forms over the years, including in writing for much of the 19th century. The House speaker typically arranges the address by invitation, though its date is the subject of mutual agreement with the White House.
In her letter, Pelosi said there was no precedent for holding a State of the Union address during a government shutdown.