Pelosi bars Trump address; president relents, decides to delay speech during shutdown

Pelosi bars Trump address; president relents, decides to delay speech during shutdown

Written by: Frank Lockwood
Published by: Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives will not authorize President Donald Trump to deliver a State of the Union address in the midst of a partial government shutdown, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi informed the White House in a letter Wednesday afternoon.

Trump told reporters afterward that next week’s speech won’t be postponed, despite the weekslong government impasse over $5.7 billion in border security funding.


“It’s a sad thing for our country. We’ll do something in the alternative. We’ll be talking to you about that at a later date,” the president told reporters.

Members of the all-Republican Arkansas congressional delegation sharply criticized Pelosi for withdrawing Trump’s invitation.

“It’s unfortunate that she’s putting politics and her disdain for President Trump over her responsibility as speaker of the House,” U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford said in an interview.

“You don’t have to like the president to extend the invitation. This is a time-honored tradition,” the lawmaker from Jonesboro said.

In a text message, U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock said he hopes both leaders will work together.

“Instead of arguing over the annual message location, I’d like president Trump and speaker Pelosi to focus on finding compromise to enhance border security and get our federal workers paid,” he said.

Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution states that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

The time, date and format are not specified and have varied over the years. The report, in one form or another, is presented annually.

On Jan. 3, in the midst of the partial government shutdown, Pelosi had formally invited Trump to deliver his speech, scheduling it for Jan. 29.

But the California Democrat sent a follow-up letter on Jan. 16, suggesting that the address be postponed until after the funding dispute is resolved — or that it be submitted in writing instead.

On Wednesday morning, Trump had written Pelosi, urging her to allow the speech to proceed.

“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!” the letter stated.

On Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi told Trump in writing that the House “will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened.”


Trump is welcome to speak to the House “on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened,” she added.

Democrats want the shutdown, in its 34th day today, to end “so that federal workers can pay their bills, government services will be available to the American people, and the nation’s economy will not be damaged further,” Pelosi’s office said.

Funding for many government agencies ran out on Dec. 22 or soon thereafter. Trump has refused to reopen the government until Democrats provide $5.7 billion in funding for his border wall project. Democrats say they’re willing to negotiate once the shutdown ends.

In order for the president to appear before a joint session of Congress, the House and the Senate must pass a joint resolution authorizing the session.

Passage in the Senate, where Republicans are in the majority, shouldn’t be a problem.

On the House side, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced Wednesday that he has filed a joint resolution authorizing Trump’s speech, though Republicans lack enough votes, on their own, to secure its passage.

Posting an image of the resolution on Twitter, McCarthy wrote: “Now, more than ever, Americans should see their government leaders in the same room, working to make our future brighter.”

Responding to Pelosi’s letter, the president portrayed her as soft on border security.

“I’m not surprised. It’s really a shame what’s happening with the Democrats. They’ve become radicalized. They don’t want to see crime stop, which we can very easily do on the Southern border. … This will go on for a while. Ultimately, the American people will have their way,” he told reporters.

Later Wednesday, he said his struggle against Democratic leaders and their “very dangerous party” will continue, adding, “We will never let the radical left control our borders.”

Nationwide roughly 800,000 government workers are either on furlough or are working without pay. For most of them, the first missed paychecks were on Jan. 11. They’ll miss a second paycheck on Friday.

Officials say they won’t be counted as “unemployed” when the January employment figures are released. Unemployment stood at 3.9 percent in December, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The partisan budgetary standoff has affected the Department of Homeland Security. Absenteeism among unpaid Transportation Security Administration employees reached 10 percent Sunday, up from 3.1 percent compared with one year ago.

“Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” Transportation Security Administration officials said in a news release explaining the missing workers.

The economy has been strong during the first two years of the Trump administration, with the gross domestic product climbing 3.4 percent during the third quarter of calendar year 2018.

Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is predicting that the growth will continue this year, though he acknowledged Wednesday that the shutdown could have a chilling short-term effect.

In an interview with CNN, Hassett said GDP growth could drop to zero during the first quarter of 2019 if the government doesn’t reopen.

The decision to disinvite Trump didn’t sit well with other members of the Arkansas congressional delegation either. They issued written statements condemning the decision.

“While she may be opposed to commonsense border security, I find it childish to deny President Trump the time-honored tradition of addressing the country. Her actions are rooted in nothing other than deep disdain and resentment of the President,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs portrayed Pelosi’s letter as a “PR stunt.”

“The State of the Union address from the House Chamber is a time-honored bipartisan tradition, and never in history has the Speaker of the House rescinded an invitation to the president,” he said. “Speaker Pelosi’s petty attempts to block President Trump from the House floor are nothing more than partisan showmanship that distract from the real issues at hand.”

U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Rogers called the decision “disappointing.”

“Speaker Pelosi appears to be acting in a petty, vindictive fashion that is not helping to resolve the shutdown crisis that many of our federal workers are facing,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle urged Pelosi to reverse course.

“The State of the Union is a constitutional tradition that House speakers of both parties have respected even in deeply divided times. It’s regrettable that Nancy Pelosi would pull a stunt with an American institution,” he said. “I hope she reconsiders and honors that old tradition.”

Presidential assessments of the state of the union date back to the beginning of the Republic.

President George Washington gave the first such message on Jan. 8, 1790, in New York City. Subsequent speeches on the state of the union were delivered in Philadelphia’s Congress Hall, next door to Independence Hall.

President John Adams was the first to deliver the speech in Washington, D.C, a 1,372-word oratory on Nov. 22, 1800.

President Thomas Jefferson, who preferred the printed word, decided to skip the speech, an example others followed for more than a century.

For most of the nation’s history, the State of the Union address was known as the president’s “annual message” and was submitted to Congress, in writing, in December.

In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson revived the speech, delivering it before a joint session of Congress. After suffering a stroke toward the end of his presidency, he reverted to written reports.

President Calvin Coolidge, who was nicknamed “Silent Cal,” delivered only one speech on the state of the union — the rest were written. President Herbert Hoover, presiding over the Great Depression, also preferred the printed text.

President Franklin Roosevelt gave a dozen annual speeches on the state of the union. He opted for a written report only in 1945, the year he died.

The first televised State of the Union address was delivered by President Harry Truman in 1947. The first in prime time was given by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

The length has varied over the years. Washington’s first address is still the shortest: just 1,089 words. President Bill Clinton’s 1995 address was 9,190 words — the longest ever spoken. President Jimmy Carter is credited with the longest written address: 33,667 words.

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