House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shook things up Wednesday by “suggesting” President Donald Trump work with her to reschedule the January 29 State of the Union address — or just submit it in writing.
The stated reason was security concerns — both the Department of Homeland Security and US Secret Service currently aren’t funded during the shutdown — but it was widely viewed as a move to jam the White House and shake up a dynamic that has been firmly set in “frozen” for weeks.
The lack of official White House response — or fiery tweet in response — has surprised Democrats up to this point, according to several aides. Pelosi told CNN Thursday the White House still has not responded to the letter.
Bottom line, this is where things stand on the 27th day of the government shutdown: power plays and positioning. In other words, there is still no end in sight.
Democratic lawmakers and aides practically had a countdown clock set awaiting a tweet from the President firing back at the clear move by Pelosi to exert control — and brushback — the White House amid the stagnant shutdown negotiations. That still hasn’t occurred. Most on Capitol Hill want to know why — and what it means.
Pelosi’s letter suggested the White House work with House Democrats to reschedule the speech, but make no mistake — this is Pelosi’s decision.
Is the State of the Union canceled? No, not technically. Pelosi is technically asking for a postponement or a written version (which does have historical precedent.)
If the government reopens this week, it will still be on (spoiler: the government is not going to reopen this week).
And talks could occur to clear the way for it at some point, at least conceivably. But on a purely technical basis, the House and Senate need to pass resolutions to officially schedule the State of the Union. Neither have done so yet — and Pelosi can control whether the House does at all.
The Senate idea
There were murmurs that perhaps the Republican-controlled Senate could invite the President to address that chamber. CNN has been told that’s not being discussed at all.
That would also take a resolution — which would be subject to a 60-vote threshold — something Republicans don’t have the votes to pass. So don’t consider this idea as serious for the moment. Has it happened before historically? Yes, but there was bipartisan sign off. Could the Senate change the rules to allow on a simple majority threshold? Conceivably, but there’s no discussion of that at the moment.
The President is free to give a speech anywhere else he wants, and Republican aides said Wednesday they expect he will use Pelosi’s move as a reason to do so. But so far, GOP lawmakers have been given no guidance as to what the President will do.
Pelosi cited the sheer scale of the security effort — and the fact the Department of Homeland Security and Secret Service employees are working without pay or furloughed — as the reason for her letter.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pushed back Wednesday, saying in a tweet DHS is “fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”
An aide to Pelosi said the decision was made after hearing from a furloughed worker who raised the security concerns. But, at least according to Democrats, this goes beyond the security concerns. It’s about taking away a prime time opportunity for the President to rail on Democrats and make his case for the wall — and underscore that with government shutdown, the State of the Union is, well, not great.
Pelosi announced her decision by dramatically reading the letter to House Democrats in a closed-door caucus meeting. Barely anyone knew it was coming — and they cheered the idea after she was done.
Of note — Pelosi didn’t tell Republican leaders in advance, nor the agencies themselves. This was a mostly unilateral move — a crafted play by a speaker who, by now it should be crystal clear, is no stranger to intractable negotiations — and eventually finding a way to end them.
Schumer and Pelosi still unified
Here’s what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters Wednesday: “Well, what is the State of the Union? The government is closed because of President Trump. If it continues to be closed on the 29th, I think it’s a good idea to delay it until the government is open.”
That there is no daylight between the two has been the case for weeks, but they’ve continued to make that clear as the shutdown has worn on, with Schumer even making the walk to the House to meet with Democrats behind closed doors and rally support for unity on Wednesday. Schumer and Pelosi met in person on Wednesday in Pelosi’s office and speak by phone four or five days a week.
Schumer declined to answer questions as he left Pelosi’s office, but did say this to a handful of reporters staking him out: “I will say this, Democrats in the House and Senate are united. We have three words for President Trump, Mitch McConnell and Leader McCarthy: open the government. We are all united and we’re finding Republicans beginning to join us.”
House GOP leaders railed against the move as playing politics. Senate GOP aides were left scratching their heads and wondering if Pelosi sacrificed long term positioning for a short-term burst of approval inside the Democratic caucuses. The idea being: Pelosi would turn this more into a one-on-one fight between her and the President, and would look like she, not the President, was playing politics.
“I can’t imagine telling the President of United States — one, they are not negotiating with him on the shutdown and, two, now they are going to tell him he can’t come to the Capitol to them,” Sen. John Thune, the second-ranked Republican in the chamber, told reporters. “That seems pretty far-fetched. I don’t think that’s going to go over very well with the American people.”
The counter to that from a Democratic aide not involved with the decision: “This whole fight is about politics — a campaign promise most didn’t agree with in the first place – for Republicans. To imply or say it’s not — or that this is some departure from the way the White House has been carrying itself throughout this process — is absurd.”
Daily gangland update
Members of the gang of bipartisan senators meeting to try and find a proposal to get out of the shutdown circulated a draft letter Wednesday for signatures — one that promised border security negotiations in exchange for an immediate reopening of the government.
The White House lobbied Republicans against signing the letter, CNN’s Manu Raju reported. Democrats wanted at least 20 GOP signatures to prove it had legs (and underscore there were filibuster-proof votes in the Senate). The signatures fell far short of the goal. Consider letter — and group — dead (for the moment).
Regular reminder: The President has repeatedly rejected the idea of reopening the government now in exchange for negotiations and a deal later. That position has not moved, as the White House effort against the letter showed.