Written by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Nicholas Fandos
Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked President Donald Trump on Wednesday to scrap or delay his January 29 State of the Union address amid the partial government shutdown, an extraordinary request that escalated the partisan battle over his border wall even as bipartisan groups of lawmakers pressed him to reopen the government and make room for compromise.
In a letter to Trump that underscored how the shutdown fight has poisoned hopes of bipartisan comity at the start of divided government, Pelosi cited security concerns as her reason for proposing that the president postpone the annual presidential ritual of addressing a joint session of Congress in a televised speech during prime time — or perhaps submit a written message instead.
Security aside, her move would deprive Trump of one of the brightest spotlights of a president’s year, intensified this year by Democratic control of the House and the drama of the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history.
“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 the Congress on Jan. 29,” Pelosi wrote.
The request was a bracing piece of theater, even in a presidency that has bent so many historical norms. Ronald Reagan postponed his 1986 address after the Challenger space shuttle exploded. Franklin D. Roosevelt transmitted a written message in 1944 as his health began to fail. But Trump had no intention of giving up the spotlight.
Several White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the president’s frame of mind, said that he was utterly unbothered by Pelosi’s missive, which they noted was not an absolute cancellation but a half-measure suggesting a postponement. One of them said it opened up options for Trump for “creative alternatives” to the staid, tradition-bound speech, and that he could deliver a speech anywhere he chose.
Still, while she couched her request in logistical concerns, Pelosi’s proposal served as a reminder to Trump that she now has the power to frustrate his agenda and upend his plans. It drew rebukes from Republicans who said Pelosi was politicising the State of the Union address; Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, told reporters in the Capitol that the decision was “unbecoming of a speaker.”