Trump calls Pelosi’s bluff, says he’s honoring invitation to deliver State of the Union address


President Donald Trump leaves the podium after speaking about the partial government shutdown, immigration and border security in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday rejected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion he delay his State of the Union speech until after the partial government shutdown ends, writing Pelosi to formally affirm he is sticking to plans to deliver the address on Jan. 29 in the House chamber.

“I will be honoring your invitation, and fulfilling my Constitutional duty, to deliver important information to the people and Congress of the United States of America regarding the State of our Union,” Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi on Wednesday afternoon.

Trump closed the letter by hinting that the onus is now on Pelosi to cancel the invitation. “I look forward to seeing you on the evening on January 29th in the Chamber of the House of Representative. 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!”

Recognizing that Pelosi’s invitation was never officially taken off the table, Trump has seemingly called her bluff, resisting pressure to pull out and deliver the address from another venue elsewhere in Washington, such as at the White House or Senate chamber, or even, as one Republican member of Congress suggested, at the southern border.

A Pelosi spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pelosi wrote Trump on Jan. 16, appealing to the president to work with her to find “another suitable date” after the partial government shutdown ends, or provide his address in writing – justifying her suggestion with a warning that “critical” operations at the Department of Homeland Security are “hamstrung by furloughs.”

In his letter, Trump said DHS and the U.S. Secret Service told him “there would be absolutely no problem regarding security with respect to the event.”

Despite the uncertainty prior to the letter, preparations were already moving forward to welcome Trump next Tuesday, as Pelosi has not explicitly disinvited him from an invitation to deliver the annual address from the House chamber.

“She didn’t disinvite him. She suggested another date which would be consistent with a government that was open and was paying the people that we expect to protect us,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 ranked Democrat, told reporters during a pen and pad briefing Wednesday. “It is a very high-security event.”

As a matter of congressional protocol, both the House and Senate must pass a concurrent resolution authorizing the president to deliver an address from the House chamber, though neither chamber has acted yet and no votes on such measures are planned this week. 

Hoyer, who is empowered with control over which measures are considered on the House floor, said a resolution could be considered as late as next Tuesday – the same day Pelosi has invited Trump to deliver the address – without impacting security or logistical planning. 

“I’m told that that could be passed Tuesday the 29th and be equally effective as if we passed it today,” Hoyer said. “I think the Capitol Police and Sergeant at Arms have assured us we’ll be fully prepared if in fact there’s a State of the Union address on the 29th.”

Rep. Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs committee, signaled he hopes the president’s efforts will generate a solution to the impasse.

“This is a time we need the president to come to the Hill and talk to the Congress,” McCaul, R-Texas, said. “And so I would hope that Speaker Pelosi would just do the right thing – rise above the partisanship and let the president come talk to the Congress.”

While the shutdown continued in its 33rd day, Hoyer says House Democrats are crafting a letter outlining “substantial” spending on border security to “articulate what we believe is effective.”

He urged the president to end the shutdown, enabling lawmakers to negotiate a border security package and even comprehensive immigration reform without the president using 800,000 federal employees as leverage. 

“I think her suggestion was a reasonable one,” Hoyer said of Pelosi’s suggestion to delay the speech until after government reopens. “The response we got was that the Secret Service will do its job and other security officers will do their job. There’s no doubt that they will. They’re very dedicated, patriotic people, very contentious people. Paying them or not, they’re going to be doing their job. We understand that but the fact is the president needs to open up the government.”

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