As the partial government shutdown continues to drag on – now well beyond the former 18-day record – so too does the conflict that began it all. And as both sides seem no less entrenched on day 27 than they were on day one, that battle has taken a hilarious turn. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made the opening move, likely thinking herself quite clever in using the thousands of unpaid federal employees as her pawns.
Pelosi might be slick, but Trump’s slicker.
The president’s response, however, should shatter any such illusion. Rather than react directly to her correspondence, he beat her at her own game. He sent a little note of his own, canceling her seven-day trip overseas in the name of the thousands of federal workers going unpaid during the shutdown.
Smooth Move, Nancy
Pelosi sent a letter to the White House Wednesday, Jan. 17, essentially rescinding her invitation for the president to deliver his State of the Union Address to Congress on the 29. Though she claimed security concerns and care for the unpaid security personnel, it was an obvious power play and a jab at Trump:
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
On its face, this seems like a pretty slick move – and it would be, when dealing with some folks. But love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a creature all his own. While most presidents in recent history have used the State of the Union as more of a public opinion campaign than the constitutional responsibility it initially was, 45 doesn’t need it – at least not this year. According to the latest polls, the majority of Americans agree that illegal immigration is a problem in need of a solution.
Moreover, with both the politicians and the voters of the two parties so hyper-polarized on the issue, the president’s chances of changing many or any minds in either Congress or the general public are slim to none. According to a recent survey by Business Insider, of the respondents still undecided on the issue, very few have ever watched a State of the Union Address.
And even if there were much potential for progress in such a speech, it’s not his most effective platform. Unlike any other who came before, Donald Trump has turned Twitter into his bully pulpit for reaching both supporters and detractors alike – no televised congressional address required.
The President’s Options
He could, of course, acquiesce to Pelosi’s demand. Certainly, the date and time aren’t set in legislative stone. For that matter, there’s no rule requiring an annual speech – just an official accounting from time to time. And it could well be a letter, which would be read to the lawmakers by a clerk – this is, in fact, the form such communications almost always took before Woodrow Wilson decided that a personal address would be more effective.
Of course, either of the options laid out by the speaker could be spun by Democrats not as cooperation, but as admitting defeat. And in case you haven’t been paying attention to the current state of affairs, Trump isn’t big on bowing out – far more likely he would simply plow on ahead with option two: Deliver the State of the Union to whoever is around to hear it.
A third, and possibly more powerful option, would be to respond to Pelosi’s request by canceling this year’s event altogether – in the usual, flashy Trump manner, of course. As previously stated, he’s not required to deliver it annually, he’s almost guaranteed to not change the hearts and minds of the watching Democrats, and he simply won’t be heard by the vast majority of those whose minds he could change. Rather than cave or plow ahead, he could, perhaps, embarrass Pelosi by making her attack look small and inconsequential. After all, the president’s a busy man. If you don’t have time for his schedule, then he has no time for you.
It’s still unclear as to which route our chief executive will choose, but the response he has given is legendary.
Playing the Trump Card
Rather than respond directly to Pelosi’s challenge, the president sent a letter of his own, turning the speaker’s clever ploy back against her and, some might say, showing her how it’s done:
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) January 17, 2019
Pelosi might be slick, but Trump’s slicker. Not only did he use her very argument against her – her own, of course, had already been belied from reports by both the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security stating their readiness to secure the event – but he left her sitting out in the cold, so to speak. Speaker Pelosi had planned to embark on a seven-day trip overseas today – and the U.S. military was to provide the transport. Do you see the irony there? Trump did. Now, she’s either stuck stateside, and invited to return to Washington to do her job, or she’s on the hook for her own wings.
Well played, Mr. President, well played.