Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union until shutdown ends

Updated January 16, 2019 - 5:17 pm

WASHINGTON — Citing security concerns arising from the furlough of Secret Service personnel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday called on President Donald Trump to put off his State of the Union speech this month — or deliver it in writing.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless the government reopens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after the government has reopened,” Pelosi said in a letter to Trump.

She also asked him to consider “delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen responded, saying the Secret Service is “fully prepared to secure the State of the Union.”

Traditionally, the State of the Union is delivered to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber. As speaker, Pelosi could disinvite the president and outright cancel the event, as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., intoned Wednesday: “It’s off.”

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said the letter showed that Pelosi and Democrats just want to obstruct the president, and not govern.

In her letter, Pelosi, D-Calif., said the event should be rescheduled if the government is not reopened this week.

Meanwhile, Trump met privately at the White House on Wednesday in the Situation Room with the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers formed to find legislative solutions.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called the meeting constructive.

“They listened to one another and now both have a good understanding of what the other wants,” Sanders said. “We look forward to more conversations like this.”

‘Sick of this shutdown’

While Trump tried to peel off some moderate Democrats in the Problem Solvers Caucus, freshmen lawmakers led Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., and others went across the Capitol to urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to vote on House-passed bills that would reopen government.

“We are all sick of this shutdown and the suffering it has caused,” Lee said.

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said earlier that he worried that 34,000 people in his congressional district would lose access to nutritional programs if the shutdown lasted into next month because of furloughs at the Department of Agriculture.

The Pelosi letter came on the 26th day of a partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.

Federal closures have created havoc at the nation’s airports, delayed food inspections and forced the administration to call up 50,000 Internal Revenue Service workers to process tax forms without pay.

The economic impact of the shutdown is rippling across the country, including Nevada, where 3,500 federal workers have lost a paycheck due to the closure.

Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Democrats, spent the past weekend meeting with families in the state grappling with the shutdown fallout.

Cortez Masto said Wednesday that the Nevada families have shown how “their finances and their whole lives have been thrown into chaos by this reckless shutdown.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., are leading a bipartisan effort in the Senate urging Trump to open the government for several weeks while negotiations continue. Several moderate Republican senators, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., back that effort.

A similar push announced by Graham this past weekend was rejected outright by Trump.

There are 800,000 federal workers nationwide that are not being paid, and about half are required to work without pay.

No closer to a deal

Still, the White House and Congress are not close to a deal on the president’s $5.7 billion demand for border wall construction.

While the House has passed spending bills to reopen the government, McConnell has refused to take up the legislation in the Senate without indication by Trump that he will sign the bills into law.

McConnell’s stop-gap spending bills to keep the government open while negotiations on border security continued passed the Senate in December but were torpedoed by House conservative Republicans after Trump bowed to criticism from conservative pundits and rejected the legislation.

The partial government shutdown ensued, with Trump and House Democrats dug in on their positions on the wall construction funding demand. The Senate bill includes a bipartisan-brokered agreement for $1.3 billion for border fencing and technology.

Pelosi fired the latest salvo in the battle Wednesday, with the letter telling the president he should delay his State of the Union speech because Homeland Security and critical departments have been “hamstrung by furloughs.”

Pelosi noted that during the 19th Century and up until President Woodrow Wilson, the State of the Union was delivered to Congress in writing.

The speaker also noted that since 1977, no State of the Union speech has been delivered during a government shutdown.

As the impasse continues, Trump signed into law a bill passed by the House and Senate that would provide back pay to federal workers once the shutdown is over.

Historically, federal contractors, have not been reimbursed or compensated after government shutdowns.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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