Unable to end the impasse over the partial federal government shutdown, President Trump has decided to make it pettier.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) asked Trump to postpone this month’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress unless the shutdown ended in short order. “Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29,” Pelosi wrote.
This move was widely characterized in the media as something approaching a body slam from the corner ropes. Ever the counter-puncher, however, Trump responded Thursday with a very public letter of his own:
You could argue that Pelosi’s letter was a stunt that invited this kind of retort; the head of the Department of Homeland Security insists that the shutdown would not impair the ability to protect the president, vice president, Cabinet members and Supreme Court justices while they gather in the Capitol. It seems safe to assume that Pelosi is more interested in pressuring Trump to end the shutdown than she is worried about the safety of almost every official in the line of succession to the presidency.
But Pelosi didn’t go so far as to withdraw Trump’s invitation to speak. Trump, on the other hand, booted Pelosi off the military plane that was providing her transportation. He invited her to fly commercial, which would be a challenge for the part of the trip that was heading into a war zone.
Congressional travel is an easy target for demagoguery — lawmakers’ costly overseas trips strike many people as taxpayer-funded vacations to exotic locales. I can’t defend the trip Pelosi is planning, but I think it’s a good thing in general when lawmakers do some legwork to gain a better understanding of the global issues they grapple with.
Regardless, the tit-for-tat exchange reflects how personal this fight has become. If the dispute were truly about border security, there would have been a deal weeks ago — and no shutdown. Both sides support a greater investment at the border, they just disagree over where the money should go.
No, the issue is about who will be able to claim victory. And so far, the public has been on the Democrats’ side, largely blaming Trump for the shutdown because of his insistence on one specific, and particularly ineffective, approach to securing the border — the “big, beautiful” wall.
Hence the focus earlier this week on a trip by close to 40 Democratic lawmakers for a conference in Puerto Rico during the shutdown (a trip neither Pelosi nor the Senate’s top Democrat, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, made). And now the letter drawing attention to the previously unannounced weeklong trip Pelosi had scheduled to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Pelosi hadn’t responded as of this writing. But if she wants to continue this fight in the current direction, perhaps she can remind the president of the inappropriate government-funded trips taken by current or former secretaries of the Treasury, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Energy and Interior, not to mention his first pick for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Of course, that would be petty.