President Trump is planning to deliver his annual State of the Union address next Tuesday as scheduled, aides say, despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s request that he delay because of security concerns until a partial government shutdown is resolved.
Trump still wants to address a joint session of Congress, as presidents have done since the 1930s, yet Congress must vote to extend an official invitation — a symbolic nod to the Constitution’s separation of powers.
Nonetheless, the White House sent a letter Tuesday to the House sergeant-at-arms to schedule a time for White House, Secret Service and military aides to do a walk-through in advance of the event, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s plans.
The White House is also considering a backup option for Trump to deliver the speech at another location, possibly outside of Washington, if Pelosi holds firm.
She did not respond to reporters’ questions whether she might allow Trump to deliver the State of the Union address next week, nor did her office provide clarification.
This continuing battle of wills over the traditional speech to the nation reflects the increasingly acrimonious stalemate between the president and the newly-minted speaker over the $5.7 billion he wants for a southern border wall. The impasse has blocked funding a quarter of the government, forcing a partial shutdown that is now the longest ever, stretching into a second month with scant hope of a legislative solution this week.
The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on a proposed compromise that Trump outlined Saturday, under which Democrats would agree to fund the wall installment in exchange for his support of a three-year extension of protections for roughly a million immigrants, including refugees and people who came to the country illegally as children.
Democrats have rejected that trade-off. A House-passed bill to fund the shuttered government agencies through Feb. 8 is also set for a Senate vote, but Republicans are expected to oppose it.
The Thursday votes would mark the first Senate action to end the shutdown since it began Dec. 22; the Republican majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has refused to bring up House-passed bills that would fund the government but not the wall.
Although neither measure is expected to pass, some view the agreement between McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to hold the votes as a sign of progress.
After Pelosi’s letter to Trump last week requesting that he either postpone the speech until after the shutdown or submit his remarks in written form, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen countered with a tweet declaring that her agency and the Secret Service were “fully prepared” to secure the Capitol during the speech.
The scheduled address posed a particular security concern because it would bring together in one place, the House chamber, not only the president, vice president and the House and Senate, but also the Supreme Court, military leaders and the diplomatic corps — at a time, if the shutdown continued, when much of the workforce is unpaid and furloughed.
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that “there are so many options” he is considering to deliver the address.
He compared Pelosi’s request that he postpone it to her breaking a contract, because she had tentatively invited him on Jan. 3 — when the government was partly closed — to address Congress at the end of the month. At the time, however, few expected the impasse to last as long as it has.
“Nancy, I am still thinking about the State of the Union speech, there are so many options — including doing it as per your written offer (made during the Shutdown, security is no problem), and my written acceptance,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “While a contract is a contract, I’ll get back to you soon!”
A senior Pelosi aide, Drew Hammill, responded that her office never received a “written acceptance.”
The House’s Republican minority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, chided Pelosi over the speech decision in remarks to reporters: “You are speaker of the entire House. You are no longer the chair of the Democratic Party.”
On Monday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said during an interview on Fox News that, while plans were still fluid, “Nancy Pelosi does not dictate to the president when he will or will not have a conversation with the American people.”
She can, however, if he seeks to speak in the House.
Times staff writer Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.