Pelosi asks Trump to delay State of Union speech amid shutdown

Ms Nancy Pelosi suggested that if US President Donald Trump would not agree to reschedule the speech until the government reopens, he could deliver it from the Oval Office instead
Ms Nancy Pelosi suggested that if US President Donald Trump would not agree to reschedule the speech until the government reopens, he could deliver it from the Oval Office insteadPHOTO: REUTERS

House Speaker cites security fears but Republicans not convinced

WASHINGTON • With the partial US government shutdown dragging on, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged President Donald Trump to reschedule his State of the Union address - a move that could deny him the opportunity to use the pageantry of the speech to attack Democrats in their own chamber over the impasse.

With Mr Trump's address set for Jan 29, Ms Pelosi wrote him a letter citing security concerns because the Secret Service, which is required to provide security for the address, has not received funding during the shutdown.

The stand-off was triggered by Mr Trump's demand for US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) to fund a wall along the US' border with Mexico, which Democrats oppose.

Presidents traditionally deliver the address, which lays out the administration's goals for the upcoming year, in the House of Representatives chamber before a joint session of Congress and the majority of the Cabinet.

Democrats took control of the House after last November's congressional polls. During the shutdown, Mr Trump has routinely blamed them for the stalemate, although he had earlier said he would take responsibility for it.

Ms Pelosi, speaking to reporters, suggested that if Mr Trump would not agree to reschedule the speech until the government reopens, he could deliver it from the Oval Office instead, a setting that would lack the grandeur of a congressional address.

"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," Ms Pelosi wrote in the letter.

 
 
 

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters later: "I think it's a good idea to delay (the speech) until the government is open."

The White House had no immediate comment on Ms Pelosi's request. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Twitter her department and the Secret Service were prepared to handle a presidential speech at the Capitol.

Representative Jim Jordan of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republicans allied to Mr Trump, said Ms Pelosi's move showed Democrats were "more focused on stopping the President than they are on serving the country".

Both sides sought to ratchet up the pressure over the longest government shutdown in US history, that has now entered a 27th day.

Democratic senators huddled on the outdoor steps leading to the Senate in 3.9 deg C weather, holding photographs of constituents furloughed by the shutdown or otherwise hurt by it, with Mr Schumer saying Mr Trump "is using these men and women as pawns".

At the same time, the President hosted a bipartisan group of House members to discuss finding a solution to the impasse. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the meeting was constructive.

A handful of Republican senators were circulating a bipartisan draft letter to Mr Trump asking him to support a measure that would reopen the government for three weeks while they work on funding legislation to address his concerns about border security.

But a Democrat who signed the letter said it would not be sent unless a substantial number of Republicans signed it.

Mr Trump on Wednesday signed legislation that would ensure 800,000 federal employees receive back pay when the government reopens.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2019, with the headline 'Pelosi asks Trump to delay State of Union speech amid shutdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe