Trump delays State of Union address after spat with Pelosi

US President says he will deliver speech when shutdown ends; lawmakers set to vote on two competing Bills

President Donald Trump delivering his State of the Union address last year. His tit-for-tat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over this year's address escalated sharply on Wednesday, with Mr Trump telling Ms Pelosi he would deliver the speech in the Ca
President Donald Trump delivering his State of the Union address last year. His tit-for-tat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over this year's address escalated sharply on Wednesday, with Mr Trump telling Ms Pelosi he would deliver the speech in the Capitol on Tuesday as originally scheduled, and the Speaker firing back that he was not welcome unless the government was fully open. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Ms Nancy Pelosi (above). PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON • Mr Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he will deliver his State of the Union address once the federal government reopens, capping a day of brinkmanship with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who told the US President that he was not welcome to deliver the speech in the House chamber while the government was partly closed.

"As the Shutdown was going on, Nancy Pelosi asked me to give the State of the Union Address," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter shortly after 11pm, hours after he had said he would look for another venue for the speech.

"I agreed. She then changed her mind because of the Shutdown, suggesting a later date. This is her prerogative - I will do the Address when the Shutdown is over."

The President's seeming capitulation came even as House Democratic leaders said they were prepared to give him a substantial sum of money for border security - perhaps even the US$5.7 billion (S$7.8 billion) he had requested - but not for a wall and not until he agreed to reopen the government. That figure is roughly double what Democrats had previously approved.

On the other end of the Capitol, in the Republican-controlled Senate, lawmakers prepared for crucial votes yesterday on two competing proposals - one backed by Mr Trump and Senate Republicans, the other by Democrats - that would bring an end to the partial shutdown, although neither might garner the 60 votes necessary for passage.

On Day 33 of the longest government shutdown in history, Washington took on the air of a split-screen television set.

On one side was a spat between Mr Trump and Ms Pelosi over the President's constitutional duty to periodically report to Congress on the state of the union. On the other, the House and Senate trudged along with their daily business, with lawmakers in both parties grasping for a way out of the shutdown stalemate.

It now seems all but certain that 800,000 federal employees who have been either furloughed or working without pay for more than a month will miss another payday today. The best hope, people in both parties say, was that the expected failure of both Bills in the Senate yesterday would prompt bipartisan negotiations that could lead to a compromise.

Those Bills take very different approaches. Mr Trump's Bill would include US$5.7 billion for the wall and extend protections to some immigrants in the country illegally - protections that he himself revoked - while sharply curtailing access to asylum. The Democrats' measure, which has been already passed by the House, would simply fund shuttered government agencies up to Feb 8, with no wall money.

Responding to Mr Trump just before midnight, Ms Pelosi urged the President - who pledged to deliver his address in the "near future" - to accept the Democrats' Bill.

"Mr President, I hope by saying 'near future', you mean you will support the House-passed package to #EndTheShutdown that the Senate will vote on tomorrow," Ms Pelosi wrote on Twitter. "Please accept this proposal so we can reopen government, repay our federal workers and then negotiate our differences."

But with the House set to leave town yesterday, it is highly unlikely that the impasse will end by Tuesday, when Mr Trump was scheduled to deliver his address, an annual Washington ritual that usually plays out with pomp in front of both Chambers of Congress, the Supreme Court, Cabinet secretaries and honoured guests.

For Mr Trump, it would have been a moment to command the stage - with television cameras rolling and Ms Pelosi stuck behind him, trying to figure out whether to grimace or nod.

Now, the President is trying to paint Ms Pelosi as a left-wing radical who cancelled the address for political reasons, despite her assertion that she simply wanted to postpone, not cancel, it because of the burden it would impose on Secret Service agents working without pay.

"It's really a shame what's happening with the Democrats," Mr Trump told reporters at the White House. "They've become radicalised."

In the afternoon, Mr Trump pledged to "do something in the alternative", and it was not clear at the time whether he had given up on holding the speech in the Capitol. Some lawmakers raised the possibility that he could deliver it in the Senate chamber.

But others, as well as some Trump advisers, suggested that it would be better for him to issue the speech at the border or during a rally.

But, ultimately, the President wrote on Twitter, he decided against an alternative site "because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber".

He added, "I look forward to giving a 'great' State of the Union Address in the near future!"


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2019, with the headline Trump delays State of Union address after spat with Pelosi. Subscribe