Despite assurances that the 2019 State of the Union address would proceed as planned, President Donald Trump suddenly reversed course Thursday morning and announced he would delay his speech rather than give it outside the House Chambers.
The media called the president’s announcement a win for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — but it left political experts warning that a dangerous new precedent had been set.
Never before in American history has a State of the Union address invitation been receded because of petty political theater.
Trump stated he would not be looking for an “alternative” location for the State of the Union address, because “there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber.”
As the Shutdown was going on, Nancy Pelosi asked me to give the State of the Union Address. 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. I am not looking for an….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2019
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….alternative venue for the SOTU Address because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber. I look forward to giving a “great” State of the Union Address in the near future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2019
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican, said the delayed State of the Union address was another example of how toxic partisan politics have become.
The refusal of Pelosi to open the House Chamber for the president “sets a new low for American politics.”
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Graham went on to call Pelosi’s move “absurd, petty and shameful … the judgment of history will not be kind.”
Pelosi jumped on Trump’s announcement, implying that the “near future” the president hoped for was only acceptable if he caved to further Democrat demands —
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. Please accept this proposal so we can re-open government, repay our federal workers and then negotiate our differences. https://t.co/57KMATZZTO
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 24, 2019
Fireworks over the speech shot back and forth between the Capitol and the White House as the monthlong partial government shutdown showed no signs of ending. About 800,000 federal workers face the prospect of going without their second paycheck in a row on Friday.
Pelosi told Trump she would refuse a resolution allowing him to address Congress until the shutdown ended favorably for Democrats. Trump shot back that Pelosi was afraid of hearing the truth.
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“I think that’s a great blotch on the incredible country that we all love,” Trump said earlier Wednesday. “It’s a great, great horrible mark.”
The drama surrounding the State of the Union address began last week when Pelosi asked Trump to make other plans but stopped short of denying him the chamber for his address. Trump called her bluff Wednesday in a letter, saying he intended to come anyway.
“It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location,” he wrote.
Pelosi quickly squelched the speech, writing back that the House “will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened.”
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The president cannot speak in front of a joint session of Congress without both chambers’ explicit permission. A resolution needs to be approved by both chambers specifying the date and time for receiving an address from the president.
The partisan gamesmanship unfolded as the Senate prepared to vote this week on ending the shutdown. A Republican compromise bill would give Trump money for the wall while offering protection for Obama-era illegal immigrant “dreamers.” Democrats have refused to consider the bill.
The Constitution states only that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union,” meaning the president can speak anywhere he chooses or give his update in writing. The address has been delayed before, but never for political reasons.
Ronald Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union address was postponed after the Challenger space shuttle exploded in flight on Jan. 28 of that year.
Never before has a State of the Union invitation been rescinded because of partisan politics — making Pelosi’s move a dangerous precedent.
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Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter issued their final messages in print. As Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack in 1956, he prepared a seven-minute, filmed summary of the message from his retreat in Key West, Florida, that was broadcast nationwide. Richard Nixon sent a printed message in 1973; his staff said an oral message would have come too soon after his second inaugural address.
White House officials had been working on a backup plan to have Trump give the speech somewhere else if Democrats blocked access to the House chamber. Nevertheless, they were rattled by Pelosi’s move Wednesday and expressed concern it would further sour shutdown negotiations.
Pelosi said that when she extended her Jan. 3 invitation to Trump to deliver the State of the Union address on Jan. 29, there was no thought that the government would still be shut down.
Moments after her letter became public, Trump told reporters he wasn’t surprised by Pelosi’s action. Democrats have become “radicalized,” he claimed.
He expanded on those sentiments during a subsequent event at the White House, calling the cancellation a “disgrace” and asserting that Pelosi didn’t want to hear the truth about the need for better border security.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article