Congress

State of the Union status unclear as White House seeks to keep it on Jan. 29

Pelosi still hasn't brought up a concurrent resolution needed to hold joint session of Congress

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pictured Jan. 22 with chef José Andrés, touring his World Central Kitchen as it serves free meals to federal workers who have been affected by the partial government shutdown, has not received a formal response from the White House to her request that President Donald Trump delay the State of the Union. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The logistics of the annual State of the Union address are in limbo, caught up in the partial government shutdown that has stretched into a second month.

President Donald Trump has so far refused to agree to delay his State of the Union address — unofficially scheduled for Tuesday — but without Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s cooperation, he will not be able to deliver it to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber.

Pelosi sent a letter to Trump last week citing security issues with hosting the State of the Union during a government shutdown and suggested he delay delivery of the address until the government is reopened or submit it in writing.

A week before the Jan. 29 date Pelosi initially proposed for Trump to deliver the address, the California Democrat had yet to receive a formal response from the White House about her request to delay it. She also has yet to bring before the House a concurrent resolution setting the date and time for the State of the Union, a measure that needs to be adopted by both chambers for there to be a joint session of Congress.

The White House, while seemingly avoiding direct communication with Pelosi, is making moves to try to keep the speech on its initial schedule. On Sunday, the administration sent an email to the House sergeant-at-arms seeking to reschedule a security walk-through of the Capitol that Pelosi indefinitely postponed last week, according to a senior White House official said.

“We are working on moving things forward,” the official said.

The sergeant-at-arms did not return a request for comment, and the White House official did not know if the administration had received a reply from them, saying, “I haven’t checked in a while.”

Trump sent a tweet Sunday addressed to “Nancy” saying he was still thinking about the State of the Union.

“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,” he said. “While a contract is a contract, I’ll get back to you soon!”

Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill responded with his own tweet noting that the speaker’s office never received a “written acceptance” from Trump to her Jan. 3 letter inviting him to deliver his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 29.

Hammill said Tuesday evening that the White House still has not sent Pelosi a response to her request for a delay but otherwise had no updates on the status of the State of the Union.

If Pelosi does not agree to a joint session of Congress, Trump could opt to give the speech from the White House or hold an event somewhere else in the country. The president does have an affinity for political rallies, saying he enjoys speaking directly to his supporters. 

Some Republicans have suggested that if Pelosi won’t host Trump, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should hold the State of the Union in the Senate chamber. But McConnell cannot host a joint session of Congress without Pelosi’s signoff via House adoption of a concurrent resolution.

The speech does not need to be delivered live before a joint session of Congress or in late January, as has been tradition. The only requirement laid out in the Constitution is that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Pelosi’s Jan. 3 invitation to Trump to deliver the address, sent during the first two weeks of the partial government shutdown, did not mention any of the security concerns she raised in her Jan. 16 letter suggesting Trump delay it. In the latter, Pelosi noted the State of the Union’s designation as a National Special Security Event and the fact that the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security are not funded “with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen responded to Pelosi’s letter in a tweet saying the department and the Secret Service “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”

Pelosi said at a news conference last week that she has “no doubt” that the federal workers have the capacity to protect the litany of government officials who attend the State of the Union — but said they should be paid for their work.

“And that’s why I said to the president: If you don’t open up government, if that doesn’t happen, let’s discuss a mutually agreeable date,” she said.  “Jan. 29, the date of the State of the Union, is not a sacred date. It’s not constitutionally required. It’s not a president’s birthday. It’s not anything. It is a date that we agreed to. It could have been the week later, and it could be a week later if government is open.” 

Pelosi insisted she was not denying the president a platform and was just concerned about paying government employees for their work. She declined to say how she’d react if Trump insisted on delivering the speech at the Capitol on Jan. 29, saying, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

For whatever reason, Trump hasn’t built that metaphorical bridge yet, and thus Pelosi hasn’t had to worry about crossing it.

John T. Bennett contributed to this report. 

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