President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi communicated the old-fashioned way as they argue about whether the State of the Union address will take place in the House chamber on Tuesday, January 29. The two exchanged official letters on January 23 rather than meet in person or talk over the phone.
Speaker Pelosi had recommended the speech be postponed until after the government could be reopened. But President Trump responded that he planned to deliver the speech as originally planned, which prompted Speaker Pelosi to threaten to block him from delivering the address on the House floor.
President Trump spoke to reporters from the White House later in the afternoon on January 23, after receiving Speaker Pelosi’s letter. He said she “canceled” the State of the Union because she “doesn’t want to hear the truth” and “doesn’t want the American public to hear what’s going on.” He also described the Democratic party as “dangerous” for the country.
But the president eventually agreed to postpone the State of the Union until after the government is reopened. He made that announcement over Twitter around 11 p.m. on January 23.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. President Trump Wrote That He Was Looking Forward to Seeing Speaker Pelosi at the State of the Union Address & Stated There Were No Security Concerns
President Trump wrote to Speaker Pelosi that he was going forward with plans to address the nation as planned on Tuesday, January 29, from the House chamber. He added that the Secret Service had assured him that security “would be absolutely no problem.”
“Thank you for your letter of January 3, 2019, sent to me long after the Shutdown began, inviting me to address the Nation on January 29th as to the State of the Union. As you know, I had already accepted your kind invitation, however, I then received another letter from you dated January 16, 2019, wherein you expressed concerns regarding security during the State of the Union Address due to the Shutdown. Even prior to asking, I was contacted by the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Secret Service to explain that there would be absolutely no problem regarding security with respect to the event. They have since confirmed this publicly.
Accordingly, there are no security concerns regarding the State of the Union Address. Therefore, I will be honoring your invitation, and fulfilling my Constitutional duty, to deliver important information to the people and Congress of the United States of America regarding the State of our Union.
I look forward to seeing you on the evening on January 29th in the Chamber of the House of Representatives. 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!”
2. Speaker Pelosi Wrote Back That the House Would Block President Trump From Speaking By Refusing to Approve a Joint Session of Congress
Speaker Pelosi quickly responded to the president’s letter. She again requested that they find another date for the State of the Union address after the government was reopened. She then took it a step further, stating that the House would block President Trump from speaking. The typical process is for the House to pass a concurrent resolution calling for a joint session of Congress.
“When I extended an invitation on January 3rd for you to deliver the State of the Union address, it was on the mutually agreed upon date, January 29th. At that time, there was no thought that the government would still be shut down.
In my further correspondence of January 16th, I said we should work together to find a mutually agreeable date when government has re-opened and I hope that we can still do that.
I am writing to inform you that the House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened.
Again, I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened.”
3. The Debate Began in Mid-January When Speaker Pelosi First Recommended the State of the Union be Postponed
So how did we get here?
The State of the Union address was originally scheduled for Tuesday, January 29. But on January 16, Speaker Pelosi urged President Trump- again, via an official letter— to postpone the speech until after the federal government had been reopened.
She did not formally rescind the invitation for him to speak but suggested they “work together to determine another suitable date” due to security concerns. Speaker Pelosi also recommended either submitting a written address or simply giving it from the Oval Office.
4. President Trump Canceled Speaker Pelosi’s Overseas Trip the Next Day
The White House did not immediately respond to that first letter. But the next day, President Trump canceled Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Afghanistan at the last minute. She had planned to visit troops there and also travel to Brussels and Egypt. She was taking a military aircraft, as is customary when congressional delegations visit war zones.
The letter from the White House on January 17 stated:
“Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over. In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate. I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown. Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.
I look forward to seeing you soon and even more forward to watching our open and dangerous Southern Border finally receive the attention, funding, and security it so desperately deserves!”
Speaker Pelosi accused President Trump of leaking details about the planned trip which could endanger the lives of those involved and postponed the trip. The White House denied leaking any information.
5. President Trump Could Technically Still Deliver the State of the Union Fron the House Floor Without a Formal Invitation, But Speaker Pelosi Could Make Doing So Difficult
As referenced above, there is a typical procedure before a president delivers a State of the Union address. The House passes a concurrent resolution authorizing a joint session of Congress. Speaker Pelosi can prevent this from happening by simply refusing to bring it to a vote. And even if she does, Democrats have the majority in Congress now so it’s likely they would vote down the concurrent resolution anyway.
However, no one would physically prevent President Trump from walking into the House floor and delivering a speech. As pointed out by McClatchy, the president is among the few people who are allowed access to the House chamber at any time, along with current and former members of Congress.
And here is where things could get tricky. CSPAN cameras are only turned on when the House is officially in session. If Speaker Pelosi refuses to formally open the floor, then CSPAN (technically) wouldn’t broadcast. The lights may not even be turned on.
Of course, President Trump could deliver the State of the Union from anywhere else he pleases. Speaker Pelosi cannot stop him from addressing the public from any other location.