Trump grounds Pelosi after she imperils his big speech
In dramatic fashion, Trump issued a letter to Pelosi on Thursday, just before she and other lawmakers were set to depart on the previously undisclosed trip to Afghanistan and Brussels. Trump belittled the trip as a “public relations event” and said it would be best if Pelosi remained in Washington to negotiate to reopen the government.
“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative!” concluded Trump, who had been smarting since Pelosi, the day before, called on him to postpone his Jan. 29 State of the Union address due to the shutdown.
Denying military aircraft to a senior lawmaker is very rare and Congress was caught off guard. A bus to ferry the legislators to their departure idled outside the Capitol on Thursday afternoon.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker planned to travel to Afghanistan and Brussels to thank service members and obtain briefings on national security and intelligence “from those on the front lines.” He noted Trump had traveled to Iraq during the shutdown and said a Republican-led congressional trip also had taken place.
The political tit-for-tat between Trump and Pelosi laid bare how the government-wide crisis has devolved into an intensely personal clash between two leaders determined to prevail over one another. It took place as hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay and Washington’s routine protocols — a president’s speech to Congress, a lawmaker’s official trip — become collateral damage in the budget fight.
Pelosi would normally make such a trip on a military aircraft supplied by the Pentagon. According to a defense official, Pelosi did request Defense Department support for overseas travel and it was initially approved. The official wasn’t authorized to speak by name about the matter, so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said the president does have the authority to cancel the use of military aircraft.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump wanted Pelosi to stay in Washington before Tuesday, a deadline to prepare the next round of paychecks for federal workers.
“We want to keep her in Washington,” Sanders said. “The president wants her here to negotiate.”
Trump was taken by surprise by Pelosi’s move to postpone his address and told one adviser that it was the sort of disruptive move that he would do himself, according to a Republican who is in frequent contact with the White House and was not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
While he maintained a public silence, Trump grew weary of how Pelosi’s move was being received on cable TV and reiterated fears that he was being outmaneuvered in the public eye. Trump was delighted at the idea of canceling Pelosi’s trip, believing the focus on the resources needed would highlight her hypocrisy for cancelling his speech, according to the Republican.
While Pelosi did not directly respond to being denied her trip, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer, called Trump’s action “petty. It is small. It is vindictive.”
And Rep. Adam Schiff of California slammed Trump for revealing the closely held travel plans. (The president’s trip to Iraq was not disclosed in advance for security reasons.)
“I think the president’s decision to disclose a trip the speaker’s making to a war zone was completely and utterly irresponsible in every way,” Schiff said.
Some Republicans also expressed frustration. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted: “One sophomoric response does not deserve another.” He called Pelosi’s State of the Union move “very irresponsible and blatantly political” but said Trump’s effort was “also inappropriate.”
Trump has still not said how he will handle Pelosi’s attempt to have him postpone his State of the Union address until the government is reopened so workers can be paid for providing security for the grand Washington tradition.
Pelosi told reporters earlier Thursday: “Let’s get a date when government is open. Let’s pay the employees. Maybe he thinks it’s OK not to pay people who do work. I don’t.”
Trump declined to address the stalemate over the speech Thursday during a visit to the Pentagon, simply promising that the nation will have “powerful, strong border security.”
Pelosi reiterated she is willing to negotiate money for border security once the government is reopened, but she said Democrats remain opposed to Trump’s long-promised wall. “I’m not for a wall,” Pelosi said twice, mouthing the statement a third time for effect.
While the shutdown dragged on, the State Department instructed all U.S. diplomats in Washington and elsewhere to return to work next week with pay, saying it had found money for their salaries at least temporarily.
In a notice to staff, the department said it can pay most of its employees beginning Sunday or Monday for their next pay period. They will not be paid for time worked since the shutdown began in December until the situation is resolved, said the notice.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had raised eyebrows among the U.S. diplomatic corps last week when he proclaimed that morale at the State Department was “good” despite the shutdown and the fact that 40 percent of its employees in the U.S. and nearly 23 percent overseas had been furloughed and the rest were working without pay.