Smart call. Can’t go wrong with Republican voters by standing up to Pelosi, after all. And Trump’s insistence on following protocol by delivering the State of the Union as scheduled is a neat bit of table-turning on Democrats. Normally he’s the one accused of flouting political norms, often for petty reasons. This time he’s the one who’s trying to stick to norms, with Pelosi peevishly trying to block him.
She’s in a bad spot now. Whether she does attend or if she doesn’t, the politics are unkind to her.
SCOOP: @WhiteHouse has sent a letter to the Sergeant-At-Arms, asking to schedule a walk-through for the SOTU address. SAA cancelled a walk-through last week at the request of @SpeakerPelosi . @realDonaldTrump still plans to be at the Capitol on Jan 29 for the speech
— John Roberts (@johnrobertsFox) January 22, 2019
If she attends she’ll be stuck sitting there silently with a camera trained on her while Trump blames her and Democrats for the shutdown. And it’ll be personally humiliating for her to have quasi-disinvited Trump from delivering the speech, had her bluff called, and then left with little choice but to dutifully attend and endure the speech anyway.
So she probably won’t attend. But if she doesn’t, the empty chair in-frame over Trump’s shoulder while he makes his speech will reinforce all of the points he’s made about Democrats over the past month. They’re the ones who are being stubborn, not him. They hate him so much that they’ve let this become personal, illustrated by an unprecedented SOTU snub by the new Speaker. They’re so deep in the tank for illegals that they can’t stand to sit there and listen for an hour while he warns the country about the risks of crime from across the border.
Bad optics either way. And I’m assuming there’s no chance that Trump shows up at the Capitol on the 29th and Pelosi somehow seeks to physically bar him from the premises. That would be another opportunity for him to successfully call her bluff. (Or maybe he’ll skip the House entirely and attempt to address the Senate, assuming that’s even possible.) More interesting would be if he was blocked through bureaucratic means, with the Sergeant-at-Arms replying to his letter by insisting that his team can’t be permitted a walkthrough until the Speaker says it’s okay. Would Trump still show on the 29th in that case?
The likeliest scenario is that Democrats boycott the speech en masse, handing POTUS 72 solid hours of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” material about them in the aftermath. I assume they’ll try to counterprogram him too rather than let him rant to the camera for an hour about how awful they are with only a 10-minute rebuttal which no one ever likes by way of reply. But who could they get to speak while he’s speaking who would command a meaningful audience? Don’t say “Ocasio-Cortez”; Democratic leaders are already tired of her. They’re not going to volunteer to inflate her profile further. They can’t tap any of the 2020 contenders either or else the rest of the field will grumble about playing favorites. And they sure can’t send Chuck and Nancy out there to speak. The last time that happened they were ridiculed.
If they were smart they’d ask Michelle Obama to do it, but she wouldn’t. So what do Dems do now?