And so he shall, Nancy Pelosi. So he shall.
Actually, he’ll end up doing it in the East Room at a podium in front of a group of aides and admirers. An hour-long speech from the Oval Office would be depressing and claustrophobic. An hour-long speech in a big room in front of an audience that’s interrupting frequently with raucous applause is more digestible.
Her reasoning here has to do with security. There’d be a security risk in having the president and Congress together in the same chamber while federal workers are furloughed, she says, without the full complement of security that normally attends to this event. But c’mon. They could bring back every agent they’d need to staff the SOTU and Pelosi would still find a reason not to hold the event. Homeland Security told Fox News today, in fact, that they’re ready for the SOTU, shutdown or no shutdown. Here’s what I wrote on Friday:
I don’t think Republicans want to risk leaving Trump with an open mic and a huge TV audience at the State of the Union either with the shutdown still going and approaching its 40th day. In fact, I wonder if Pelosi will even allow him the opportunity: Maybe she’ll rescind the invitation to have him come and address Congress, leaving him to do it from the White House instead. Certainly she doesn’t want to be in-frame and unable to respond during an SOTU speech in which Trump excoriates her at length for not giving him the wall money already.
Imagine Pelosi having to sit silently five feet behind Trump for an hour, in full view of 50 million people, as he rants to the camera about how much Democrats love illegal-immigrant crime. The only surprise today is that she waited as long as she did to cancel.
The sweetest thing Trump could do now would be to scrap the SOTU entirely, fulfilling the wishes of political junkies everywhere who despise this boring, useless, imperial spectacle.
During the day of the event, the White House typically briefs reporters on the major news and releases excerpts. By the time the president starts speaking, reporters get the transcript of the speech, which is typically used as the basis for any stories.
The actual speech produces no real news. So reporters typically focus on meaningless side stories: who lined up to shake hands with the president along the aisle, who applauded or sat on their hands for any lines, or what kind of facial expressions people were making.
The policy proposals are typically dead on arrival, and no speech by the president is going to do anything to change it. Everything that is said is quickly forgotten. Also, for a long time now, presidential approval has been unaffected by these speeches.
All we need to do is somehow convince Donald J. Trump that he should willingly forgo an opportunity to be on television in front of an audience numbering in the tens of millions.
Free advice: If he wants camera time, he should dispense with the SOTU by sending a written version to Congress and instead host a beer-and-burgers “eat ’til you puke” fast-food blowout a la the Clemson banquet for 100 lucky fans at the White House. Invite the media in to cover it all. Imagine a roomful of dudes in MAGA hats double-fisting pizza and cheesesteaks beneath the chandeliers while Trump stands there grinning. It might be the one thing that can turn the trend in his approval rating around.