It’s tough to tell. Does this make the shutdown a bug … or a feature? Nancy Pelosi has asked Donald Trump to put off his State of the Union speech to the joint session of Congress until after the funding issues have been resolved:
Pelosi wants to reschedule Trump’s SOTU this year until after the government is re-opened pic.twitter.com/ab2ludmxj5
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) January 16, 2019
And with that, the new Speaker of the House just made the best case possible for a perpetual shutdown. Kidding! What I meant to say was that Nancy Pelosi has finally sounded a note of wisdom, at least in her reminder that presidents used to just deliver a report in writing to Congress.
“During the 19th Century and up until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson,” Pelosi writes, “these annual State of the Union messages were delivered to Congress in writing.” True enough, and a tradition worth restoring, especially to reverse the treatment of the president as some kind of feudal lord in Congress. These events have been mainly characterized for their vacuity and obsequiousness rather than for any memorable substance.
But who are we really kidding here? Pelosi’s not looking to restore the proper co-equal-branch dynamics under the Constitution. She was delighted to offer regal hosannas to Barack Obama, and she’d be equally delighted to offer them to President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or President Jill Stein, for that matter. She just doesn’t want Trump using Congress to beat up Democrats over the wall:
BREAKING: @SpeakerPelosi just asked to postpone the SOTU until after the shutdown. Dems don’t want to give Trump a platform to blame them for a crisis they believe he caused.
— Rachael Bade (@rachaelmbade) January 16, 2019
Even so, it would be almost worth the trade as long as we came to a lock-solid agreement never to stage a State of the Union speech again, ever. Absent that, Trump should go full steam ahead and demand that Pelosi honor her original invitation … or remind her that she could solve the issue by agreeing to fund the border wall. As he will no doubt do shortly.
Another option would be to send the letter to Congress but deliver the address from the Oval Office. It would lack the pomp and circumstance of a normal SOTU, but it would also lack all of the boos and disapproving looks from Democrats that the cameras would catch during it, too. Plus, without standing ovations after the period in each sentence, it might only run 30 minutes or so. Trump could also deliver it at a rally, but the networks wouldn’t feel compelled to cover it live (except for Fox, perhaps). An Oval Office address would at least return the presidency to a less-royal status, and it would have the side effect of “shutting down” Congress for an evening. That’d be a tradition worth launching.
Update: If I were Trump’s speechwriter for an Oval Office SOTU, I’d start with this: “My fellow Americans, I speak to you tonight from the Oval Office because Nancy Pelosi won’t allow her members to listen to the concerns you have about the national-security crisis at the southern border.” Although, come to think of it, Trump might have led off the SOTU speech with that anyway even without Pelosi’s cancellation request.
Update: Politico hears the same thing, sotto voce, from House Dems. But when did this idea first come up?
Publicly, Democrats plan to argue that the parties need to focus on addressing the shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history. But privately, they also don’t want to give Trump a major platform to blame them for the shutdown when Trump’s demand for billions in wall funding has been the main driver, according to a Democratic lawmaker close to leadership.
Staff have been discussing the idea of postponing the State of the Union for months, with some expressing concern about scheduling travel plans for lawmakers and guests as well.
For months? The shutdown is only on Day 26 …