WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked President Donald Trump to reschedule his State of the Union address from later this month if the government remains shuttered – or deliver it in writing.
“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Trump Wednesday.
The partial government shutdown is now in its 26th day, officially the longest in U.S. history. Trump has demanded $5.7 billion to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and has vowed to veto any legislation that does not include the sum. Democrats oppose a wall and are refusing to appropriate the money.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.
Pelosi cites Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s designation of State of the Union addresses as a “National Special Security Event,” which require a high level of security. The Secret Service has been given responsibility for such events, but the agency, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, is affected by the shutdown.
Later, after sending the letter, Pelosi told reporters that the State of the Union requires hundreds of people to work out logistics and security, and most of them have been furloughed or are working without pay because of the shutdown.
“The point is security,” she said.
Trump “can make (the speech) from the Oval Office if he wants,” she said.
Nielsen took issue with Pelosi’s concerns about security.
“The Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union,” she wrote on Twitter. “We thank the Service for their mission focus and dedication and for all they do each day to secure our homeland.”
Written State of the Union-type addresses were once presidential practice.
The nation’s first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, delivered annual messages to Congress in person. But successor Thomas Jefferson began submitting his in writing in 1801, a routine that continued for more than a century.
It was President Woodrow Wilson who revived the practice of in-person speeches, his first coming in 1913. President Franklin Roosevelt is the one who dubbed the annual remarks as “the state of the Union.”
The last president to only submit a written State of the Union was lame duck Jimmy Carter in January 1981, four days before he left office.
Meanwhile, Trump met Wednesday at the White House with a bipartisan group of House members to discuss the shutdown.
The meeting with the Problem Solvers Caucus came just one day after a moderate group of House Democrats spurned Trump’s invitation to a White House luncheon. The invitation was seen as an attempt by Trump to bypass Pelosi as he tries to win support for funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Seven Democrats, however, are among the Problem Solvers who met with Trump on Wednesday. They are Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Thomas Suozzi of New York, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Anthony Brindisi of New York, Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Max Rose of New York, and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.
“Over the last weeks, we have been listening to our constituents and speaking with our fellow members of Congress — in both parties and in both chambers,” the Democrats said in a statement. “There is strong agreement across the aisle and around the country: We must reopen the government. Our security, safety, and economy have been compromised, and millions of families are suffering.”
The group said there is also strong agreement that “if we reopen the government, the possibility exists to work together and find common ground to tackle some of our country’s toughest problems and fix them. But that conversation can only begin in earnest once the government is reopened. We accepted the White House’s invitation to meet to convey that message.”
The names of Republican House members who attended the meeting have not been released.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump and his team had “a constructive meeting” with the bipartisan group.
“They listened to one another and now both have a good understanding of what the other wants,” she said. “We look forward to more conversations like this.”