President Donald Trump insisted in a letter Wednesday he would deliver his annual State of the Union address from the chamber of the US House next week as planned, telling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi her concerns about security during a partial government shutdown were unfounded.
Trump’s letter, written with his characteristic flourish, sets up a potential showdown with the Democratic speaker, who controls the chamber’s proceedings and must allow for a vote on his speech.
“I will be honoring your invitation, and fulfilling my constitutional duty, to deliver important information to the people and Congress of the United States of America regarding the State of our Union,” Trump wrote in his letter.
He said the speech would occur on January 29 from the House chamber.
“It would be so very sad for our country, if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!” he wrote.
As speaker, it is Pelosi’s prerogative to invite the President to deliver the annual address. Both the House and the Senate would need to pass resolutions convening a Joint Session of Congress before the President’s appearance. And it’s not yet clear — despite Trump’s insistence he would be appearing in the Capitol next Tuesday — whether Pelosi would take the required steps.
The letter was the latest in a round of squabbling over the yearly speech, which is a constitutional requirement that has been caught up in the back-and-forth over border security and reopening shuttered government agencies.
Pelosi initially wrote Trump last week to inform him the speech should be delayed, or delivered in writing, since the law enforcement agencies tasked with protecting the Capitol during the event are affected by the shutdown.
The Department of Homeland Security later cast those concerns aside, saying its agents and officers had been preparing for months to protect the venue, and would be ready shutdown or not.
The bickering over the speech had little outward bearing on the broader dispute over border security and a wall, which has prompted the longest government shutdown in US history. In his letter, Trump did not propose any new way to end the shutdown. Democrats have so far rejected the White House’s offers to include some deportation protections in exchange for wall funding.
With the future of the President’s speech in question, aides had begun weighing other venues for the presidential address. But the broad preference has remained to deliver it in the traditional manner, before a joint session of Congress.
Officials said they were hoping to essentially dare the House speaker to formally uninvite the President from addressing the nation, using Wednesday’s letter to scale up pressure on Pelosi to say one way or the other whether he will be allowed to deliver the speech in the House chamber.
The hope is to force her hand — either to say he cannot speak from the House chamber or to allow it to move forward.
While other options exist for delivering the speech — including delivering it for somewhere outside of Washington — White House officials say they are hesitant to hold a campaign-style rally instead of the State of the Union address because they realize it’s not formal enough to replicate the traditional speech.
The message they planned to deliver at the Capitol — even one shaped around the shutdown — would be much more tamped down than the President’s usual rhetoric at a rally, where he often deviates from the script and works off the crowd.
It’s also expected to include other topic areas, such as the economy and foreign policy, that might be harder to include in a speech in a political venue. And officials believe they have a positive message on both of those areas they want to break through.
Some officials believe a rally would just be seen as another campaign speech, which they acknowledge people have started to tune out. And there’s a recognition it’s harder to keep Trump on-message in a rally versus a more formal address. Officials also noted that television networks rarely carry the President’s rallies live.
Officials have also looked again at the Oval Office and at other venues inside the White House, though the Oval Office is a tough sell for the President since he disliked the address to the nation he delivered there earlier this month, and polls showed it changed few people’s minds about the border wall. Aides have also surveyed the East Room and Cross Hall areas, which could more easily facilitate an audience.