Less than 24 hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told President Donald Trump that he should reconsider delivering his State of the Union on January 29, the famed counter-puncher struck back. Bigly.
“Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed,” Trump wrote to Pelosi in a letter tweeted by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders Thursday afternoon. “In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate.”
And then, this dagger: “Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.”
Oh, it is ON.
(That line is very likely an intentional echo of Pelosi’s Wednesday letter to Trump, in which she said of the President’s State of the Union address: “He can make it from the Oval Office if he wants.”)
Knowing what we know about Trump – he is thin-skinned, easy to anger and will never let a slight go unanswered – his reaction shouldn’t be surprising. This is who he is! This is what he does!
And yet, even by those incredibly low expectations, Trump’s move was striking.
Pelosi was set to leave later Thursday on the CODEL, short for a congressional delegation traveling abroad. Trump canceled it by disallowing Pelosi to use a military aircraft for the trip. (The White House oversees the use of military aircraft by elected officials.) “Nancy Pelosi and Democrats were guaranteeing that 800,000 people were going to lose their paychecks today,” a White House official told CNN’s Jeremy Diamond by way of justification.
So while people on TV Thursday morning were talking about how surprising it was that Trump had yet to respond to Pelosi, the President was busy in his lab cooking this gem up. Proving, yet again, that there is no road too low for him to take – although, admittedly, the offer for Pelosi to make the trip by flying commercial is an epic troll move.
To be clear: Pelosi is far from blameless here. Her move to deny Trump his platform for the annual “State of the Union” address – which she couched in concerns over the ability of the Secret Service to ensure everyone’s safety amid the 27-days-and-counting government shutdown – was a totally political move designed to embarrass the President.
Pelosi’s decision, like Trump’s on the CODEL, was within her powers to do. (The speaker of the House invites the President to address a bicameral session of Congress. The President’s only role is to accept or reject the ask.) But just because the two principals can do what they’ve done doesn’t mean they should do it.
As a reminder: 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay today. And they have been doing so for the last (almost) month. Bills aren’t being paid. Sacrifices are being made. Real life is happening.
Amid that backdrop, the childish one-upmanship between Trump and Pelosi feels deeply out of touch. But, more than that, it’s actively detrimental to the re-opening of the government. No one can argue that the actions of Trump and Pelosi over the last 24 hours have brought us closer to compromise that would re-open the government. Hell, no one can even argue that what’s happened between two of the most powerful people in the country has had a neutral impact on the shutdown showdown. This is a bad thing for the country. Period.
What’s even more terrifying – and depressing – is that neither side seems likely to play the adult in this back-and-forth anytime soon.
Pelosi sees a Democratic base that is entirely uninterested in giving Trump his border wall and a series of national polls that suggest the public blames the President and his party more than congressional Democrats for the ongoing shutdown. Combine those two factors, and Pelosi has zero incentive to give in to Trump.
Trump, of course, has made a political career of doing just this – smashing through normal behavior, acting impulsively and impetuously, taking his ball and going home when he doesn’t get exactly what he wants. If Pelosi’s political calculations make her unlikely to take the high road any time soon, Trump’s personality doesn’t even allow him to see that a high road exists.
Which leaves us absolutely nowhere. Our elected officials are acting like my two sons, who are 9 and 6. Everything is the other person’s fault. They did it first. What could I do but react?
As any parent – or, really, any adult – will tell you, it’s easy to get caught in that blame game. But it is also a cul-de-sac from which no solutions emerge. It’s bad enough when we are talking about a game between my boys on the Nintendo Switch. It’s unimaginable when we are talking about the shuttered federal government.
“One sophomoric response does not deserve another,” said Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham in a statement criticizing Trump’s move.
Amen. Unfortunately, at this point in the game, calling what Trump and Pelosi are doing “sophomoric” may be paying them too high a compliment.