President Donald Trump will NOT be giving his State of the Union speech on the House floor next Tuesday.
That much now seems definite, following an exchange of hugely passive-aggressive letters between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday – a battle of words that ended with Pelosi informing Trump that she would not be introducing a “concurrent resolution” allowing him to address a bicameral session of Congress on January 29.
What it means is that we are now through the looking glass: On the 33rd day of the longest government shutdown in American history, the speaker of the House has disinvited the President of the United States from delivering his annual update to Congress – a tradition that has been around since George Washington delivered the first State of the Union address at Federal Hall in New York City on January 8, 1790.
There are three certain conclusions as a result of Pelosi’s response to Trump’s letter earlier Wednesday, in which he insisted he was planning to show up to give his speech in the House next Tuesday, despite her previous letter asking him to postpone his speech or deliver it in writing a la Thomas Jefferson.
- Trump ain’t speaking on the House floor next week.
- Relations between the Democratic House and the Republican President have hit a new low.
- None of this is even marginally normal.
There are a slew of questions that follow from these certainties: Will this cancellation further set back any attempt at compromise on reopening the government? Will Trump give some sort of kind of, sort of State of the Union speech from some other location? If so, where will it be?
Knowing Trump – and watching what he and his surrogates have said over the last few days – it seems like a virtual certainty that Trump will speak somewhere and call it a “State of the Union” address. (I outlined four potential alternate locations here.)
“Whether he does that from the halls of Congress or whether he does that in another location, the President will talk to the American people on January 29, as he does nearly every single day,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in an interview on “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday morning.
Seen through that lens, Trump’s letter to Pelosi on Wednesday afternoon was a purely political ploy – as this whole thing has been on both sides – designed to put the onus on the speaker to respond, and more accurately, to respond that Trump couldn’t speak from the House floor. Shortly after Pelosi’s letter denying Trump that privilege was reported by CNN’s Manu Raju, Trump was asked about it and said this:
“I’m not surprised. It’s really a shame what’s happening with the Democrats. They’ve become radicalized, they don’t want to see crime stop, which we can very easily do on the southern border and it really is a shame what’s happening with the Democrats.”
In truth, none of this should be surprising. Trump promised a totally and completely unorthodox presidency. And literally every day of his two-plus years in the White House, he has delivered on that pledge.
What’s changed over these past two years is Democratic tactics in dealing with Trump. The party spent much of the first months of Trump’s presidency still shell-shocked that he had won – and concerned that they had grossly misunderstood the electorate. But, as Trump’s conduct became more and more outrageous – and, to me, his mishandling of the aftermath of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia was the tipping point – Democrats realized that treating Trump like an even semi-normal president was not a feasible strategy.
Because Democrats were in the minority in the House and Senate through the first two years of Trump’s term, they had a relatively limited ability to follow through on that fundamental shift in their thinking about Trump. But the 2018 election changed all of that. Suddenly, Democrats had the majority in the House – due in no small part to their pledge to provide a check on Trump.
What we have seen over the past week – Pelosi sent her original letter rescinding the January 29 State of the Union invite on January 16 – is simply one of a series of ways in which Democrats are using their power in the House to conduct asymmetric political warfare against Trump. The idea of banning the president of the United States from the chance to deliver his “State of the Union” from the House floor was unimaginable under past presidents. Yes, Democrats loathed many of George W. Bush’s policies, but this sort of no-you-may-not-even-come-to-the-House strategy was never considered. And yes, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a speech to Congress, but Obama was given the right to speak.
This whole thing is unprecedented – and purposely so. Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues have made the calculation that the only way you deal with a president like Trump – and unlike every president who has held the office before him – is to go beyond where you would have thought you would be willing to go. To press to the political extremes and beyond, because you are dealing with a political opponent who has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to not just push the envelope but to act as though he is entirely unaware any sort of envelope exists.
Let me repeat myself: None of this is even marginally normal. That’s the way Trump likes it – and the way that Democrats have accepted it must be if they want to effectively combat him and the effects of the policies he wants to put into place.
The loser in all of this political extremism is, of course, the 800,000 federal workers who are either furloughed or working without pay. It’s impossible to think Wednesday’s ugliness does anything but make a compromise to re-open the government an even more remote possibility. (And, to be honest, there wasn’t much of a chance of it even before today.) That means days – and maybe weeks – more of working without pay or not working at all. And that’s the real tragedy of all of this.