It’s unclear whether her intent was to tweak the allegedly security-obsessed president for the security lapses his partial government shutdown has generated, or simply wanted to deny him the imperial splendor of a joint address to Congress at a time when he’s making hundreds of thousands of federal employees work without pay. But in either event, it’s no joke: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked Trump to postpone the State of the Union Address currently schedule for January 29, or make his pithy remarks in the form of a written communication.
In September 2018, Secretary Nielsen designated State of the Union Addresses as National Special Security Events (NSSEs), recognizing the need for “the full resources of the Federal Government to be brought to bear” to ensure the security of these events. The extraordinary demands presented by NSSEs require weeks of detailed planning with dozens of agencies working together to prepare for the safety of all participants.
The U.S. Secret Service was designated as the lead federal agency responsible for coordinating, planning, exercising, and implementing security for National Special Security Events by Public Law 106-544, December 19, 2000. However, both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have not been funded for 26 days now — with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.
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.
You can doubt the sincerity of the word “sadly” coming from Pelosi here. But it seems she wants a response.
At this point it’s a “request.” Though inevitably the question will arise: Does the Speaker of the House have the authority to disinvite the president to make this speech? That’s not entirely clear, though it’s tradition rather than some sort of constitutional or statutory requirement that has led the House to host a joint session of Congress for the event. So technically, as Pelosi suggested in an interview today, it’s her prerogative as host to withdraw the welcome mat:
“This is a housekeeping matter in the Congress of the United States, so we can honor the responsibility of the invitation we extended to the President,” said Pelosi. “He can make it from the Oval Office if he wants.”
Moreover, the constitutional provision for occasional “messages” to Congress (authorized by Article II, Section 3, Clause 1) can easily be discharged by a written communication, as it was between 1800 and 1913. As Pelosi noted, if Trump wants to make a televised speech, he can do it from the Oval Office or wherever else he chooses.
As of this writing, the White House has not publicly come to grips with Pelosi’s missive — nor, surprisingly, has the president’s Twitter account. The longer her “request” sits out there, however, the more it becomes a potentially volatile personal dispute between two pols who have all but stopped negotiating over Trump’s demand that Congress fund his border-wall fetish, and Pelosi’s demand that Trump stop the foolishness and reopen the federal government. It’s certainly not an atmosphere in which anyone should feel “secure” in conducting business as usual.