Pelosi cited the government shutdown and the fact that the two agencies tasked with security and planning, the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, have not been funded because of the government shutdown and critical departments have been “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 Jan. 29,” she wrote in a letter to Trump.
Pelosi later told reporters that the State of the Union was a “special security event” that required “hundreds of people working on the logistics and security of it,” most of whom have been furloughed. She even suggested that Trump could deliver the speech from the Oval Office.
The Constitution requires that the president deliver a State of the Union address, but does not specify that it be delivered via a speech or even in person. As Pelosi pointed out, the State of the Union was delivered in writing through the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.
Pelosi invited Trump to address a joint session of Congress shortly after she was elected speaker, but she noted that a president has never delivered such an address during a government shutdown.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen seemed to suggest that a delay would be unnecessary. “The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union,” she said on Twitter.
The State of the Union is an important event for the president draw attention to his agenda not just from a captive audience in Congress, but the country, as it draws audiences across media platforms. Trump was expected to use the moment to again advocate for a border wall and border security, something he did last week in an Oval Office address. But the joint session of Congress would give him an audience of cheering Republicans, countering polls that show more Americans blame him for the shutdown and oppose plans for a wall.
The shutdown is now in its 26th day, the longest on record.
Also on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) led Democrats down the Senate steps of the Capitol, as each held poster-sized photos of a government worker affected by the shutdown. Schumer slammed Trump, saying that he was using the federal workforce as “pawns” as he demands money to build a border wall.
A group of House freshmen members, including Rep. Katie Hill of California and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, once again trekked across the Capitol, with a handful of cameras following, to deliver a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), asking for a meeting. Some also went to the Senate cloakroom and even to the Senate floor to corner him on their request.
Rep. T.J. Cox (D-Calif.) said that McConnell’s aide said that they were trying to schedule a meeting with the new members but “they don’t have an opportunity…because they are going off on a retreat.”
There was some confusion in how Pelosi’s letter should be interpreted.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told CNN that the State of the Union was “off,” noting that it is the House Speaker who invites the president to deliver it. His office later said that he “mischaracterized” Pelosi’s letter in characterizing the State of the Union as canceled.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, was more caustic toward Trump. He wrote on Twitter that “Individual 1 will not be permitted to deliver his state of the union address until government is reopened. Welcome to life in the New Democratic Majority. Get used to it.”
“Individual 1” is the way that the president has been identified in court declarations in the case of Michael Cohen, his former attorney.