Trump rejects Pelosi request to delay State of the Union speech

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he plans to deliver the State of the Union address before the U.S. Congress as scheduled on Jan. 29 in the House of Representatives’ chamber, rejecting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s request that he delay it.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on border security and the partial shutdown of the U.S. government from the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., Jan. 19, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

In an escalation of rhetoric that essentially dared Pelosi to disinvite him, Trump told her in a letter, which the White House released, that he was “looking forward” to giving the speech, an annual event in American politics.

“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!” Trump wrote.

The speech, typically used by presidents to announce their policy goals for the coming year, has become a hostage to the standoff between Trump and congressional Democrats over his demands for funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

That demand triggered a partial government shutdown that is now in its 33rd day. Pelosi on Jan. 16 asked Trump to consider postponing the speech because of the shutdown, which has left 800,000 federal workers on furlough or working without pay.

In her request, Pelosi cited concerns about security for the event, traditionally attended by both houses of Congress, most of the president’s Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the justices of the Supreme Court.

Trump brushed aside security concerns. In his letter, he said the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service had told him there would be “absolutely no problem” with security for the evening address on Capitol Hill.

“Therefore, 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 to Pelosi. “I look forward to seeing you on the evening of January 29th in the Chamber of the House of Representatives.”

Pelosi, in remarks made to reporters in a Capitol hallway after the letter was released, said: “Stay tuned. That’s been my message to all of you: stay tuned.”

House staffers said there has been no preparatory “walk-through,” as is customary a few days ahead of the speech, involving security officials and House personnel.

Trump has other options. For instance, there was an invitation on Twitter on Wednesday from West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who urged Trump “to give the State of the Union Address in our State Capitol.”

About a quarter of the U.S. government closed on Dec. 22 after its funding expired for reasons unrelated to border security or immigration. In discussions about legislation to restore funding, Trump initially signaled support.

Then he changed his stance and demanded that any shutdown-ending measure must contain $5.7 billion to help pay for a border wall, a demand that Democrats oppose. They have since insisted that the government be fully reopened before they will discuss border security.

Trump sees the wall as necessary to help stop illegal immigration and drugs from entering the country. Democrats reject the wall as a costly and ineffective step.

Pelosi, speaker since Jan. 3 when Democrats took control of the House, has clashed with Trump. On Jan. 17, Trump canceled a flight Pelosi had been scheduled to take on a U.S. military plane just hours before she and several other lawmakers were set to travel to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops.

Additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker

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