Nancy Pelosi’s move to get Donald Trump to forgo his January 29 State of the Union address is being hailed by parts of the US media as the Democratic Speaker’s most aggressive move to date to push back against the President.
Expressing doubts about whether adequate security can be provided during the partial government shutdown, Ms Pelosi wrote to Mr Trump indicating that it was not business as usual given the ongoing government shutdown.
US website politico.com said the struggle between the president and the speaker is becoming an unprecedented political fight.
“By proposing Trump reschedule the annual State of the Union address until the government shutdown is over … Pelosi has pulled her most aggressive gambit yet,” the website said.
In a letter to Mr Trump, Ms Pelosi said with both the Secret Service and the Homeland Security Department entangled in the shutdown, the President should speak to Congress another time or deliver the address in writing unless the government is reopened this week.
The Washington Post said Pelosi read the letter to a closed-door meeting of House Democrats, prompting much support.
“To a president especially sensitive to acts of disrespect – and one with a hearty appetite for pomp and circumstance – the so-called unvitation was not merely a power play. It was a calculated personal slight,” the Post reported.
In response, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen denied anyone’s safety is compromised, saying both agencies “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union”.
Inviting the President to give the speech is usually routine and Ms Pelosi issued the invitation to hold the address in consultation with the White House several weeks ago.
It takes a joint resolution of the House and Congress to extend the official invitation and set the stage.
Ms Pelosi left it unclear what would happen if Mr Trump insisted on holding the address on the scheduled date.
“We’ll have to have a security evaluation, but that would mean diverting resources,” she told reporters when asked how she would respond if Mr Trump still intended to come.
“I don’t know how that could happen.”
Ms Pelosi stressed the need for “proper security” to be in place for the address, which brings all three branches of government together in the same room.
Postponing the address would deny Mr Trump the opportunity to make a case for his border wall in a prime-time televised address.
Wisconsin Republican senator Ron Johnson said the matter was less about security than about Ms Pelosi feeling she had the upper hand in the budget standoff.
“She’s talking about cancelling the State of the Union – this is not somebody who’s feeling any pressure,” Senator Johnson said.
“I think Republicans are getting the lion’s share of the pressure.”
Republican Congressman Andy Biggs said he hoped Mr Trump would proceed with his speech and accused Ms Pelosi of “censoring this vital message for transparent political purposes”.
The White House hosted a bipartisan group of politicians, followed by a group of Republican senators, on the 26th day of the shutdown, with no sign of breaking through the impasse over Mr Trump’s demands for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Democratic leaders are refusing to bargain over a border wall they oppose as long as the government remains partially closed.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump signed legislation into law affirming that the roughly 800,000 federal workers who have been going without pay will ultimately be compensated for their lost wages.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic senator Chris Coons are leading a renewed effort to persuade Mr Trump to let the government reopen for three weeks in return for a commitment from politicians to try to address his concerns about border security in that period. They are seeking signatures on a letter spelling out the plan.
-with AAP, ABC