President TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE's decision to block an overseas fact-finding trip planned by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse has the power to subpoena its members — but does it have the will? Man who threatened to kill Ocasio-Cortez, Pelosi pleads guilty to federal charges The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems look to repackage BBB into salvageable bill MORE (D-Calif.) and other Democrats has intensified a showdown between two of Washington’s most powerful figures over a partial federal government shutdown with no end in sight.
Trump's stunning decision on Thursday to cancel the military plane scheduled to shuttle the Democrats to Brussels and Afghanistan was widely viewed as retaliation for Pelosi’s effort, just a day earlier, to postpone the president’s Jan. 29 State of the Union address until the government is reopened.
Borrowing language from Pelosi’s own proposal, Trump said the Democrats can take their trip when the spending impasse has ended.
“We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the shutdown is over,” Trump wrote to Pelosi. “I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the shutdown.”
The maneuver drew immediate howls from Democrats — and even some Republicans — who lamented the near-collapse of comity between the two parties and expressed deep concerns about how the sides will find the common ground to end what has evolved into the longest government closure in the nation’s history. Amid the finger-pointing over which party is to blame, the messages quickly devolved into acrimonious personal insults.
“All too often in the last two years the president has acted like he is in the fifth grade,” said Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House CIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who was poised to go on the trip.
“To have someone who has that kind of character running the country is an enormous problem at every level.”
Ambling through the Capitol, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi says she's open to stock trading ban for Congress Former Maryland rep announces bid for old House seat Fury over voting rights fight turns personal on Capitol Hill MORE (D-Md.) appeared disgusted, saying Trump’s decision “demeans the presidency.” And Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeMichigan Republicans sue over US House district lines Pandemic pushes teachers unions to center stage ahead of midterms Overnight Defense & National Security — Nation marks 1 year since Capitol riot MORE (D-Mich.) characterized the move as "petty, childish and counterproductive."
“She's doing her duty as a senior member of the United States government, and the fact that the president would think that's not important because he's going to have another temper tantrum is just another indication just how dangerous this psychologically unfit person is to hold that office,” Kildee told The Hill.
“This is not good."
Trump, in his letter, characterized Pelosi’s trip as a “public relations event,” inviting the Democrats to resume their travel plans on commercial flights.
“That would certainly be your prerogative,” he wrote.
The message fits a familiar mold for a president with notoriously thin skin who doesn’t take kindly to criticism. His targets have transcended party and profession, to include Democrats, Republicans, the media, celebrities and just about anyone else who challenges his actions. The common theme is this: If you whack me, I’ll whack back harder.
The Democrats were not alone in criticizing Trump’s response. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Kyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, said it was “inappropriate” for Trump to postpone Pelosi’s visit with the troops. But Graham also reserved plenty of fire for the Democrats.
“One sophomoric response does not deserve another,” Graham said in a statement.
Other Republicans offered support for Trump's response, arguing he was fully within his rights and that Pelosi should be in Washington to work toward an end to the shutdown.
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) argued it was one thing for Trump to travel to Iraq to visit U.S. troops during the shutdown and another for Pelosi to do so.
"I think the president of the United States represents the entire country as commander in chief. I think if he wants to speak to the troops, that it certainly honors our entire nation," Turner told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview.
"I think Nancy Pelosi's been elected from a small portion of San Francisco. She should be behind her desk right now working diligently to open this government, close the border, and not pursue the open border policies she has, and make certain that we can move forward."
Trump’s decision marked the first formal response from the White House to Pelosi’s own entreaty, delivered to the White House Wednesday morning, to delay the State of the Union address until the government is fully funded. Pelosi noted that the Homeland Security Department and Secret Service are both affected by the partial shutdown, expressing concerns about security risks surrounding the president’s high-profile annual speech.
Republicans pounced, accusing Pelosi of seeking to deny Trump an enormous national platform to make the case for his border wall — the source of the spending impasse — during the shutdown. Pelosi, for her part, rejected that characterization on Thursday morning.
“I’m not denying the platform at all,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “We’re saying let’s get a date when government is open. Let’s pay the employees.”
Trump’s letter, which arrived several hours after Pelosi’s remarks, appeared to be timed for maximum impact.
A handful of Democrats were already aboard a U.S. Air Force bus outside the Longworth Office Building on Capitol Hill, waiting to be shuttled to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington for a flight to Brussels. After meeting with NATO commanders and U.S. military leaders in the Belgian capital, the lawmakers were scheduled to continue on to Afghanistan, where they would visit with troops and “obtain critical national security and intelligence briefings from those on the front lines,” according to Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.
When it became clear the trip was not happening, a number of those Democrats — including Reps. Schiff; Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell NYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoThis week: Democrats set for showdown on voting rights, filibuster Key House chairman wants to lead official trip to Taiwan in January Biden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans MORE (D-Calif.), who chairs the Veterans’ Affairs panel — gathered in Pelosi’s office in the Capitol to discuss next steps. Engel, in cargo pants, appeared to be dressed in preparation for a long flight.
Over the next six hours, with a bank of cameras and dozens of reporters outside her office, Pelosi never emerged. Instead, Schiff addressed the press, with sharp words for Trump and an elusive message about the Democrats’ response that could have been interpreted to mean that Pelosi was still seeking ways to take her trip.
“We’re not going to allow the President of the United States to tell the Congress it can’t fulfill its oversight responsibilities, it can’t ensure that our troops have what they need whether our government is open or closed,” Schiff said.
“As far as we can tell, this has never happened in the annals of congressional history,” he continued. “But at the end of the day, we’re determined our oversight will continue no matter what the president’s actions are.”
As the Democrats plotted in Pelosi’s office, another power-meeting was happening across the Capitol, where Vice President Pence and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerDonald Trump slams Jan. 6 panel after Ivanka Trump interview request: 'They'll go after children' Kushner investment firm raises more than B: report Trump: Netanyahu 'never wanted peace' with Palestinians MORE were huddling with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team McConnell says he made 'inadvertent omission' in voting remarks amid backlash These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (R-Ky.), who’s facing increasing pressure from moderate Republican senators to open the government and then negotiate border security — the same message Pelosi and the Democrats are airing.
Pence and Kushner did not comment upon leaving the meeting.
What happens next remains unclear. Pelosi did not rescind her State of the Union invitation to Trump in her letter this week. Instead, she suggested that — “unless government reopens this week” — the pair “work together to determine another suitable date after government has reopened.”
But House lawmakers left the Capitol Thursday for the long holiday weekend without ending the impasse, leading to plenty of speculation about Pelosi’s next move. It became clear late Thursday that any such announcement wouldn’t come before Friday.
“Go home,” Hammill told reporters still lingering outside Pelosi’s office Thursday night. “You’re not going to get anything else from us today.”