The Memo: Pelosi ups ante in Trump showdown

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNews media's sausage-making obsession helps no one Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-Calif.) upped the ante in her battle with President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE on Wednesday, disinviting him from delivering the State of the Union address initially planned for Jan. 29.

The move is a power play from Pelosi, and one that is guaranteed to please her base. But it carries risks, too, especially if the Speaker is seen as overplaying her hand.


Democrats are confident they have the political advantage on the partial government shutdown — a belief bolstered by public opinion polls — and swathes of the party’s supporters are adamant that no concessions should be made to the president in his push for a border wall.

The latest polls deepen the gloom for Trump.

The president’s job performance won the approval of only 34 percent of Americans in an Associated Press–NORC poll released within hours of Pelosi’s statement. It was Trump’s worst showing in that survey in more than a year, with a decline of 8 points since mid-December, before the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

But Pelosi’s decision to prevent Trump from delivering a traditional State of the Union address could be seen as too unyielding by independent voters who want, above all, an end to the shutdown that's now in its 33rd day.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Trump sought to push this idea, saying it was “really a shame what’s happening with the Democrats” and adding, “They’ve become radicalized.”

The latter turn of phrase is more commonly heard about Islamic militants than U.S. political parties. Its use by the president is one more indication of just how hostile the atmosphere has become between him and Pelosi.


GOP lawmakers sought to amplify the president’s message. Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsBiden taps Damian Williams as US attorney for Manhattan New York lt. gov. says she is 'prepared to lead' following Cuomo resignation Outrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout MORE (R-N.Y.), a close Trump ally, called Pelosi’s decision a “big mistake” and "a sign of the extreme leftward lurch of her leadership and her party.”

“I do not think the American public will react well to it,” Collins added.

A tumultuous Wednesday afternoon began with Trump issuing a letter saying he intended to go ahead with the State of the Union address from the House chamber on Tuesday, as first proposed by Pelosi on Jan. 3.

The statement was made in defiance of Pelosi’s later suggestion, on Jan. 16, that the address should be postponed or delivered in writing because of security concerns pertaining to the shutdown.

Trump, in his letter, said he had been assured by the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service that there were no unusual security problems.

“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 concluded.

Pelosi swiftly returned fire, saying she would not advance the concurrent resolution authorizing a State of the Union address until the government had been reopened.

Roughly one-quarter of the government is shuttered, directly affecting about 800,000 federal employees.

The clash is a remarkable one, pitting the president and the Speaker in angry opposition and throwing one of the major set pieces of the political year into doubt.

The ball is now in Trump’s court. He appeared to acknowledge that he would deliver an address from some other site when he spoke for a second time to reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ll do something in the alternative,” Trump said, though he provided no other meaningful details.

The famously combative president will not want to be seen as surrendering in his confrontation with Pelosi. But his leverage is limited, and pushing the point further on delivering a traditional State of the Union would be fraught with danger.

Even someone with Trump’s taste for televised drama might balk at going to the Capitol in the absence of an authorizing resolution, since he would face the embarrassment of possibly being turned away.

Instead, he complained that the State of the Union had been “canceled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth.”

The White House is trying to turn the heat up on Pelosi and also pressure centrist Democrats who could potentially be peeled away from the Speaker’s position.

Trump aide Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne ConwayChristie says he was unable to reach Trump on Jan. 6 Watchdog cites 13 Trump officials who violated Hatch Act before 2020 election Ethics watchdog accuses Psaki of violating Hatch Act MORE accused Pelosi on Wednesday of having told a “lie about security concerns” in her Jan. 16 letter. Conway also told Fox News it would be “remarkably petty” of Pelosi to disinvite Trump — only hours before the Speaker did just that.

Even Pelosi’s enemies acknowledge she is a canny politician. She would likely rebuff Trump so emphatically only if she is sure her caucus is four-square behind her.

The storm comes at a sensitive time, with the Senate due to consider two contrasting plans to end the shutdown on Thursday. Neither measure — one would include Trump’s requested $5.7 billion to fund the border wall, the other would reopen the government temporarily but without any such funding — is likely to pass.

But the votes will be a closely watched test of party solidarity. Any more than two or three defections on either side would be seen as a clear indication of which way the political winds are blowing.

Wednesday’s events only raise the stakes and reinforce each party's position, however.

Democrats are, for the moment, sure the Speaker is on the right track.

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHouse Democrats miss chance to help McAuliffe Progressives see infrastructure vote next week Dem hopes for infrastructure vote hit brick wall MORE (D-Va.) predicted Pelosi would have plenty of backing within her caucus for holding the line.

“We are a separate but co-equal branch of government. We are not an extension of the executive office,” he said. “And I would hope Mr. Trump doesn’t test that constitutional principle.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency. Mike Lillis contributed.