The political climate in early 1999 was unprecedented. The sitting Democratic president, Bill Clinton, had just been impeached by a Republican-led House, and the Republican-led Senate was weighing whether to remove him from office. Clinton, meanwhile, wanted to deliver a State of the Union address.
Some on the right suggested at the time that Congress refuse to extend an invitation, noting, among other things, that it’s a fairly modern tradition, not a requirement, that a president deliver the remarks on television from the House floor, and the president could instead issue his statement in written form. GOP leaders, realizing that their impeachment gambit was already unpopular, ultimately welcomed the impeached Democrat anyway.
In late 2014, several far-right voices launched a similar push, urging Republicans not to allow Barack Obama to deliver a televised State of the Union address in early 2015, ostensibly as punishment for the Democrat’s DACA policy for Dreamers. GOP leaders were well aware of the chatter, but they nevertheless invited the Democratic president.
Four years later, there’s no organized progressive effort to scrap Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, but as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted this morning, there are some logistical concerns.
President Donald Trump should either delay his State of the Union address or submit it in writing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote Wednesday in a letter citing the security burdens that the annual address to a joint session of Congress would place on a partially shuttered federal government.
“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 January 29th,” Pelosi wrote in the letter to Trump.
So, has Trump’s invitation been pulled? There’s apparently some confusion on this point.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told CNN this morning, “The State of the Union is off.” The Maryland Democrat added, “We’re not going to have business as usual as long as this government is shut down.”
Hoyer’s office, however, soon after walked that back, saying the majority leader hadn’t seen Pelosi’s letter to the White House and “misunderstood” the nature of the message.
As for the House Speaker, asked if she’s disinvited the president, Pelosi said, “No, no, no. It’s on the strength of the statement of the secretary of Homeland Security about all of the resources that are needed to prepare for a State of the Union address, which she calls an ‘event of special security.’ And so these people are not working and we’ve never really had a State of Union when government has been in a shutdown since the Budget Act in the [1970s].”
My best guess is that Trump will ignore the concerns – he’ll relish a platform in which he can blame everyone but himself for his mess – and stick to the original schedule for a Jan. 29 address. For now, however, there’s some question as to how and whether officials will proceed.