The Battle over the State of the Union Just Intensified

Pelosi to Trump: SOTU? STFU!

The Speaker of the House knows not to give in to a narcissist. (Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr)

The partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history by a considerable margin, is now 32 days old. Negotiations to reopen the government have been fitful at best, and the electorate pins the blame on the president. His disapproval rating (57 percent) just hit an all-time-high.

Meanwhile, the State of the Union address, a frequently boring spectacle in which members of the president’s party applaud while and Supreme Court justices sometimes fall asleep, is scheduled for next Tuesday, Jan. 29. Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided last week that without a functioning government, it would be unseemly and inappropriate to give the president a forum to crow about his (ahem) accomplishments. So she disinvited him.

At first, it seemed like Pelosi’s move might be a tad impulsive — and when Trump responded by revealing her plan to visit troops in Afghanistan, it looked like a game of tit-for-tat. (It was also fairly galling, since the First Lady later flew at taxpayers’ expense to Mar-a-Lago.) But maybe the Speaker is just better at dealing with narcissistic personalities.

We have lived for so many decades under a muted version of Dick Cheney’s unitary-executive theory that Americans don’t always realize the branches of government are coequal and the president is not a dictator elected to a four-year term. So while granting the chief executive admission to the chamber seems like a courtesy or a formality, it is well within Congress’ right to withhold it. After all, the State of the Union is “basically fucked.”

And Pelosi stood her ground. Not only did she refer to the “Trump Shutdown” in a floor speech, she informed the president of her steadfast resolve in a follow-up letter today:

So, what is this “concurrent resolution”? The Civic-minded Adam Silverman of Balloon Juice explains:

The only way the President, or anyone else for that matter, makes a joint address to Congress is if both chambers pass a joint concurrent resolution inviting that person to do so. Speaker Pelosi has now made it abundantly clear that until the partial shutdown is ended and the parts of the government that are now closed are reopened, there will not be a joint concurrent resolution brought up, let alone passed, in the House of Representatives inviting the President to deliver the State of the Union address. The President needs to come to terms with a simple reality: he is not in control over this matter. 

In other words, the Speaker of the House has the right to treat the president like an unwelcome vampire. He cannot come in the door. And if anybody faints over this breach of protocol, Pelosi can rightly draw attention to Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is the true villain at this stage of the shutdown for his refusal to allow legislation reopening the government to come to a vote. Even McConnell’s obstructionism can only go so far, and restive members of his own caucus may get to join the Democrats as soon as Friday in voting to decouple the shutdown from wall funding.

Still, President Trump has never hesitated to turn the core functions of governing into campaign rallies, so it’s entirely possible he will deliver the address in an arena somewhere. Just not in Michigan.

Meanwhile, other people in the government seem as though they’re bored and hungry for a little excitement. Sen. Marco Rubio appears to be trying to start a war with Venezuela, using the US diplomatic corps as chess pieces:

This is because the Trump administration decided to recognize Venezuela’s opposition leader as interim president, the latest in a long history of refusing to recognize that nation’s sovereignty. So, Senator, what happens if those people refuse to leave and then they’re captured, injured, or killed? 

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