The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pelosi asking Trump to postpone his State of the Union is her latest power play in this shutdown impasse

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged President Trump on Jan. 16 to postpone the Jan. 29 State of the Union address until the government reopens. (Video: Reuters)

It must have killed Nancy Pelosi that for six years of the Obama administration she couldn’t play hardball with Mitch McConnell.

Because her latest power play in the shutdown stalemate is evidence that she has no qualms about fighting ruthlessly.

As House speaker, it’s on her to extend the official invitation to the president to come into her chamber and present his State of the Union. On Wednesday morning, she told him he best reschedule.

“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 a letter to President Trump.

Pelosi asks Trump to postpone State of the Union address because of government shutdown — or deliver it in writing

It reads like a polite request, but like a mother suggesting her child help clear the table, Pelosi isn’t really asking.

The brilliance in her latest move is that nothing will enrage Trump more than having a nationally televised speech where he gets to talk for 45 minutes about himself and his administration’s accomplishments taken away.

(Pelosi did note later that Trump could still give the address in the Oval Office if he wants to.)

Notably, only once before has a State of the Union address been canceled, and that was in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan rescheduled it after the Challenger space shuttle explosion. But this may be the first time a president has been asked by the speaker to reconsider his invite.

Even before the government partially shut down 26 days ago, when Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had their now-famous, televised Oval Office meeting with the president, Pelosi emerged as the perfect foil to Trump. Unlike Schumer, who sometimes takes Trump’s bait, Pelosi matches Trump’s bluster with a cool calm.

It seems Trump and the White House may have misjudged how Pelosi and the Democrats would respond to their line-in-the-sand refusal to reopen the government without an additional $5.7 billion in border wall funding. Rather than cave to that demand, Pelosi has brought bill after bill to the floor to reopen some or all of the government and put it on the Senate Republicans to act.

Trump also failed in an effort to sow discord in the House Democratic caucus. He thought he could go around Pelosi and invite some rank-and-file House Democrats who won in Trump districts to the White House for a shutdown chat on Tuesday. Pelosi says she gave them her blessing to go (reportedly saying, “They can see what we’ve been dealing with. And they’ll want to make a citizen’s arrest.”) The Democrats rejected Trump’s offer.

Peter Beinart, a professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, wrote in the Atlantic Wednesday that Pelosi’s end game in all of this is “the emasculation of the president.” While there may be room to compromise, Pelosi knows that doing so at this point threatens to divide the Democrats who right now are a united front.

By holding strong and forcing Trump to continue pressing for an idea that is wildly popular with his base, but increasing less so with the public at large, Pelosi is counting on Trump eventually caving to public pressure, Beinart writes.

Pelosi has shown throughout this entire shutdown debacle that she holds the cards. And she knows exactly when to play them.