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Pelosi abandons Afghanistan trip, accuses Trump of imperiling lawmakers with disclosure

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused President Trump Jan. 18 of putting American troops in Afghanistan in danger by publicizing a planned congressional. (Video: Reuters)
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused President Trump on Friday of putting her and fellow lawmakers in danger by publicizing their plans to travel to Afghanistan, forcing them to abandon the trip, a breathtaking allegation against the commander in chief as their feud escalated and the government shutdown dragged on.

Pelosi said the State Department had determined that the trip could no longer be made without endangering the safety of lawmakers, as well as of troops and support personnel. The accusation came a day after Trump had denied Pelosi the use of military aircraft, forcing her to make plans to fly commercially to Afghanistan — before she abandoned that plan, too, accusing the administration of leaking word of it.

“You never give advance notice of going into a battle area — you just never do it,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters at the Capitol. “Perhaps the president’s inexperience didn’t have him understand that protocol. The people around him, though, should have known that, because that’s very dangerous.”

President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have exchanged letters throughout the long shutdown fight. The latest exchange happened on Jan. 23. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

The White House forcefully denied Pelosi’s claims.

The bickering between Trump and Pelosi has emerged as a proxy battle in the record-breaking partial government shutdown, which entered its 28th day Friday with no signs of any negotiations. The result has been a political clash like few others, as the leaders of two of the nation’s three branches of government leverage the powers of their office against one another, all the while trying to shape public sentiment.

The spat left some lawmakers downcast over prospects for finding an end to the partial government shutdown that’s forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay since Dec. 22.

“I think it was irresponsible for Nancy Pelosi to cancel the State of the Union, and then I think it was wrong for the president to cancel the plane,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “I think they’re both making it more difficult, not easier, for us to find a resolution to this impasse.”

Pelosi wrote Trump a letter earlier this week suggesting he reschedule his Jan. 29 State of the Union address over security concerns stemming from the nearly month-long partial government shutdown.

The furloughed workers and those forced to work without pay will soon miss another paycheck unless the shutdown is somehow resolved, a fact that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday made it imperative for Pelosi to stay in the country this weekend.

“That’s one of the key reasons that the president did not want Speaker Pelosi to leave the country, is because if she did it would all but guarantee the fact that negotiations couldn’t take place over the weekend,” Sanders told reporters at the White House.

But Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, said the White House has not sought to schedule negotiations with the speaker for this weekend. Trump himself said on Twitter on Friday evening that he would be making an announcement on the border and the shutdown Saturday afternoon from the White House.

Two people familiar with the White House’s planning said Trump was preparing to make a new offer to Democrats, which could include items he believes Democrats favor as part of a broader border-security package. Trump is not planning to declare a national emergency on the southern border Saturday, something he has threatened to do for more than a week and an option he continues to consider. But one of the people stressed that the planning remained very fluid and that nothing is firm until Trump makes his announcement.

The individuals spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Aides to Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they had received no new offer from the White House.

The ongoing shutdown of some 25 percent of the federal government resulted from Trump’s demands for $5.7 billion to build more than 200 miles of new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Pelosi calls the wall “immoral,” and Democrats are refusing to offer more than $1.3 billion to extend existing funding levels for border barriers and fences. Democrats also frequently point out that Trump long claimed Mexico would pay for the wall.

The White House and Democrats are in agreement on the need for border security generally and even on some specifics of what that would entail — just not on the wall.

Next week the House will take up another batch of spending bills aimed at reopening the government without funding the wall that will include some spending directed to the border. One bill will include $563 million for immigration judges, the same figure Trump has requested; another will include $524 million to expand facilities at ports of entry along the border.

The back-and-forth came on day three of a spat that began Wednesday when Pelosi suggested rescheduling the State of the Union because of the shutdown. Trump hit back the next day with a letter to Pelosi telling her that he was canceling her planned trip to Afghanistan aboard military aircraft that he controls as commander in chief, saying she should stay in town to help end the government shutdown instead.

Pelosi and the other lawmakers she was traveling with quickly made plans to fly commercially, but then canceled them after the new plans leaked and the State Department warned them about the risks.

“The fact that they would leak that we were flying commercial is a danger not only to us but to other people flying commercially. It’s very irresponsible on the part of the president,” Pelosi said.

Asked if she viewed the president’s moves as retaliation over her letter on the State of the Union, Pelosi said, “I would hope not. I don’t think the president would be that petty, do you?”

The White House rejected Pelosi’s claims.

“When the Speaker of the House and about 20 others from Capitol Hill decide to book their own commercial flights to Afghanistan, the world is going to find out,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley. “The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is an offensive, flat-out lie.”

A person close to the White House called The Washington Post on Friday morning to alert a reporter to Pelosi’s travel plans, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Portman and a number of other senators of both parties have been working behind the scenes to try to find a bipartisan way forward, including a letter to the president that would ask him to reopen the government for three weeks while they negotiate over his requests for border funding, which include money for various security and humanitarian measures, in addition to the wall. But Trump has rejected this approach, with administration officials telling senators that the president would lose leverage if he agreed to reopen the government without getting his wall.

The impacts from the shutdown have spiraled in various directions despite efforts by the administration to limit them by calling workers at agencies including the IRS and State Department back to work, in most cases without pay.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York President John Williams on Friday said the shutdown had created “head winds” to economic growth, and a key measurement of consumer confidence — released by the University of Michigan — has fallen to its lowest level of Trump’s presidency.

The administration moved forward Friday with a broader crackdown on congressional travel: Acting White House Budget Director Russell T. Vought said in a memo, “Under no circumstances during a government shutdown will any government owned, rented, leased, or chartered aircraft support any congressional delegation, without the express written approval of the White House Chief of Staff.”

First lady Melania Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago in Florida on government aircraft on Thursday.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), one of the lawmakers who was set to accompany Pelosi on the Afghanistan trip, said in an interview that the delegation spoke around 6 a.m. Friday and decided to put off the four-day trip.

“I was dressed and ready to go, ready to walk out the door with my suitcase,” she said. “The removal of the use of transportation was the first step. The second was the disclosure of travel by commercial air. All protocols for safety, security were broken in the fact that all that information was made public.”

Luria, a 20-year Navy veteran, was the only freshman member invited to join the senior leadership trip with Pelosi and five other lawmakers. Luria recalled that during her military service a senator from her home state of Alabama was part of a delegation visiting the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier.

“It was meaningful to have lawmakers who are involved in the decision-making process come see with their own eyes how the operations were going and hear what the concerns were of the sailors,” she said. “It showed that lawmakers don’t just sit in Washington.”

Trump’s letter to Pelosi accomplished its main goal: Owning the libs

Members of Congress routinely travel around the world as part of their congressional business; that travel is frequently done on military planes and arranged by State Department protocol officers.

Such trips are typically kept secret for security reasons until they are over. Trump’s one war-zone trip, to Iraq over Christmas shortly after the government shutdown began, was handled with this type of secrecy.

In absence of meaningful negotiations to end the shutdown, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted a link to a fundraising campaign allowing supporters to pay to send fake bricks to Pelosi and Schumer, purporting to represent their refusal to build a wall.

In one bright spot in the day, former president George W. Bush was photographed delivering pizzas to furloughed federal workers.

Philip Rucker, Paul Kane, Damian Paletta and Jenna Portnoy contributed to this report.

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