It marked the president's first public response to Pelosi's request to postpone the annual State of the Union address.
President Donald Trump hit back at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday, claiming in a letter that he had postponed planned congressional trips abroad to Belgium, Egypt and Afghanistan because of the government shutdown.
The remarkable counter-punch came in the form of a terse letter to Pelosi blasted out to reporters and promoted by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Twitter. It marked the president's first public response to Pelosi's Wednesday morning request to postpone the annual State of the Union address at the end of the month, citing security concerns stemming from the lengthy shutdown.
"Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed," Trump wrote. "We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over. In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate."
The president also called on Pelosi to remain in Washington during the shutdown, adding that she is welcome to make the trips abroad on commercial flights.
It took more then 24 hours for the White House, which was completely caught off guard by Pelosi's letter, to formally respond to the letter. Senior aides had initially made a strategic decision to hold off on responding, according to people familiar with the matter.
A White House official said Trump decided to hit back "on his terms and timeline." Defending the decision to wait more than a day to respond, the official said, "Why does it merit an immediate or serious response? It's her suggestion."
Before Thursday afternoon, the only formal response from the administration came in a Wednesday tweet from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who insisted that her department and the U.S. Secret Service are "fully prepared to support and secure" the annual event, which brings together the highest-ranking officials from all three branches of government.
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Privately, administration officials insist that Pelosi's contention that the now-27-day-long partial government shutdown complicates efforts to secure the event is overblown. Officials noted that many Secret Service agents and senior DHS staffers are still on the job, working without pay.
They believe the House speaker overreached in calling for the speech to either be delayed or delivered in writing, and they are confident they have the support of Republicans in Congress to continue on with the State of the Union speech.
As of Thursday morning, it remained unclear how Trump and Pelosi might resolve the standoff. Although her letter technically framed the call for a delay as a request, not a demand, Pelosi has the final say on whether the speech can take place. Pelosi told reporters earlier Thursday that she had not heard anything from the White House, and added that Jan. 29 — when the speech had been scheduled — “is not a sacred date.”
“It’s not constitutionally required. It’s not a president’s birthday. It is a date we agreed to,” Pelosi said. “It could be a week later if government is opened. But it isn’t as if that date is sacred. It’s one that was negotiated.”
The California Democrat wouldn't comment on what she’d do if Trump rejected her request to reschedule the address. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Pelosi said.
She then chided Trump for staying quiet on the issue, pointing out how unusual it is for a president who regularly lashes out at political opponents on Twitter.
“It’s very silent,” Pelosi said.
The State of the Union uncertainty comes amid a shutdown that shows no sign of ending. Trump has vacillated between worrying about the political fallout from the crisis, now the longest in history, and doubling down on his insistence for more than $5 billion in wall funding. Efforts to strike a bipartisan compromise have largely fizzled and there are no ongoing discussions between the White House and congressional Democratic leaders.
Until he sent his Thursday letter, Trump had been uncharacteristically quiet in response to Pelosi's letter. He hadn't said anything about it publicly, even on Twitter, where he often spouts off about everything from his frustrations with world leaders to his opinions about cable news.
During a speech at the Pentagon on Thursday, he glossed over the State of the Union showdown, instead reiterating his demand for money for his border wall. "We need strong borders. We need strong barriers and walls," he said. "Nothing else is going to work. Everybody knows it.”
He also used the speech to criticize Pelosi by name for, in his view, preventing moderate Democrats from striking a deal. But he didn't mention her State of the Union power play. "While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, Speaker Pelosi will not let them negotiate," he said.
A handful of Republicans have floated the idea of inviting Trump to hold the State of the Union address in the Senate, though GOP members have generally dismissed the idea.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) both suggested that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invite the president to deliver the annual address, with Brooks circulating a letter that so far has collected 10 cosponsors.
On Twitter earlier Thursday, Trump struck a similar tone, bashing Democrats while ignoring Pelosi's letter.
"The Left has become totally unhinged. They no longer care what is Right for our Countrty!" he wrote on Twitter, misspelling the word "country."