Home » Bipartisanship in DC: Tit for Tat Politics

Bipartisanship in DC: Tit for Tat Politics

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Here we go again.

As the shutdown extends, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter yesterday to President Trump, seeking to postpone the State of the Union Address, previously scheduled for Jan 29th. Her reason for doing so was her concern that the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, hampered by the shutdown, lack of funding, and employee furloughs, would not be able to provide adequate security.

You can read her letter here.

As has already been reported, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen immediately responded that DHS was fully prepared to handle the SOTA speech as scheduled.

There are a few things we need to cover regarding the SOTU before moving on to President Trump’s response. First, the SOTU is a Constitutional requirements, called for in Article 2 Section 3.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union

US Constitution Art 2 Sec 3

The Constitution does not specify a time frame, periodicity, or a method of delivery. In the past, the SOTU has been given in writing, and at least once as a radio address. In recent times, the President has been invite to give the SOTU speech before a Joint session of Congress, held in the House Chambers. The Speaker issues the invitation and the President accepts. It has become something of a political circus, a chance for both parties to express their disgust with each other, bobbing up and down like trained monkeys following the lead of their party leadership.

Now, Speaker Pelosi has, at least informally, retracted the invitation due to her security concerns.

There has been a lot of speculation about her motives, running mostly to the idea that this is another tactic to apply pressure to President Trump by denying him the opportunity to present his side of the shutdown to Congress, and the American people. Another leading theory is that she and other Democratic strategists are worried that the President may be able to produce some extremely damaging optics during the speech, perhaps by inviting the families of men and women killed by illegal immigrants to the speech.

Be that as it may, the simple fact is that Speaker Pelosi has the authority and the right to cancel or postpone the session. It may be tacky, unprofessional, and somewhat childish, but this is what we’ve come to expect from DC these days.

And President Trump has played right along.

Today, President Trump cancelled Speaker Pelosi’s flight to Europe on a military aircraft just hours before it was set to take off. He also cancelled a US delegation’s trip to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Both cancellations referred back to the shutdown as the cause.

President Trump’s mildly scolding language in the letter reflected the same type of language used by Speaker Pelosi, and it was clear that He was responding to her earlier maneuver. She embarrassed him, so he struck back.

Of course, Trump fans are cheering him on, while Trump detractors are calling him childish, sophomoric, etc. While the description is accurate, it doesn’t take into account the simple reality that in DC, this is how things are getting done.

Or not getting done, but you see where I’m going with this.

When you are in a conflict, there are two possible roads to success. You can honestly and openly negotiate to come to a consensus (I’m staying away from the word compromise because, as I’ve written earlier, it has been debased and is now seen as no different than capitulation.) and move forward. This route requires that both parties are willing to give and take to find that consensus. When either party takes a different tack, that of winning at any cost, negotiation as a tactic is no longer effective. Your choices are now limited to matching your opponent tactic for tactic, or losing.

President Trump does not like to lose.

Unfortunately for Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats, she chose the wrong hill to fight on. Since the SOTU does not have to be in front of a joint session of Congress, President Trump can go on to give the speech in another venue, in a format of his choosing, and he can set up whatever optics he desires. He has free reign over what to say and how to say it and how to package and present the information. Instead of following the staged routine of the past decades, he can repackage the SOTU speech and address the public directly, without the Congressional jumping jacks that have made a farce or the last several SOTU speeches.

I can see President Trump creating a rally atmosphere for the address, packing a large hall with his supporters and giving a rousing speech about all the good that has happened over the first two years of his administration. Then he can discuss the things he wants to get done, focusing on border security and the wall. Then he can take aim at the Democrats in the House, and accuse them of holding American workers hostage by their refusal to even consider spending on border security. He can mention the strong Democratic support for a wall during the Obama Administration, and ask the question, “What’s changed?” He can show the Democrats to be motivated by personal animus and blind partisanship, and they will not be able to effectively counter it because they won’t be there.

Even worse for the Democrats, since it isn’t an address to Congress, they might not be given a copy of the address ahead of time to use to formulate their response. They might have to speak off the cuff, without a prepared speech. To paraphrase Speaker Pelosi, they’ll have to hear the SOTU to know what’s in the SOTU.

Personally, I’d like to see a return to statesmanship, and to see members of Congress working together with the good of the nation as their primary goal. I say ‘return’ optimistically, because as I think about our history, our Congress critters have not often covered themselves with glory as far as statesmanship goes. Worse, today, our politicians seem to see that the good of their respective parties is their primary goal, with the good of the nation coming in as an afterthought, if that. But if we can’t have statesmanship in DC, then I want the next best thing, which is a President who can play the game with the best of them. President Obama was one. And more and more, it looks like President Trump is as well.

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