Trump Postpones Pelosi Trip To War Zone After She Postpones State Of The Union

Jan 17, 2019
Originally published on January 17, 2019 8:10 pm

Updated at 6:57 p.m. ET

President Trump appears to be retaliating against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for suggesting he postpone his State of the Union address amid the ongoing partial government shutdown by postponing at the last minute her planned trip to Afghanistan.

"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," Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi. "I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown."

Pelosi and other members of the congressional delegation, commonly referred to as a "codel," were on a bus headed to the airport to depart, and the Capitol Police already had personnel on the ground in Europe for the trip. Other members slated to be on the trip included House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.

This is the latest back-and-forth between the president and the new Democratic speaker as a nearly monthlong partial shutdown shows no signs of ending. The two parties remain at a stalemate, with Trump demanding funding for a wall or barrier along the Mexican border and Pelosi and other Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill insisting the government should be reopened before negotiations continue on border security issues.

Pelosi fired the first volley against Trump earlier this week, when she wrote that his annual State of the Union address, originally slated for Jan. 29, should be postponed until after the full government reopens, citing, in part, security concerns.

Such a planned trip by Pelosi to a war zone had not been publicly announced and would not have been, for security reasons. The speaker would use military planes for such travel, and that is what Trump is now denying her.

"Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative," Trump added in the letter.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement that while Trump's letter claimed Pelosi and Democrats were also traveling to Brussels and Egypt, the stop in Brussels was simply for pilot rest and where "the delegation was scheduled to meet with top NATO commanders, U.S. military leaders and key allies – to affirm the United States' ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance." A stop in Egypt was not on their agenda, Hammill said.

"The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation and thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service and dedication, and to obtain critical national security and intelligence briefings from those on the front lines," Hammill continued, pointing out that the president "traveled to Iraq during the Trump Shutdown."

Schiff told reporters that the decision was "completely inappropriate by the president. We're not going to allow the president of the United States to tell the Congress it can't fulfill its oversight responsibilities, it can't ensure that our troops have what they need whether our government is open or closed."

"That work must go on and I think it's vitally important now, in particular that the president has announced withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, that we understand the situation on the ground," the House intelligence committee chairman continued. "We had anticipated important defense and intelligence briefings in Afghanistan. We were looking forward to the opportunity to reassure NATO allies and those shaken by reports that the president has questioned his staff about leaving NATO."

Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., blasted both leaders for their childish actions.

"One sophomoric response does not deserve another. Speaker Pelosi's threat to cancel the State of the Union is very irresponsible and blatantly political. President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and NATO is also inappropriate," Graham said in a statement. "I am glad the Speaker wants to meet our troops and hear from our commanders and allies. I am very disappointed she's playing politics with the State of the Union. I wish our political leadership could find the same desire to work for common goals as those who serve our nation in uniform and other capacities."

The White House also announced that the administration delegation that was supposed to go to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, will no longer attend because of the shutdown. Trump had already canceled his trip to Davos because of the shutdown, but as of earlier Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell were still planning to attend next week.

Their planned travels came under criticism after Trump abruptly curtailed Pelosi's trip earlier on Thursday. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that "Out of consideration for the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay and to ensure his team can assist as needed, President Trump has canceled his Delegation's trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland."

NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis contributed to this report.

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Fly commercial. That, in essence, was President Trump's recommendation to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as she was preparing to depart on a congressional trip to a war zone. Pelosi and other lawmakers and aides were about to leave for a trip to Afghanistan, also to Brussels. The president's recommendation came in a letter to the House speaker one day after she wrote to him asking that he delay his January 29 State of the Union address because of security concerns around the government shutdown. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Hey there, Sue.


KELLY: Start with the scene there on Capitol Hill. I mean, walk me through quite how this unfolded today.

DAVIS: So Congress had already wrapped up its business for the week, and the lawmakers and aides that were scheduled to go on this CODEL were literally getting on...

KELLY: CODEL, meaning...

DAVIS: CODEL - code for congressional delegation - it's the shorthand that is used up here for when lawmakers take trips abroad. Staff can also take them sometimes, too.

KELLY: Right.

DAVIS: They're very common, and they're often bipartisan. And so lawmakers and aides were literally getting on the bus. The military and the State Department are the support staff for these trips. Lawmakers were boarding a U.S. Air Force bus. They were on their way to the airport when the White House released a letter essentially pulling the plug on the trip and saying - characterized it as a public relations visit and said...

KELLY: Wow. They were literally, bags packed, ready to go.

DAVIS: Yes. And they essentially canceled the trip. The bus turned around. Many of us chased after that bus. It pulled back up to the Capitol, and they got off the bus.

KELLY: Wow. That's quite a scene. What was the purpose of this trip? To Afghanistan - so they were going to go to the war zone.

DAVIS: These are very common trips.

KELLY: Yeah.

DAVIS: They happen all the time. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was leading the CODEL. They were scheduled to take a weekend trip to meet with NATO commanders in Brussels and then to meet with troops in Afghanistan. They were scheduled to be back in time for the congressional session next week.

I would say that these trips are probably one of the last things that are known as being nonpartisan or bipartisan and also a way in which the executive branch and the legislative branch work together. These trips can't happen without military support, without State Department support. There were already support staff on the ground in Belgium awaiting lawmakers to get there on this trip. And I talked to a lot of staffers and members that are kind of stunned because this has just simply never happened before. The president has never pulled the plug on a CODEL for political reasons.

KELLY: As the president knows because of his own recent visit to a war zone, it is unusual for these trips to ever be announced in advance. And we didn't know this was going to happen - right? - until he announced - you know what? - maybe you should postpone.

DAVIS: He did. And he announced it as they were on their way there. That certainly breaks with norms and precedents. These kind of trips into war zones are almost never announced before they're on the ground and often not announced until they've left the war zone.

So for the president to sort of announce that, I think, has also ruffled some feathers up here. Steny Hoyer is the majority leader. He called it small and vindictive and said unbecoming of the president of the United States. Even Senator Lindsey Graham - he's a Republican from South Carolina and an ally of the president - was also critical of the move, saying that one sophomoric response does not deserve another.

KELLY: Can the president do this? I guess the bus turning around indicates the answer is yes. But why does he have control over congressional leaders' travel?

DAVIS: You know, he has the legal authority to do it. I've already asked this question. I'm told he's the commander in chief of the military, and he controls military aircraft. I think there has also been a lot of deference given to the speaker of the House. Remember; the speaker of the House is a constitutional officer. They're in the line of succession. So for them to do this and under these circumstances, it really just is all about politics. There isn't a really good policy reason for this. It's just a bit of a tit for tat.

KELLY: Susan, just briefly - this comes on Day 27 of the shutdown and, I guess, gives us some window into that these negotiations are not exactly becoming a warm and friendly conversation anytime soon.

DAVIS: They're not. And if it's told us anything, I think the two parties are moving further apart and that we have some time to go in the government shutdown.

KELLY: Thank you very much, Susan.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

KELLY: That's NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.