By Katherine Gypson
U.S. President Donald Trump forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cancel a planned trip to Afghanistan and Brussels on Thursday, the latest maneuver in a bitter political battle over the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
In a letter to the speaker of the House, Trump denied Pelosi and members of Congress the use of a military plane to meet with NATO allies in Brussels and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, writing “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.”
A spokesperson for Pelosi’s office said the trip would have provided “critical national security and intelligence briefings,” as well as serving as an opportunity for Pelosi to thank the troops.
The president’s letter did not directly address Pelosi’s call Wednesday for Trump to delay his scheduled Jan. 29 State of the Union address until government funding is restored and the shutdown ends.
“This is completely inappropriate by the president,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told reporters outside Pelosi’s office. “We’re not going to allow the president of the United States to tell the Congress it can’t fulfill its oversight responsibilities.”
The back-and-forth between the White House and the speaker of the House meant there is no end in sight for a partial federal government shutdown, which will soon enter its fifth week. The shutdown was triggered by a standoff between Democrats and Republicans over funding for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, Speaker Pelosi won’t let them negotiate,” Trump said in a speech at the Defense Department. “Hopefully, Democrat lawmakers will step forward to do what is right for our country, and what’s right for our country is border security at the strongest level.”
Criticism for Trump
Democrats insist they will negotiate stronger, more effective border security measures once the government reopens, but that a border wall would be wasteful, ineffective and a blight on America’s image.
Pelosi, the top-ranking congressional Democrat, said Trump’s “insistence on the wall is a luxury we can no longer afford.”
Later Thursday, Trump also canceled a planned trip by a U.S. delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The delegation, consisting of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer and assistant to the president Chris Liddell, was scheduled to travel next week.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president wanted to make sure “his team can assist as needed” during the government shutdown.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers missed a paycheck last week and are set to miss another next week.
“Not only are these workers not paid, they are not appreciated by this administration,” said Pelosi, who leads the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. “We should respect what they do for their country.”
Criticism for Pelosi
Pelosi’s move on the State of the Union address drew sharp criticism from Senate Republicans.
“By disinviting POTUS for SOTU, Pelosi erased any pretext for her unwillingness to negotiate an end to the shutdown. It is personal, petty, and vindictive,” Sen. John Cornyn from Texas tweeted Thursday.
While many Democratic lawmakers applauded Pelosi, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told MSNBC, “I think this [delaying the State of the Union address] is the wrong approach to be taking. … We should try to have every type of respectful dialogue that we possibly can. Where I come from in West Virginia, we just don’t act this way.”
Lawmakers of both parties are wary of the shutdown’s impact on their home states and constituencies. Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper he fears a lack of Transportation Security Administration airport screeners will make it impossible for travelers to come for next month’s American football Super Bowl.
“We’ve got a Super Bowl coming to Atlanta in about three weeks, the biggest tourism event in the world this year,” Isakson said. “What if the largest airport in the world, that’s going to bring people to the largest football game in the world, goes out of business because the TSA strikes? Then you’ve just cost millions of dollars to the United States of America, my home city of Atlanta and others.”
Trump has called for more than $5 billion in taxpayer funding for the wall, while Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new money for border security, but none specifically for a wall.
VOA’s Michael Bowman and Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.