It was one thing for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to postpone the State of the Union address to try to humiliate President Trump in the standoff over funding for a wall at the southern border.
But it was quite another – indeed, an unprecedented affront – for President Trump to cancel a trip Pelosi planned to take to Belgium, Afghanistan and Egypt at government expense while 800,000 federal workers remain idled by the government shutdown, according to an article Friday on Slate.
“Understood in its historical context and for its constitutional significance,” wrote Andy Wright in “Trump’s Screwing With Pelosi’s Travel Represents a Far Graver Abuse of Power Than a Mere Political Spat,” this is not simply “another twist in a tit-for-tat cycle of retribution.” Indeed, “it represents a far graver abuse of power than a political spat.”
Pelosi didn’t abuse her privilege to control who speaks from the well of the House in unprecedented fashion to score political points against Trump, but “Trump’s interference in congressional travel misused the commander-in-chief power for political purposes, endangered the speaker’s delegation and obstructed the exercise of Congress’ Article 1 legislative fact-finding responsibilities.”
CODELS – or congressional delegations – are trips made by members when Congress is in recess to visit troops, meet with foreign dignitaries, tour facilities and otherwise put a congressional face on American governance for the rest of the world. Wright called them “an important arena for interbranch relationships.”
He also noted they are “logistically complicated multi-agency and interbranch operations with ever-present security concerns.”
That’s what made Trump’s move – as opposed to Pelosi’s – so bad. “This most recent confrontation exposes long-held executive-legislative tensions,” Wright wrote. “But Trump’s acts are wholly unprecedented and dangerous departures from historical practice – not to mention his obligations as the nation’s chief executive.”
Wright then traced the history of this. He didn’t mention Pelosi invited Trump to give his State of the Union address on Jan. 3, when the shutdown already was in its 12th day with no sign of abating. He joins the story on Jan. 16, when “Pelosi sent a letter to the president citing difficulties in ensuring adequate security for a State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress due to shutdown strains on federal agencies and employees.”
He also doesn’t mention both the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service said the Speaker’s office never even asked whether the shutdown would affect their ability to secure the speech and that both indeed said they were capable.
Instead, he wrote, “Many accepted Pelosi’s security rationale, others viewed Pelosi’s letter as an effort to deny Trump the traditional SOTU megaphone and pageantry.”
Trump’s timing also appears to have struck a chord. Wright misquotes the president’s letter, a line of which reads “Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.” Wright’s account left out the words ‘by flying commercial,’ but he does point out those words echo Pelosi saying, when she wrote to Trump to postpone the State of the Union speech that he could “make it from the Oval Office if he wants.”
To add to the insult, Wright wrote, “the White House reportedly did not inform the members of Congress slated to travel on the CODEL until 30 minutes before they were scheduled to go heels up. The legislators were sitting on a U.S. Air Force bus when they found out.”
Wright then repeated the canard that appeared numerous times in mainstream media accounts of the dust-up – that “Trump’s letter was not only unprecedented in its use of commander-in-chief authority to ratchet up a political dispute, but it also revealed itinerary plans that had not been publicly released because of security concerns.”
Why does it matter that details were released of a trip that no one ever made? Because Pelosi claimed the travelers had been so endangered by Trump’s revelation of where they were going on their taxpayer-funded junket that “the trip could no longer proceed even by commercial air travel.”