House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has suggested delaying or scrapping the annual State of the Union address by the president of the United States to a joint session of Congress and that, instead of delivering the address in person, President Trump send a written report. Pelosi alleges security concerns and hasn’t filed a concurrent resolution to set Jan. 29 as the day for his speech.
Let’s call this The Pelosi Shutdown, or The Pelosi Snub, or The Pelosi Snub-down.
No matter how ludicrous Pelosi’s pretext… er, reason, Trump should agree immediately, and then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should step in with an invitation for Trump to deliver an address in the Senate chamber.
Of course, the Senate chamber cannot accommodate all 535 members of Congress. That’s the point. Inadequate capacity would present not a complication so much as a perfect opportunity to improve upon the event. Absent Pelosi and her most ardent followers (recall last year’s phalanx of black-garbed, stone-faced women sitting on their hands), if not absent the entire Democratic congressional delegation, the event would be improved upon greatly.
It is common wisdom that a small, oversubscribed event is infinitely more compelling than an address to a cavernous, partly empty hall, as the traditional arrangement in the House would be if Democrats were to boycott the event (as many did in 2018).
Pelosi may think she has outfoxed Trump, since the president traditionally delivers his SOTU address in Congress, in response to resolutions passed by each chamber. Surely, the Senate could invite the president to deliver an address in its chamber at any time for any reason. It might not be called the SOTU, but a rose by any other name would smell the same.
It would be yet another opportunity for Trump to demonstrate that he’s in Washington to get things done, not stand on ceremony.
McConnell should invite members of the House as a courtesy — on a first come, first served basis. Presumably the House GOP would snap up the available seats (no doubt the Senate chamber has a maximum capacity mandated by a fire marshal with jurisdiction). McConnell should suggest that he would be happy to arrange a closed-circuit TV feed for the House chamber, which would have plenty of overflow seating capacity, or any other venue of the Democrats’ choosing. In the Senate chamber, GOP senators should yield the best seats to Supreme Court justices.
The advantages of this plan are multitudinous. Trump would turn the indignity that Pelosi intends to visit upon him into one that Democrats would suffer. He would deliver his address to a standing-room-only gathering composed of almost universally supportive attendees — all right, maybe not Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — and televised to the nation in prime time.
The president might open his remarks by announcing the delivery of his SOTU report to Congress, in the written format requested by Pelosi. At that point, Senate pages could distribute the report inside the chamber. Trump could say the report was being delivered to the offices of non-present members contemporaneously.
The Democrats, in contrast, would look foolish wherever they assembled, if they even did. Who would deliver their response? Would Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reprise their recent “American Gothic” performance? Would Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) deliver an introductory course in socialism (absent any evidence of how socialism is working out in Venezuela)? Or, would the Democrats say nothing at all?
Finally, once having assumed the hosting of the event, McConnell should not relinquish it, leaving Pelosi no path of retreat.
If anyone wonders what’s happened to comity and decorum in the nation’s capital, they need look no further than this attempted Pelosi Snub-down — call it what you will — and the Democrats’ boycott of Trump’s inauguration ceremony. They are not shutting down raucous Trump rallies, but rather, the most solemn exercises of American democracy. America’s uninterrupted 200-year-plus record of the peaceful transfer of power is a beacon of freedom, which Democrats, led by Pelosi, have dimmed markedly.
This is about the office, not the man. Democrats have lost respect for the office of the presidency in their anti-Trump hysteria.
As appeared in The Hill on Jan. 18, 2019.
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Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.