From left: President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
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After Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi essentially canceled the State of the Union, citing the government shutdown, President Donald Trump responded in kind

January 17, 2019 04:26 PM

After Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi essentially canceled the State of the Union address on Jan. 29 — the latest move in fruitless efforts to resolve a government shutdown started by the White House — President Donald Trump responded in kind: He canceled her air travel.

“Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will rescheduled this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over,” Trump wrote in a Thursday letter.

Pelosi had been set to participate in a congressional delegation traveling abroad, or CODEL. But the use of government planes is overseen — and approved — by the executive branch.

NPR reports that Pelosi and other Congressional Democrats were already en route to the airport when Trump intervened. His decision came as a surprise to her office, according to Politico, and possibly as a surprise to the Department of Defense. It wasn’t just Pelosi: Politico reports that, according to the Trump administration, all travel for CODELs is canceled.

The announcement echoed (with Trumpian capitalization) a similar letter Pelosi sent Trump on Wednesday in which she suggested rescheduling Trump’s State of the Union “after [the] government has re-opened” or for Trump to deliver his speech in writing instead of on TV.

Pelosi said that because the Secret Service had not been funded in the shutdown, the State of the Union’s security could not be guaranteed.

The move was widely seen as a rebuke of the president, who has a well-documented love of the pomp and theater lent by TV cameras.

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“She understands political leverage. She wields the knife,” one Senate aide told the Washington Post of Pelosi after she sent her letter.

Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen lauded the speaker’s decision to the Post, saying: “It’s smart for two reasons: No. 1, Pelosi would be right behind him, and she’d have to sit there as he put the onus on her for the shutdown. No. 2, it gives him a reason to end the shutdown, because he loves the TV audience and the attention.”

While anonymous officials initially told the Post and New York Times that Trump was unruffled by Pelosi’s letter, his announcement Thursday — an equally political, retaliatory gesture — appears to reveal the opposite.

Trump ended his letter: “I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event [Pelosi’s planned trip] is totally appropriate. I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me.”

He noted, “Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.” (Her travel plans were not immediately clear.)

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On Twitter Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, wrote that the trip to Afghanistan was “to express appreciation & thanks to our men & women in uniform for their service & dedication, & to obtain critical national security & intelligence briefings from those on the front lines.”

Hammill said the delegation was only stopping in Brussels for rest for the pilot and had not planned to stop in Egypt.

He also highlighted an NBC report that the Treasury secretary would still plan to attend the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. (Later Thursday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump canceled the trip.)

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South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, was unimpressed by the move over Pelosi’s plane, tweeting: “One sophomoric response does not deserve another.”

The government shutdown, which has left about 800,000 federal employees without pay, enters its 28th day on Friday and is already the longest shutdown in American history.

It began on on Dec. 22 over Trump’s insistence for a southern border wall.

He claims such a barrier is needed to stave off a “crisis” of drugs, violence and human trafficking. Newly empowered Congressional Democrats, arguing they were elected as a check on Trump, have dismissed this as immoral and ineffective.

There is no clear end in sight, given the underlying political dynamics between both sides and the White House’s intractability over a proposed wall. Last week Trump conceded only this: That the barrier could be made of steel and not concrete.

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