WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump threw the latest punch Thursday in his ongoing battle with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, canceling her military plane for an overseas trip just one day after she suggested postponing his State of the Union address.
“Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan has been postponed,” Trump wrote in a letter to the California Democrat. “We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over.”
Trump didn’t address Pelosi’s request that he delay the State of the Union but focused instead on her overseas trip. He called the trip “a public relations event” and said that it would be better “if you were in Washington negotiating with me” to end a partial government shutdown that is nearing its fifth week.
“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” he concluded.
Pelosi – third in line for the presidency – was scheduled to leave for an official congressional delegation trip to Afghanistan on Thursday.
Her spokesman, Drew Hammill, said the trip was to take place over the weekend and include a required stop in Brussels for pilot rest. In Brussels, the delegation was to meet “with top NATO commanders, U.S. military leaders and key allies – to affirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance,” 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,” he said.
The trip did not include a stop in Egypt, Hammill said. He noted that Trump traveled to Iraq during the shutdown, as did a Republican congressional delegation led by Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, criticized Trump for canceling Pelosi’s plane, writing on Twitter that “one sophomoric response does not deserve another.”
Speaking to reporters, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the administration wants to keep Pelosi in Washington. “If she leaves, she guarantees that the second round of paychecks to workers won’t go out,” Sanders said.
Trump’s decision to cancel the plane is the latest salvo between the White House and congressional Democrats and yet another indication there is no movement toward ending the government shutdown, now in its 27th day.
Citing security concerns due to the government shutdown, Pelosi sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday suggesting his State of the Union address – scheduled for Jan. 29 – be delayed or that he submit it in writing if parts of the government are still shuttered at the end of the month.
Pelosi referred to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s designation of State of the Union addresses as a “National Special Security Event,” which requires a high level of security. The Secret Service is responsible for such events, but the agency, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, is affected by the shutdown.
Nielsen dismissed Pelosi’s concerns, writing on Twitter that the department and the Secret Service “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”
At a news conference on Thursday, Pelosi said the issue isn’t whether the Secret Service can provide proper security for the address. But because of the shutdown, agents are being forced to work without pay, and that is unacceptable, she said.
“They are professionals – they train for this,” she said. “They should be paid.”
Pelosi remained adamant that the speech should be postponed. “It isn’t as if that date is sacred for any reason,” she said.
Earlier Thursday, Trump made no mention of Pelosi’s letter or the State of the Union while unveiling a revamped missile defense plan at the Pentagon.
He did, however, again blame congressional Democrats for the shutdown and insisted that they adopt his border security plan.
“A wall has to be built,” he said. “We need security at our southern border.”
In attacking the Democrats for blocking his wall plan, Trump said the party has been “hijacked by the open borders fringe.”
The government shutdown – the longest in U.S. history – was triggered by Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Pelosi and other Democrats are refusing to give him the money, arguing that a wall would be costly and ineffective.
Contributing: Eliza Collins
More: Where’s Mitch? McConnell keeping his head down during government shutdown
More: Security, immigration controls fraying as impasse over Trump’s wall stretches into its fourth week