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Pelosi and Trump trade taunts over SOTU

“I look forward to seeing you on the evening on January 29th in the Chamber of the House of Representatives,” President Donald Trump wrote in the letter, | Win McNamee/Getty Images

Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly shot down President Donald Trump’s suggestion Wednesday that he’d show up in the House chamber against her will to deliver his state of the Union address next week.

The latest move in a tit-for-tat between the two party leaders effectively cancels the president’s Jan. 29 address — another slap at Trump that further ratchets up tensions between them as the record-long government shutdown grinds on.

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Earlier Wednesday, Trump insisted in a letter to Pelosi that the annual speech — arguably the biggest official political event of the year — should proceed as planned inside the House chambers. Pelosi had tried to effectively scuttle the event because of what she called security concerns, specifically the prospect of forcing employees not being paid to protect the Capitol that night.

“It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!” Trump wrote.

Within hours, Pelosi responded in a letter of her own: Not in my House.

Pelosi told the president that the House wouldn’t vote on a resolution to green-light his appearance until the shutdown, not in its 33rd day, ends. “I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has reopened,” she concluded dryly.

A short time later Trump responded yet again. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “It’s really a shame what’s happening with the Democrats. They’ve become radicalized.” And he later appeared to have given up on delivering the State of the Union in the House chamber, telling reporters it was “sad” it wouldn’t happen in the Capitol and making mention of an “alternative” venue.

Technically Trump cannot give the State of the Union in the House without Pelosi’s consent. While typically that’s just a formality, Pelosi can block the resolution and Trump in the process, which is what she said she would do.

Republicans had hoped to pressure Pelosi into officially rescinding her invite to Trump by delivering a one-two punch — first Trump sent a letter saying he still planned to show up and shortly after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy introduced a resolution to hold the address on Jan. 29.

Republicans had hoped Pelosi would officially cancel the event in response, which they believed would look petty to the larger public, according to several sources familiar with the plan.

“I don’t think anybody in America would agree with that position,” McCarthy said before Pelosi responded to Trump on Wednesday. McCarthy noted that he had talked to Pelosi on the House floor Tuesday night and she told him then – before Trump’s official response – that she didn’t know what she was going to do.

Two White House officials said they believe they have the upper hand in the State of the Union standoff because Pelosi hasn’t been able to definitively show that the shutdown has prevented the government from securing the event. As the White House officials see it, Pelosi will either buckle and allow Trump to speak or be forced to publicly un-invite him. Trump wins in either scenario, the officials argued, insisting that barring him from giving the speech would be seen as obviously political and petty.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib

White House aides have encouraged the president to continue fighting to hold the speech in the House chamber because backing off would make it look like he gave in. But they’re also already making contingencies for a speech outside of Washington, according to one of the White House officials, if he’s not able to give the speech in Congress. And outside advisers think an alternative speech outside of the beltway would resonate with his base.

White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway underscored the president’s strategy on Wednesday after he sent the letter.

“I think it would be remarkably petty of the speaker to disinvite the president of the United States to address the nation that they both serve at the highest level,” Conway said on Fox News.

The letter from Trump is just the latest tit-for-tat in a public sparring match that has intensified between Pelosi and the president over the last week. First Pelosi surprised Trump by sending the letter suggesting he delay the State of the Union. Trump responded by canceling Pelosi’s planned trip to Afghanistan at the last minute, about an hour before she and other Democrats were set to depart.

Before Trump sent his letter Wednesday, Pelosi was discouraging fellow Democrats from flying out family members or other guests to the speech, without tipping her hand as to whether she was officially canceling the event.

“I wouldn’t make a plans for family to come to the State of the Union, even if it happens,” she told lawmakers in the closed-door meeting, according to a source in the room.

“I would say, without any inference to be drawn from it as to whether I think he’s coming or not, government should still be open…I wouldn’t spend any money to come out here.”

In her letter last week, Pelosi cited the shutdown — now the longest ever in its 33rd day — as the reason to postpone Trump’s speech, saying the stalemate has hobbled both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security and could harm the security planning process.

But on Wednesday, Trump rejected Pelosi’s explanation and said he has been contacted by DHS and Secret Service officials who said “there would be absolutely no problem regarding security with respect to the event,” something DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen first said last week.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Pelosi’s deputy, also said the speech — which is attended by lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries and many Supreme Court justices — could go forward at the last minute if Pelosi and Trump reached an agreement to do so.

Michael Cohen

“The Capitol police and the sergeant at arms has assured us we’ll be fully prepared if in fact there is a State of the Union address on the 29th,” Hoyer said, adding that a joint resolution could be passed the day of the address if necessary. “The speaker and the president are the two parties here that need to speak to it.”

The White House and Democratic leaders have failed to make any meaningful headway in ending the shutdown. Trump has refused to back down from his demand for $ 5.7 billion for border wall funds.

Democrats have so far not budged in their refusal to appropriate the funds but House Democratic leaders are weighing a counteroffer to Trump that would likely include several billions of dollars for border security without funding the wall.

The president’s letter comes several days after he tweeted that “there are so many options” to still deliver a State of the Union address. However, he also teased that he may follow through on Pelosi’s initial invitation to deliver the address on Capitol Hill.

“While a contract is a contract, I’ll get back to you soon!” Trump tweeted Sunday.

Andrew Restuccia and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.

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