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Trump holding off Pelosi counter-punch

So far, President Donald Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet in response to Nancy Pelosi’s letter. | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump and his aides like to say that when he is attacked, he punches back 10 times harder.

But more than 24 hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered an explosive letter calling for the postponement of the State of the Union address, Trump and White House officials are staying largely silent — and that’s by design.

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White House officials, who were caught completely off guard by the letter, have made a strategic decision to ignore it, and neither the president nor senior officials are expected to publicly respond, at least for now, according to two people familiar with the matter. A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump aides are still weighing next steps and trying to determine whether Pelosi is willing to force the cancellation of the speech. In the meantime, an angry outburst from the president would likely only give the matter more oxygen.

The only formal response from the administration came in a Wednesday tweet from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who insisted that her department and the U.S. Secret Service are “fully prepared to support and secure” the annual event, which brings together the highest-ranking officials from all three branches of government.

Privately, administration officials insist that Pelosi’s contention that the now-27-day-long partial government shutdown complicates efforts to secure the event is overblown. Officials noted that many Secret Service agents and senior DHS staffers are still on the job, working without pay.

They believe the House speaker overreached in calling for the speech to either be delayed or delivered in writing, and they are confident they have the support of Republicans in Congress to continue on with the State of the Union speech.

As of Thursday morning, it remained unclear how Trump and Pelosi might resolve the standoff. Although her letter technically framed the call for a delay as a request, not a demand, Pelosi has the final say on whether the speech can take place. Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that she had not heard anything from the White House, and added that Jan. 29 “is not a sacred date.”

“It’s not constitutionally required. It’s not a president’s birthday. It is a date we agreed to,” Pelosi said. “It could be a week later if government is opened. But it isn’t as if that date is sacred. It’s one that was negotiated.”

The California Democrat wouldn’t comment on what she’d do if Trump rejected her request to reschedule the address. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Pelosi said.

She then chided Trump for staying quiet on the issue, pointing out how unusual it is for a president who regularly lashes out at political opponents on Twitter.

“It’s very silent,” Pelosi said.

Nancy Pelosi

The State of the Union uncertainty comes amid a shutdown that shows no sign of ending. Trump has vacillated between worrying about the political fallout from the crisis, now the longest in history, and doubling down on his insistence for more than $ 5 billion in wall funding. Efforts to strike a bipartisan compromise have largely fizzled and there are no ongoing discussions between the White House and congressional Democratic leaders.

So far, Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet in response to Pelosi’s letter. He hasn’t said anything about it publicly, even on Twitter, where he often spouts off about everything from his frustrations with world leaders to his opinions about cable news.

During a speech at the Pentagon on Thursday, he glossed over the State of the Union showdown, instead reiterating his demand for money for his border wall. “We need strong borders. We need strong barriers and walls,” he said. “Nothing else is going to work. Everybody knows it.”

He also used the speech to criticize Pelosi by name for, in his view, preventing moderate Democrats from striking a deal. But he didn’t mention her State of the Union power play. “While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, Speaker Pelosi will not let them negotiate,” he said.

On Twitter earlier Thursday, Trump struck a similar tone, bashing Democrats while ignoring Pelosi’s letter.

“The Left has become totally unhinged. They no longer care what is Right for our Countrty!” he wrote on Twitter, misspelling the word “country.”

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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