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White House forging ahead with State of the Union planning

President Donald Trump, seen here before his 2018 State of the Union address, has been advised by senior White House aides to stick to tradition with a formal address from the House chamber, even though Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested he delay the speech due to the government shutdown. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

White House

Officials intend to move forward until Nancy Pelosi publicly axes the event, a move that they believe would be seen as nakedly political.

Updated

The White House is forging ahead with plans to hold President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in the House chamber next Tuesday, according to two administration officials, daring Speaker Nancy Pelosi to nix the event.

Senior White House aides said they put no stock in Pelosi’s letter requesting a delay of the annual event because of security concerns related to the government shutdown. They insist the Homeland Security Department and U.S. Secret Service are prepared to secure the address, which traditionally is attended by senior representatives from all three branches of government.

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“The security concerns have been addressed,” a White House official said. “We’re moving forward.”

White House officials are aware that Pelosi has the final say over whether the speech will take place in the House chamber. But they intend to move forward as planned until Pelosi scuttles the event, a move that they believe would be seen as political.

For now, Congress has not approved a joint resolution authorizing an appearance by the president next Tuesday, so there is nothing scheduled for Pelosi to cancel. The resolution would need the support of House Democrats, who have largely followed Pelosi’s lead during the shutdown.

A White House official on Sunday afternoon emailed the office of the House sergeant-at-arms in an attempt to reschedule a walk-through of the event for Monday, a federal holiday during which many congressional staffers were not working.

President Donald Trump

“Given that we have lost valuable time over the past week my team would like to re-schedule the walkthrough for this Monday, if at all possible,” Bobby Peede, the White House’s director of presidential advance, said in the email, which was obtained by POLITICO. Peede added that staffers from the Secret Service, Vice President Mike Pence’s office, White House military office and others would like to participate in a walk-through.

“We understand that the House Chamber may not be available or be in session and would be happy to meet at any time, day or night,” the email continued.

Fox News first reported on the email.

Trump’s senior White House aides have advised him to stick to tradition with a formal address from the House chamber, even as some of his closest friends and outside advisers are urging him to “troll” Pelosi with an unconventional location, such as the U.S.-Mexico border or a 2020 battleground state, according to one person involved in the deliberations.

“There’s definitely mixed thinking on this, but the general consensus among the people that matter is you need to have it somewhere dignified. It cannot just look like a rally,” said a former White House official.

But the White House is already making contingency plans if Pelosi derails the speech, according to another person familiar with the matter. An alternative State of the Union address would likely take place outside Washington, the person said.

On Tuesday night, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that the administration is pressing on with the original plan for the State of the Union. But if Pelosi refuses to relent, Sanders added that Trump could find another venue for his address.

“I don’t know if there would be a place that all of those members would attend, but the president focuses on speaking to the American people,” Sanders told Fox News host Sean Hannity on his eponymous program. “And if Nancy Pelosi chooses to go in that direction, the president will continue to speak to the American people, and I’m sure that he will do that on that evening as well.”

An outside Trump adviser said two drafts of the State of the Union address are being written — one to deliver at the Capitol and one to deliver to people other than members of Congress — as Trump and his advisers prepare for either venue.

In addition, White House officials are weighing the possibility of post-State of the Union travel in which the president could amplify his message in the speech, according to another White House official, who added that the plans are in flux. Past presidents have hit the road after their addresses.

Those in favor of an alternative option argue that Trump would benefit more by taking the annual agenda-setting message and delivering it to a hand-picked audience outside of Washington, where protests and boycotts receive outsize attention and pageantry can eclipse substance. They point to the president’s decision to schedule a Michigan rally opposite the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2017, casting the move as a remarkable success.

“He can stick to the swamp or he can go to one of the many states witnessing a manufacturing boom to talk about how his agenda is working and what more his administration plans to do,” said another Republican close to the White House.

Eliana Johnson , Anita Kumar, John Bresnahan and Brent Griffiths contributed to this story.

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