Should the State of the Union Be Delivered During a Government Shutdown?

During a conference call with supporters on Tuesday, Donald Trump stated emphatically that he is not going to back down unless congress agrees to fund his wall. He went on to predict that “we’ll be out for a long time.” Meanwhile, Trump’s chief enabler in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, reiterated that he won’t allow a vote in that body to open the government without the president’s approval.

Given all of that, it is very likely that the government will be shut down on January 29th, when the president is scheduled to give his State of the Union address to Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has written a letter to Trump in which she points out that “a State of the Union address has never been delivered during a government shutdown.” She went on to identify the security issues involved in doing so for the first time.

In September 2018, Secretary Nielsen designated State of the Union Addresses as National Special Security Events (NSSEs), recognizing the need for “the full resources of the Federal Government to be brought to bear” to ensure the security of these events. The extraordinary demands presented by NSSEs require weeks of detailed planning with dozens of agencies working together to prepare for the safety of all participants.

The U.S. Secret Service was designated as the lead federal agency responsible for coordinating, planning, exercising, and implementing security for National Special Security Events by public law 106-544, December 19, 2000. However, both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have not been funded for 26 days now—with critical departments ham strung by furloughs.

Pelosi ends by writing that, unless the government opens this week, the SOTU should either be postponed or Trump should submit his address in writing.

I have no doubt that Trump will respond to this with his own brand of fake bravado, claiming that he’s a tough guy who isn’t going to back down from doing his “constitutional duty.” Talk like that will appeal to those who buy into that kind of nonsense.

By writing this letter, Pelosi has already highlighted that the effects of the shutdown aren’t just being felt at our national parks. It also is posing security threats that need to be taken seriously.

What this letter might provide to members of Congress is a valid reason for not attending the State of the Union. We’ll have to wait and see how that one pans out.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.