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Trump’s move to cancel congressional trip during shutdown raises debate

On day 27 of the partial government shutdown, President Trump rescinded approval for a military plane, effectively cancelling a trip to Afghanistan planned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation. The move comes after Pelosi asked to postpone the president’s State of the Union Address over safety concerns. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff for an update on the shutdown.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The partial government shutdown is looking more and more like a personal showdown tonight between President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    This afternoon, at the last minute, Mr. Trump rescinded approval for a U.S. military plane to fly Pelosi and a congressional delegation to Afghanistan.

    In a letter to the speaker, he cited the shutdown, and said — quote — "I'm sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate."

    This came a day after Pelosi called for postponing the State of the Union address. She defended that stance today.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    The date of the State of the Union is not a sacred date, it's not constitutionally required, it's not the president's birthday, it's not anything. It is a date that we agreed to. It could have been a week later, and it could be a week later if government is open.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, more federal employees are being called back to work. The State Department today ordered U.S. diplomats here and abroad to return to their jobs. It said it found money to pay them, but it gave no details. Overall, more than 450,000 federal employees are now working without pay.

    Our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, joins me now to help break down today's events.

    So, Lisa, first of all, what is the Congress saying about this announcement from the State Department?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    So the first thing to think to say is that there are some questions about how exactly this is working. And we saw from the leading Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, he calls it a scheme, and he said he's not sure that this funding is actually appropriate.

    I think he's also — he's not saying he is going to do a hearing yet, but he says it's a political move. And I think the bigger question here, Judy, is, this is a new precedent. This is the president changing the rules of a shutdown in a way.

    And we still have to figure out exactly how he's doing this. Everyone says, yes, we want people back to work, but is he changing the rules to his benefit?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, so now let's talk about the president's surprise announcement. Just before this delegation was to take off for the Middle East, the president announced in a letter to Speaker Pelosi, which the White House released, that the trip wasn't going to happen, that the plane wasn't going to be allowed to fly.

    What are they saying on Capitol Hill about it?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to first show you a picture that conveys kind of the situation.

    The members who were going on this CODEL were getting onto…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    CODEL, the term for congressional delegation.

    Go ahead.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. That's right, exactly, this trip overseas, exactly.

    There you see the members of Congress had been on the bus, ready to go to the airport for this trip overseas. There you see Adam Schiff. He's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee getting off the bus.

    So this was actually obviously very late notice. And what Schiff said is, he said that it was inappropriate, first of all, to reveal that this trip existed. These are highly secure events.

    Another member going on that trip, Elaine Luria, who is a Navy veteran from Virginia, she said it was an insult that the president called it a public relations move.

    Now, if you talk to Republicans, like I did on the Senate, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Johnny Isakson, said, actually, the president has this power, and I do think that she — the speaker should not have planned a trip or should not have planned to go on this trip during this time.

    But the rest of Republicans, Judy, they're having real trouble with this, because, as I phrased to them, should a sitting president of any party be able to cancel a trip for a leader of Congress of any party?

    I asked Senate Pat Roberts that, and he said, "I'm not sure."

    One other note, Judy. Those Senate Republicans when I talked to them had just come from their retreat today, which was at a local baseball park here in Washington. What did they hear? They heard from people like Karl Rove that Republicans' problem is with suburban women, especially married women.

    We have polling that shows those suburban women, 73 percent of them have a more negative opinion of the president because of this shutdown. That is pressure that is on Republicans right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating.

    So, what about, though, whether this is unprecedented or not? People were talking about that today. Has this ever happened before?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We reached out to the Senate historian's office and to several other of the White House historical office, and no one knows yet for sure, but Democrats say — and one other kind of like self-acclaimed historian I spoke to at Congress believes that this is unprecedented.

    That's what Adam Schiff said, that nothing like this has happened before.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, most important thing, any policy developments toward reaching agreement to get the government back open again?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm so glad we're coming back to that, because that's the big frustration here. There's such a disconnect.

    The Capitol is talking less and less about policy. In fact, I asked Speaker Pelosi, just she and I. I asked her today, do you favor a steel slat fence, which many people have thought that's the endgame here? He doesn't — they don't want a wall. Call it a fence.

  • And she said:

    "It doesn't matter what I think. It matters if the president thinks it's a wall," meaning she's not even really engaging in what it is that Democrats want. And it's all a bit of politics and gaming out the president's thought.

    But, meanwhile, Judy, House Democratic freshmen — I spoke to one, Jahana Hayes — she says, yes, we would accept a fence.

    So, underneath leadership, there's discussion of the reality of the policy. But at the leadership level, both at the White House and at Congress, it is nothing but politics now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the horizon shows nothing in terms of a breakthrough?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    No.

    Right now, we don't expect Congress back until Tuesday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Remarkable.

    Meanwhile, federal employees, as we're reporting in the program, continue to feel the consequences.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

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