Washington: US President Donald Trump has denied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a military plane for an “excursion” to Brussels and war-torn Afghanistan, a tit-for-tat retaliation that deepened the divide between the two leaders amidst the longest-ever federal government shutdown.
President Trump’s unusual move to postpone Pelosi’s overseas trip came on Thursday, a day after the 78-year-old top Democrat, urged him to reschedule his annual State of the Union address slated for January 29, citing security concerns triggered by the shutdown that has entered its 27th day.
The shutdown is a result of the bitter political divide over border security issue as the Democrats who now enjoy majority in the House of Representatives have refused to pass a legislation approving USD 5.7 billion in federal funding to construct a wall across the US-Mexico border, a poll promise by the Republican president.
“Due to the shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over,” Trump, who is also the commander-in-chief of the military, said in a letter to Pelosi, a copy of which was released to the press, an hour before her delegation was due to leave for the week-long trip.
“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” Trump wrote to Pelosi, who is third in line to the presidency.
Trump also informed the Speaker of the House of Representatives that he also feel that, during this period, it would be better if Pelosi stayed in Washington negotiating with him how to end the crippling government shutdown and back his demand for funds to construct a border wall with Mexico.
The President also said postponing Pelosi’s “public relations event” was totally appropriate.
Later on Thursday, the White House announced it would not send a US delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland later this month, over the shutdown.
Trump had previously said he would not attend, and on Tuesday announced a scaled-back delegation, which was to be led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The longest-ever shutdown in US history has rendered over 800,000 federal employees without work, crippling the functioning of several key wings of the government including Security and State Department.
“In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that,” Trump said.
However, Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill said the visit’s purpose was to express appreciation to US troops and obtain “critical” briefings from them. The trip did not have Egypt as a stop, he said.
The President said: “I look forward to seeing you soon and even more forward to watching our open and dangerous Southern Border finally receive the attention, funding, and security it so desperately deserves!”
Trump’s letter to Pelosi came soon after the House Speaker told reporters at the US Capitol that the president has been silent for more than 24 hours on the issue of rescheduling his annual State of the Union address.
“We haven’t heard. It was a very silent more than 24 hours, to your question that you ask me every time I step out of the office, have you heard? No, we haven’t heard yet.” Pelosi said taking a dig at the president.
Pelosi’s spokesman, Hammill, said the Congressional Delegation to Afghanistan included a required stop in Brussels to allow pilots to rest.
In Brussels, the delegation was scheduled to meet with top NATO commanders, US military leaders and key allies – to affirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance. This weekend visit to Afghanistan did not include a stop in Egypt as mentioned by the president, the spokesman said.
“The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation and thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service and dedication, and to obtain critical national security and intelligence briefings from those on the front lines,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, “We want to keep her (Pelosi) in Washington. If she leaves, she guarantees that the second round of paychecks to 800,000 federal workers won’t go out. The deadline to make that deal is midnight on Tuesday.”
“She wasn’t scheduled to be back until Wednesday. The president wants her here to negotiate,” she said.
President Trump insists that building a wall is the only solution to protect the nation from a large flow of illegal immigrants and drug smuggling.
The Democrats are opposed to any such funding. After Trump walked out of a meeting at the White House last week, Democrats have refused to come to the negotiation table.
The ongoing shutdown on January 12 broke the previous record of 21 days of US government shutdown under the Bill Clinton administration in December 16, 1995 to January 5, 1996.