Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump intensified his war of words with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday after she effectively blocked him from delivering his annual address in Congress during the government shutdown, now in its 33rd day.
The growing acrimony came on the eve of a pair of US Senate votes that appear unlikely to end the longest-ever shutdown — and as furloughed federal workers vented their fury on Capitol Hill.
The president and his Republicans still have the better part of a week to resolve differences with Democrats and get federal operations going again, allowing his State of the Union speech to proceed.
But the prospects were dim, with the Senate votes — one on Trump’s plan that includes money for his border wall, the other by Democrats seeking to reopen government before negotiating border security — bound to fail on Thursday.
Traditionally the president’s annual speech, scheduled for next Tuesday, is delivered before a joint session of Congress in the ornate chamber of the House of Representatives.
In an effort to force the hand of Pelosi, who had already urged Trump to reschedule due to shutdown-related security shortcomings, the president wrote to her saying it would be “so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!”
Pelosi, who has become the face of Democratic opposition to Trump in Congress, pushed back, informing the president that the House would not authorize the speech in the chamber.
“Again, I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened,” said Pelosi.
The rejection sent Washington’s establishment into uncharted territory, and all but forced Trump to retreat over his address.
“The State of the Union speech has been cancelled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth” about border security, Trump told reporters, adding that he is considering an “alternative” for the speech.
“We’ll be announcing what we’ll do,” he said.
– ‘Will work for pay’ –
The shutdown, which has seen some 800,000 federal employees left without pay for a month, was triggered by Trump’s refusal to sign funding bills in December.
This was in retaliation for the Democrats’ refusal to approve funds for extending walls along the US-Mexico border.
With the closure of about one quarter of federal agencies affecting millions of Americans, hundreds of government workers who have not been paid in weeks used the power of protest to publicize their plight, peacefully occupying a congressional office building for several hours.
Some held posters or paper plates with messages including “Will work for pay” and “Do your job — so Americans can do theirs.”
And with no solution in sight, they were bracing for Friday, when they expect to miss their second paycheck in a row.
Trump says he will not reopen government before his wall funding comes through. But he also pointed the finger and Pelosi and her caucus.
“It’s really a shame, what’s happening with the Democrats,” he said. “They’ve become radicalized.”
The votes in the Republican-controlled Senate have the potential to break the impasse, but since both need to clear a 60-vote threshold to advance in the 100-member chamber, their passage is unlikely.
Government shutdowns are a disruptive political ritual that have occurred in various administrations and are almost unique to the American system.
This one is the longest on record, and has left a broad swath of federal workers unpaid — among them airport security officers, FBI agents, museum workers, US Coast Guard personnel, and Environmental Protection Agency personnel charged with monitoring toxic chemicals or other pollutants.