Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi’s tit-for-tat antics as shutdown continues

Nancy Pelosi was scheduled to visit US troops in warzones. Picture: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Nancy Pelosi was scheduled to visit US troops in warzones. Picture: Alex Wong/Getty Images
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She imperilled his State of the Union address. He denied her a plane to visit troops abroad.

The shutdown battle between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is playing out as a surreal game of constitutional brinkmanship, with both flexing political powers from opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as the negotiations to end the monthlong partial US government shutdown remain stalled.

In dramatic fashion, Trump issued a letter to Pelosi, just before she and other lawmakers were set to depart on the previously undisclosed trip to Afghanistan and Brussels. Trump belittled the trip as a “public relations event” – even though he had just made a similar warzone stop – and said it would be best if Pelosi remained in Washington to negotiate to reopen the government.

“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” wrote Trump, who had been smarting since Pelosi, the day before, called on him to postpone his State of the Union address on 29 January due to the shutdown.

Denying military aircraft to a senior politician – let alone the speaker, who is second in line to the White House, travelling to a combat region – is very rare.

The political tit-for-tat between Trump and Pelosi laid bare how the government-wide crisis has devolved into an intensely pointed clash between two leaders determined to prevail. It took place as hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay and Washington’s routine protocols – a president’s speech to Congress, a politician’s official trip – became collateral damage.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker planned to travel to Afghanistan and Brussels to thank service members and obtain briefings on national security and intelligence “from those on the front lines.”

Trump’s move was the latest example of his extraordinary willingness to tether US government resources to his political needs. He has publicly urged the justice department to investigate political opponents and threatened to cut disaster aid to Puerto Rico amid a spat with the island territory’s leaders.

For security reasons, Pelosi would normally make such a trip on a military aircraft supplied by the Pentagon. According to a defence official, Pelosi did request defence department support for overseas travel and it was initially approved. The official said the president does have the authority to cancel the use of military aircraft.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump wanted Pelosi to stay in Washington before Tuesday, a deadline to prepare the next round of paychecks for federal workers. “We want to keep her in Washington,” Sanders said. “The president wants her here to negotiate.”

Trump was taken by surprise by Pelosi’s move to postpone his address and told one adviser it was the sort of disruptive move he would make himself, according to one Republican.While he maintained a public silence, Trump reiterated fears that he was being outmaneuvered in the public eye.

Trump was delighted at the idea of cancelling Pelosi’s trip, believing the focus on the resources needed would highlight her hypocrisy for cancelling his speech, according to the Republican source.