Before the partial federal government shutdown temporarily ended last week, some accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of playing politics by dis-inviting President Trump from delivering his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
Just to be clear upfront, while the president does indeed have a constitutional requirement to provide Congress updates “from time to time.” There is no requirement that it be done as a speech, or that it be done in front of a joint session. That is a tradition that has developed over the past century, beginning with Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
The president has the Constitutional power to call a joint session — outlined in the same clause that directs him to provide updates on the state of the union — but only “on extraordinary occasions” (and it’s doubtful delivering the State of the Union address in an “extraordinary occasion”).
Joining Congress is up to, well, Congress. And both Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have the power to say no, with appropriate support from their respective lawmaking bodies.
Was the joint session turned into a bargaining chip? Of course it was. And why not? Getting that national stage is important to Trump, and part of negotiation is finding out what the other side desires most, and then finding a way to deliver that while getting something appropriate in return.
And yes, it’s very much playing a political game, which reminds us why Washington is so disliked by those who live outside that bubble. But in this particular game, the only victim was Trump’s spotlight.
When Republicans played the game, they cost this country a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Remember when McConnell refused to even hold hearings for President Obama’s pick to succeed the late Antonin Scalia in 2016? Obama put forward the nomination of Merrick Garland — not necessarily known for being a leftist, and the kind of candidate a Republican Senate might approve.
McConnell said no. Made up some excuse about it being the last year in Obama’s tenure, and that somehow negated the president’s Constitutional duty to nominate a successor.
McConnell had the power, and Garland was never considered. Once Trump won the 2016 election, he nominated Neil Gorsuch. And on Jan. 22, Gorsuch was the deciding vote in a split decision upholding Trump’s head-scratching military transgender ban.
And that’s just the beginning.
There’s dirty politics, and then there’s really dirty politics. Sure, pulling the plug on the State of the Union is playing dirty. But Pelosi’s hands are pristine compared to the shoulder-deep mud McConnell has plunged his arms into.
It’s not the same, and never will be.