Wednesday, January 23, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took every conceivable position on something he has no control over.

Trump has been sniping at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) over when and whether he could deliver a State of the Union address. Pelosi's permission was necessary because Trump preferred to give the speech in the relatively large and elegant House chamber, the scheduling of which Pelosi controls as Speaker. The two had originally settled on a date of January 29th, but Pelosi rescinded her permission as the shutdown wore on with no sign of ending. She noted as she did so that Trump could give a report in writing, or make the speech from the White House or any other venue if he liked. 

Several days ago, Trump insisted in a tweet that Pelosi would be obliged to host him because "a contract is a contract." (While Trump does have some expertise with contracts, that's not how co-equal branches of government work.)

At the start of today, Trump's position was that he would be "moving forward" with plans to deliver the speech in the House chamber regardless. But his staff was openly looking for an alternative venue, like the smaller Senate chamber.

By mid-day, Trump had issued a letter to Pelosi saying that he was "honoring [Pelosi's] invitation," although no formal invitation had been issued, and the necessary joint resolution had not been passed by Congress.

Pelosi immediately responded that no such invitation would be forthcoming while the shutdown persisted. This prompted Trump to seek out television cameras to complain that "The State of the Union has been canceled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth." Visibly angry, he said, "We'll do something in the alternative."

Finally, after 11 p.m., Trump once again took to Twitter to admit defeat, acknowledging Pelosi's authority over the House. He agree to her terms, postponing the address until after the shutdown ended. He also contradicted his earlier statement, insisting that he wasn't looking for alternative venues.

Why does this matter?

  • There are more important things than optics for the president to be worried about at the moment.
  • This seems to have been pretty much all Trump thought about today.
  • As insignificant as something like this is in the grand scheme of things, it's still the sort of thing that a president ought to be able to handle.