The president’s move came a day after Pelosi suggested the president either postpone or submit in writing his 29 January State of the Union address, citing security concerns stemming from the partial shutdown of the federal government.
Hours after Pelosi said Trump had been “silent” in response to her request, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders posted a letter from Trump to the House speaker postponing her travel.
“Due to the shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan has been postponed,” the president wrote. “In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate.”
He added: “It would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement. If you would like to make your journey flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.”
Pelosi was due to depart on Thursday with a congressional delegation that included House intelligence chief Adam Schiff and Eliot Engel, the foreign affairs committee chairman. Schiff on Thursday sharply criticized the president for revealing the travel plans. “I think the president’s decision to disclose a trip the speaker’s making to a war zone was completely and utterly irresponsible in every way,” Schiff said.
Overseas trips by a group of members of Congress – often referred to as a Codel – are not typically made public until the members arrive because of security reasons. It is commonplace for military transportation to be provided for congressional delegations and the House speaker, who is second in line for the presidency.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said the trip to Afghanistan required a stop in Brussels for the pilot to rest, while noting the delegation planned “to meet with top Nato commanders, US military leaders and key allies”.
Hammill wrote on Twitter the weekend visit did not include a stop in Egypt, while the Afghanistan trip was intended “to express appreciation & thanks to our men & women in uniform for their service & dedication, & to obtain critical national security & intelligence briefings from those on the front lines”.
Some experts said Trump’s move publicizing the trip to Afghanistan of such a senior delegation would pose a security risk in the future.
“The president has now potentially endangered the speaker of the House and anyone who would travel with her by announcing that she plans to travel to a specific war zone in the near future,” said Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel at the Pentagon and co-editor of the Just Security blog.
A White House official said all other Codels were being canceled while the government remained closed. Pelosi’s office countered that Trump traveled to Iraq during the shutdown, as did a Codel led by Republican representative Lee Zeldin.
Trump’s abrupt decision took Pelosi’s congressional delegation by surprise, as some lawmakers were reportedly already sitting on a US air force bus outside the Capitol trying to determine if they should proceed with their travel plans.
Even some of the president’s allies expressed frustration at his retaliatory action.
“One sophomoric response does not deserve another,” said South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, a usually reliably vocal Trump ally in recent months.
“Speaker Pelosi’s threat to cancel the State of the Union is very irresponsible and blatantly political. President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and Nato is also inappropriate.”
Trump also canceled his delegation’s travel plans to the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday, citing concerns about the shutdown. The delegation was led by the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and also included the secretary of state Mike Pompeo; the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross; the US trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, and the White House deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell.
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