The Department of Homeland Security said that security officers are prepared to protect President Donald Trump and lawmakers during the president’s upcoming State of the Union address, hitting back at Democrat leaders who claimed that security would be lacking due to the partial government shutdown.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the most visible Democrat of late and ostensibly the leader of the party at the moment, kicked off the latest back-and-forth by releasing a letter she wrote to the president, asking him to reschedule the address or deliver it in writing if the partial government shutdown continues.
The speech is scheduled for Jan. 29. Funding for about 25 percent of the government is being held up as Trump and Pelosi, and their respective parties, try to negotiate a deal. Trump has demanded the inclusion of funding for the southern border wall but Pelosi said she wouldn’t give him more than $1.
“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing,” Pelosi wrote in the letter (pdf).
She said that the concerns stemmed from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Secret Service being part of the government that’s not getting funding.
But DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen responded later on Wednesday, saying the security would be adequate.
“The Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union. We thank the Service for their mission focus and dedication and for all they do each day to secure our homeland,” Nielsen said in a statement.
The Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union. We thank the Service for their mission focus and dedication and for all they do each day to secure our homeland.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) January 16, 2019
Pelosi’s announcement created confusion among the Democratic ranks, with top Democrat Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) initially declaring that the State of the Union was officially off but later revising his claim.
“Mr. Hoyer had not read Speaker Pelosi’s letter and mischaracterized it,” a spokeswoman for the House Majority Leader said.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) was among those questioning the letter.
A spokeswoman for Hoyer's office offers this after the interview: "Mr. Hoyer had not read Speaker Pelosi’s letter and mischaracterized it.” https://t.co/eHaOj5DZBG
— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) January 16, 2019
“I’m not sure what her intentions are. I have much respect for Speaker Pelosi, but I think this is a wrong approach to be taking right now,” he said during an appearance on MSNBC. “The approach by saying we’re going to shut this down and not have because of security. I think our staff, and I spoke to Capitol police, I think they’re still in place and they’re still getting paid.”
Other security officials said that they’ve been planning for the event for months.
“It’s a no-fail mission,” one law enforcement official said. “We’ve been planning for this for months, as we always do. It didn’t start up 29 days ago.”
Secret Service is fully ready to offer full protection during the #SOTU, a sr. law enforcement official tells @petewilliamsnbc.
"It's a no-fail mission," the official says.
Though USSS personnel are not being paid, the intelligence & protection functions are fully staffed. (1/2)
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) January 16, 2019
A senior DHS official tells me that Speaker Pelosi’s claim regarding security concerns surrounding the State of the Union during a shutdown has “zero” credibility… “It is a serious event but one we can handle.”
— Elizabeth Landers (@ElizLanders) January 16, 2019
Another Department of Homeland Security official said that Pelosi’s claims have zero credibility.
“It is a serious event but one we can handle,” the official said.
President Trump has not responded to the issue. Apart from Nielsen, no one from the White House has officially responded to the letter.