In the history of the Republic, no president has ever been barred by the Speaker of the House from delivering the State of the Union. Until now. The conventional wisdom is that Speaker Pelosi has scored a point against the president. In fact, she has handed him a weapon. But will he use it?
My proposal is simple. Trump must speak directly to the American people. He must be presidential. And he must use his constitutional power to protect the nation.
The president should submit his report to Congress in writing following Jefferson’s tradition and simultaneously deliver it as a live speech to the nation on television. He should make the case that Congress has failed to fulfill its obligations. Everyone knows it’s true and this gives Trump his opening.
The very first State of the Union was delivered by George Washington to a joint-session of Congress. His successor, Thomas Jefferson, believed that doing so made the president appear too imperial, that the address too closely resembled the Speech from the Throne delivered by British monarchs. Instead, he fulfilled his reporting obligation under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution by sending his State of the Union as a letter to Congress.
That tradition held throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries until Woodrow Wilson went up to Congress to deliver his message in person. He probably agreed with Jefferson that it made the presidency appear imperial, but since in that analogy he played the role of king, or at least the primer inter pares, he surely saw that as a feature, not a bug.
For the past century, as power has steadily centralized, from the states to Washington, D.C., and from Congress to the executive branch, if not quite to the presidency itself, the State of the Union has been delivered in person. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Speaker Pelosi’s disinvitation represents an opportunity for the president to reassert the authority of the office as a response to Congressional made-for-tv histrionics.
The proximate cause for Pelosi’s petulance is the stand-off over the partial government shutdown. Remember that? Nearly five weeks into it and contrary to claims from the swamp lobby, chaos has yet to descend on the country. But for a steady stream of sob stories in the media no one would notice. It turns out that quite a few of the 800,000 non-essential employees who are currently on an extended vacation are really and truly non-essential, which speaks volumes about the level of rent-seeking present in government.
Today, Congress exists more as a forum for political theatre than as a serious legislative body. Over the past 50 years it has intentionally ceded its law-making power to the executive branch, what is often called the deep state, bringing us to a situation in which it no longer makes most of the nation’s laws. Instead, most ‘laws’ are enacted by fiat as rules and regulations promulgated by bureaucrats who then serve as judge, jury, and executioner in administrative law courts should you break one of the many thousands of laws they have seen fit to enact.
Congress cannot even bring itself to act in defense of the nation’s borders. And that inaction serves as an active inducement to human traffickers – modern day slave traders – to bring their human cargo across the border. The same cartels trading in human beings are also bringing in vast quantities of opioids and other dangerous drugs that kill tens of thousands of Americans and degrade life for millions more. Rather than take action to stem the tide of smuggled human beings and drugs, Congressional Democrats used the shutdown as an excuse to fly a private jet to Puerto Rico for a weekend partying with lobbyists and watching a command performance of the musical Hamilton.
New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez serves as a good exemplar of the improvidence that has been on shameless display for the past month. While in Puerto Rico with big business lobbyists, he was photographed with a bikini clad young person during the Democrat boondoggle. You will recall that Menendez was admonished by the Senate last year for corruption charges relating to gifts he received from Dr Salamon Melgen who is best known for hiring underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic and defrauding Medicare of millions of dollars.
During the State of the Union the president should state that he is taking several actions to ensure public safety and to protect the economy from Congressional failure to pass a budget while they negotiate. First, he should make an emergency allocation of funds from the Defense Department’s budget to keep the TSA and its agents paid and fully functioning. While there are many other elements of government currently on furlough that are truly non-essential, the TSA performs a necessary national security function and facilitates commerce which supports American economic prosperity.
Ensuring that air travel remains safe and easy is a necessary exercise of executive power and would enjoy broad support. It would also deprive Democrats of the one obvious public pain point they are counting on using as leverage with Trump.
Next, Trump should explain that under federal law, government workers who have been furloughed for 30 or more consecutive days can be laid off and that he is beginning that process for all furloughed workers save the TSA. Those employees who, upon review by their superiors, are deemed essential to the national interest may be reinstated when Congress passes a budget. And finally, president Trump should explain that human trafficking is unacceptable, that the north of 60,000 opioid related American deaths per year, many due to drugs smuggled across the Mexican border, cannot continue. As a result, and in the interests of ending the trade in human beings and reducing thousands of pointless American deaths caused by illegal opioids that he is declaring a state of emergency and building a border wall using money already appropriated to the Department of Defense.
The president has both the power and the obligation to protect the interest of the American people. The low-rent theatrics that have become Congress’s best known distinctive give him the opportunity and the need to use that power and he should.