On Politics: Kamala Harris Is Running

Good Tuesday morning. Here are some of the stories making news in Washington and politics today.


Senator Kamala Harris, the California Democrat and barrier-breaking prosecutor who became the second black woman to serve in the United States Senate, declared her candidacy for president on Monday. She entered the race on the holiday of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, an overt nod to the historic nature of her candidacy.

The Democratic field for 2020 is getting more crowded by the day. Here’s an updated list of who’s in, who’s out and who’s still thinking it over.

From Washington to South Carolina to Harlem, Democrats across the country commemorated Martin Luther King’s Birthday with events that honored the slain civil rights leader and lashed out at President Trump as a racist.

After his blank schedule for the day drew criticism, Mr. Trump paid a brief visit to a national monument to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lay a wreath.

One month after the government’s partial shutdown began, its effects are hurting some of the most vulnerable Americans: homeless people, as well as those who are one crisis away from the streets.

Rudolph W. Giuliani is walking back a statement he made about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Russia. Though he first quoted Mr. Trump as telling him that negotiations over a Moscow skyscraper had continued through “the day I won,” on Monday he said his comments were “hypothetical” and not intended to convey facts.

Officials said that a Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, had to make tough concessions in a deal to lift sanctions on three of his companies. But new documents show that the deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

While the Trump administration has cracked down on Russian officials, Mr. Trump himself has largely taken a far more generous stance toward Moscow. Here are five times the administration has been tougher on Russia than the president.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about whether the owner of a clothing line with a name that’s a “phonetic twin” of a swear word is allowed to register a trademark for the term.


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Trump Offers Deportation Protections in Exchange for Wall Funding

WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Saturday that he would extend deportation protections for some undocumented immigrants in exchange for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

In casting the proposal as a compromise, Mr. Trump sought to shift pressure to Democrats to end the government shutdown.

The president, delivering a 13-minute address from the White House, said he would extend the legal status of those facing deportation and support bipartisan legislation that would allow some immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children, known as Dreamers, to keep their work permits and be protected from deportation for three more years if they are revoked.

“That is our plan,” Mr. Trump said. “Straightforward, fair, reasonable and common sense with lots of compromise.” The proposal, Mr. Trump said, was intended to “break the logjam and provide Congress with a path forward.”

But he reiterated his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a border barrier, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said ahead of his remarks that she considered his proposal a “nonstarter,” in part because it offered no permanent pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

The Border Wall: What Has Trump Built So Far?

The existing barrier isn’t a single mile longer than it was when he took office.

It was the second time during the shutdown that the president addressed the nation about what he has called an immigration crisis.

This time, Mr. Trump made the speech standing behind a lectern, under an oil portrait of George Washington, a setting aides said he preferred to the seated, direct-to-camera Oval Office address he delivered earlier this month when he highlighted what he described as a growing “security crisis” at the border.

He tried to weave in the concessions to Democrats with a hard-line appeal to his base, opening his remarks with the same kinds of warnings of exploited children and rape that he said confront undocumented immigrants at the border.

But over all, the remarks stood in contrast to that prime-time address, in which the president sought to reframe the debate by outlining examples of grisly violence at the border. That address, which Mr. Trump was reluctant to make, failed to turn public opinion to his side. This time, Mr. Trump struck a more inclusive tone, calling his proposal a “common-sense compromise both parties should embrace” and noting that his was a “compassionate response.”

He even appeared to play down the wall at the center of the standoff with Democrats. “This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea,” he said. “These are steel barriers in high-priority locations. Much of the border is already protected by natural barriers such as mountains and water.”

On Saturday, Mr. Trump also hosted a naturalization ceremony at the White House, a move intended to underscore the idea that he supports legal immigration.

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Trump and Kim Jong-un to Hold Second Summit Meeting Next Month

WASHINGTON — President Trump will meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in late February, the White House announced on Friday, continuing a high-level diplomatic dialogue that has eased tensions but shown little progress in eliminating the North’s nuclear arsenal.

The announcement came after Mr. Trump met for 90 minutes in the Oval Office with Kim Yong-chol, the former North Korean intelligence chief who has acted as the chief nuclear negotiator for Mr. Kim.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the date and the location of the meeting would be announced later, suggesting that the two sides were still haggling over the site or other logistical details. Vietnam, Thailand and Hawaii have all been mentioned as potential sites.

The very fact that Mr. Trump is agreeing to a second summit meeting with Mr. Kim, after North Korea’s failure to begin denuclearization following their first meeting in Singapore last June, is a sign of how quickly the president has backed away from his initial insistence on fast action by Pyongyang.

The first step the North Koreans were expected to take after the June meeting was a detailed inventory of their nuclear assets. That was to include the number of weapons they have produced — variously estimated at 20 to 60 — the locations of those weapons, any nuclear materials used to produce new weapons and a detailed list of their missiles and missile launchers.

The United States wanted to use the list to truth-test the North, comparing it to what American intelligence agencies have gathered over the past 30 years. But the North Koreans have complained to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other visiting Americans that the inventory would amount to a targeting list, telling the United States what to attack should Mr. Trump ever order a pre-emptive strike.

For months that issue produced a stalemate in diplomatic talks, along with the American insistence that major steps toward denuclearization would have to precede any initial lifting of sanctions.

But in November, Vice President Mike Pence began to loosen the conditions, telling NBC News that North Korea did not have to turn over its inventory in order to secure a second meeting with Mr. Trump. At the time, Mr. Pence seemed to acknowledge that the Singapore meeting had resulted in agreements so vague that they allowed the North to drag its feet.

“I think it will be absolutely imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question, identifying all the development sites, allowing for inspections of the sites and the plan for dismantling nuclear weapons,” Mr. Pence said, noting that it was time to “see results.”

This month, Mr. Kim spent three days in Beijing, where President Xi Jinping of China and his wife, Peng Liyuan, hosted a dinner for Mr. Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju. The visit coincided with what is believed to be Mr. Kim’s 35th birthday, though North Korea has never confirmed that date.

During previous visits to China by Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump has complained that Mr. Xi was encouraging the North Korean leader to drive a hard bargain with the United States over his nuclear weapons.

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Mnuchin Flew to L.A. on Private Jet of Billionaire Michael Milken

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin flew from Washington to Los Angeles this month on the private aircraft of Michael R. Milken, the billionaire “junk bond” king who pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 1990 and served two years in prison.

The flight, which was confirmed by the Treasury Department on Friday, was the latest example of Trump administration officials using luxury or government aircraft for personal reasons. Mr. Mnuchin, who was accompanied by Secret Service agents on Mr. Milken’s jet, travels frequently to California to visit his children who live there.

A Treasury Department spokesman said that Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Milken have known each other for years and that after reviewing internally the secretary’s plans to take the flight, it was decided that he did not need an ethics waiver. Mr. Mnuchin has reimbursed Mr. Milken for the cost of the flight, the spokesman said, but did not disclose the amount.

Trump administration officials, including Mr. Mnuchin, had been encouraging President Trump last year to pardon Mr. Milken, who pleaded guilty to six criminal charges related to securities transactions undertaken in the 1980s. Mr. Milken, who had to pay $600 million in fines, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and released after two years.

A spokesman for Mr. Mnuchin said he did not know if the idea of a pardon for Mr. Milken came up during the flight. Other presidents have also considered pardoning Mr. Milken, including President Bill Clinton, but none has done so.

In recent years, Mr. Milken has rehabilitated his image through his philanthropy and his nonprofit think tank, known as the Milken Institute. He has funded efforts to increase global prosperity, help youth and advance medical research.

It is not illegal for government officials to fly on private aircraft, but it can raise ethical questions about possible conflicts of interest.

Mr. Mnuchin has previously come under fire for air travel decisions involving his use of military aircraft for short trips within the United States. A 2017 report by the Treasury Inspector General found that his flights on military aircraft during a seven-month period in 2017 cost more than $800,000. That same year, Mr. Mnuchin inquired about using military aircraft for his honeymoon, saying he needed a secure connection during the flight. Mr. Mnuchin ultimately withdrew the request.

Air travel decisions have dogged several Trump administration officials. Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s former secretary of Health and Human Services, was fired after it emerged that he had taken dozens of flights on private charter planes at the expense of taxpayers, costing more than $300,000.

In 2017, Eli Miller, Mr. Mnuchin’s chief of staff, drew criticism for flying to Palm Beach on the private plane of Nelson Peltz, the hedge fund billionaire. Treasury’s inspector general opened an inquiry into the trip and found that Mr. Miller did nothing illegal. However, Rich Delmar, counsel to the Treasury inspector general, wrote in a report that it was not necessarily a good idea for officials to embark on such lavish travel.

“Mr. Miller’s acceptance of the aircraft ride does not appear to have violated applicable law and regulation,” Mr. Delmar wrote. “Nonetheless, in an environment of high attention to relationships affecting governmental actions, consideration might well be given to another provision in the gift regulation.”

The provision he pointed to says, “It is never inappropriate and frequently prudent for an employee to decline a gift if acceptance would cause a reasonable person to question the employee’s integrity or impartiality.”

Richard Painter, the former chief ethics counsel for President George W. Bush, said that federal ethics regulations offer substantial leeway for officials to accept gifts from friends. Despite the longstanding friendship between Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Milken, he thought the decision to fly on his private plane was questionable, even if the secretary paid for his seat or part of the total cost of the flight.

“The appearance of a Treasury secretary sitting on a private plane belonging to someone who is convicted of a felony securities fraud, it’s just atrocious, regardless of who paid for the plane,” Mr. Painter said.

Mr. Mnuchin has not been shy about his relationship with Mr. Milken. Last year he was a speaker at the Milken Institute’s annual conference, and he spoke at an event that Mr. Milken sponsored in the Hamptons in August.

At that event, according to a Bloomberg News report, Mr. Mnuchin described Mr. Milken as “beyond remarkable,” and Mr. Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, complimented the former financier on his midnight blue jacket.

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On Politics: Number of Children Separated From Parents May Be Much Higher

Good Friday morning. Here are some of the stories making news in Washington and politics today.


The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the care of children in federal custody, has identified 2,737 children who were separated from their parents under President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. But the real number may be much higher, a government investigation has found.

Mr. Trump responded to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s threat to cancel his State of the Union address by grounding the military plane that was going to take her to Afghanistan, a trip he called a “public relations event.” Read about it here (and read the president’s letter to Ms. Pelosi here).

House Democrats are contemplating a homeland security spending measure that would counter the president’s demand for a wall with their own ideas for securing the border.

Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, acknowledged that he paid the owner of a tech company to doctor the results of an online poll as Mr. Trump was considering a presidential run.

In a speech, Mr. Trump vowed to reinvigorate and reinvent American missile defenses, but the actual plans released by the Pentagon were incremental.

As the government shutdown drags on, some people and institutions are stepping up to help unpaid federal workers — for instance, by suspending late fees on their credit cards, or by feeding them for free. But needs are still going unmet, and many federal employees are filing for unemployment.

The Trump administration is asking most State Department employees to return to work next week, despite the shutdown. These employees will be paid, at least in the short term.

Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democratic candidate for president, apologized for her record of anti-gay rhetoric and her past work for an anti-gay advocacy group.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, backtracked from earlier remarks in which he seemed to leave open the possibility that Trump campaign aides might have coordinated with Russia in its election interference.

Many Iowa voters still like Representative Steve King, even after Republican leaders in Congress stripped him of committee posts for his views on white supremacy. But they also recognize that his career is effectively over.

In a mostly symbolic vote, 136 House Republicans joined with Democrats in a show of disapproval of the Trump administration’s policy toward three Kremlin-aligned companies.

Representative Sean P. Duffy of Wisconsin plans to introduce legislation that would embolden Mr. Trump’s trade war by granting him sweeping new executive powers to increase tariffs on imports.


Today’s On Politics briefing was compiled by Isabella Grullón Paz in New York.

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Trump widens callback of US workers with pay to blunt shutdown

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – The State Department told employees they’re going back to work with pay despite the partial government shutdown, as the Trump administration continues to craft exemptions aimed at minimising the effects of the funding impasse with Congress.

“The department expects to be able to resume most personnel operations and fund most salaries,” the department said on Thursday (Jan 17) in the letter to its worldwide staff. For most workers, that means going back to work on Jan 22.

The department didn’t say where it was finding money to pay its employees. It cautioned that “bureaus and posts are expected to adhere to strict budget constraints with regard to new spending for contracts, travel, and other needs”.

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that the shutdown “continues to create a real risk for US foreign policy”.

“While I believe it is critically important that our diplomacy and development professionals get paid for their service to our nation, trying to hold a government together with duct tape” is “no way to govern,” the senator from New Jersey said in a statement.

While visa and passport services overseas that are funded by fees have remained open, many embassy staff members around the world have been on furlough – not working and not paid – along with hundreds of thousands of government workers affected by the shutdown in the US.

In some cases, unpaid workers have been taking turns coming to offices one or two days a week to keep operations going.

About 26 per cent of American employees of the State Department overseas and about 42 per cent stationed in the US had been furloughed, according to the department. Most non-US citizens working for the department abroad have still been working thanks to labor laws in their countries that prohibit unpaid furloughs, the department said.

Embassy employees who were forced to work without pay during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the Middle East last week openly complained about the workload. Some said they may be compelled to file for unemployment or look for new jobs.

As President Donald Trump battles Democrats in Congress over the funding he demands for a wall at the border with Mexico in the longest shutdown in US history, an increasing number of federal agencies have been calling back workers to limit the impact and protect favored industries and policy initiatives.

Unlike the State Department’s announcement that it will be paying workers, the administration has ordered thousands of furloughed federal employees back to work without pay to inspect planes, issue tax refunds, monitor food safety and facilitate the sale of offshore oil drilling rights.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday that it is bringing back some safety specialists to approve new planes for service, review plane maintenance and conduct airport inspections. That came a day after the Food and Drug Administration said it was recalling workers to resume inspections of high-risk fare such as soft cheeses and seafood.

The Internal Revenue Service last week said it is calling back employees to issue tax refunds. And the Interior Department is summoning staff back to ready sales of oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Pence Says U.S. Still Waiting on North Korea for ‘Concrete Steps’ to Denuclearize

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence told American ambassadors on Wednesday that North Korea has failed to take any substantive steps to give up its nuclear weapons, even as President Trump is moving toward a second meeting with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

“While the president has started a promising dialogue with Chairman Kim,” Mr. Pence told the gathering at the State Department, “we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region.”

With the unequivocal statement, Mr. Pence seemed to directly contradict the president’s claim on Twitter, after his first summit meeting in June, that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” At the time, many of Mr. Trump’s top aides cringed at the declaration, fearing it would take the economic pressure off the North to disarm.

The fear seems well founded: China and Russia have resumed many economic enterprises with North Korea.

The timing of Mr. Pence’s comments was significant, coming just before Pyongyang’s lead negotiator over the nuclear program, Kim Yong-chol, is expected to arrive in Washington to meet on Friday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The North Korean negotiator is usually not permitted to travel more than a short distance from the United Nations headquarters in New York, where Mr. Pompeo met him last year, so the invitation to Washington was seen as a gesture to make arrangements for the summit meeting.

Mr. Kim, the negotiator, is a former general and intelligence chief believed to be about 74, and is viewed as a member of the inner circle of North Korean leaders. He is also widely regarded as the architect of an attack on a South Korean ship in 2010 that killed 46 South Korean sailors.

But so far, his meetings with Mr. Pompeo, in both Pyongyang and New York, have yielded few results.

While the United States has demanded that North Korea turn over its nuclear weapons before it sees any significant sanctions relief, the North has argued for a step-by-step approach — including that the United States withdraw troops and weapons from the Korean Peninsula.

Breaking that logjam will be the key to the meeting with Mr. Pompeo, American officials said. North Korea has still not taken the first step demanded by the United States: Providing an inventory of its nuclear weapons, its stockpiles of nuclear material, its production facilities, missile fabrication plans and launch sites.

The North has instead said that it would give Washington a target list. Mr. Trump’s negotiators have argued that they already have a list, but want evidence that the North was being truthful in its declarations.

Mr. Kim, the negotiator, is expected to bring a letter from Kim Jong-un about the proposed second summit meeting with the president. Mr. Trump has taken to collecting the past correspondence and showing them off to visiting journalists, among others, in the Oval Office.

Two months ago, Mr. Pence seemed to be clearing the way for a second meeting, saying that the North Korean leader did not necessarily have to provide the inventory before sitting down with Mr. Trump. That appeared to be a backing down of American demands, so the vice president’s tone on Wednesday was notable for its sharpness.

Mr. Pence did not say, however, what conditions North Korea would have to take to reach some kind of a formal declaration from the United States that would replace the 1953 armistice on the Korean Peninsula with a peace agreement.

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As Republicans Rush to Condemn Steve King, Some Ask: Why Not Trump?

WASHINGTON — After years of turning a blind eye to Representative Steve King’s inflammatory statements and racist behavior, Republicans decided this week they had had enough after Mr. King asked The New York Times when phrases like white supremacy and white nationalism became offensive.

But even as they piled on their condemnation, President Trump had used Twitter to mock Senator Elizabeth Warren for not announcing her presidential exploratory committee at Wounded Knee or Little Bighorn, sacred ground for Native Americans whose ancestors fought and died there.

Now Mr. King — a Republican from Iowa who once said that undocumented immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert” — is persona non grata in his party, even as Mr. Trump continues to paint the same migrants as rapists, drug dealers and importers of mayhem.

“Look, it’s been my practice for the last couple of years not to make random observations about the president’s tweeting and other things,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, told reporters on Tuesday, shortly before the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution that cited Mr. King in condemning white supremacy. “Congressman King clearly uttered words that are unacceptable in America today.”

Mr. McConnell, who has suggested that Mr. King find another line of work, was not alone. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, who stripped Mr. King of his committee assignments, suggested it was not his place to rebuke Mr. Trump because the president is not a member of the House Republican Conference. (In fact, the House has the authority to rebuke or censure the president.)

Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, another member of the Republican leadership, said much the same: “I think this is about our language inside here. I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be disciplining the president. He’s in a different branch than we are.”

Republicans are used to agonizing over how to handle the president’s offensive comments and racially tinged remarks. His comments after the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where he said there were “fine people on both sides,” sent party leaders scurrying for cover, even as they took care not to criticize Mr. Trump directly.

“We must be clear,” Paul D. Ryan, then the speaker of the House, wrote on Twitter at the time. “White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”

And after the president’s tweet on Sunday night about Wounded Knee infuriated Native American leaders in his state, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, issued a mild rebuke of the president.

“I wish he wouldn’t tweet as much,” Mr. Thune told reporters, adding, “That’s obviously a very sensitive part of our state’s history. So yeah, I wish he’d stay away from it.”

But generally, elected Republicans have let the president slide.

“They know on some level that their defense of Trump is morally unsupportable, and so when they get a chance to speak out against Steve King, who doesn’t have any power over them and doesn’t pose a threat to them, a lot of them are falling over themselves to condemn him,” said Peter Wehner, who advised President George W. Bush on domestic policy. “But you can’t condemn Steve King and not condemn Donald Trump and pretend that you’re doing the right moral and ethical thing.”

In Mr. King, Republicans seem happy to have found an opportunity to condemn racism without attacking the president. After taking a beating in the 2018 midterm elections — which produced a freshman Republican class that is almost entirely white and male and boosted the share of white men in the House Republican Conference to 90 percent — Republicans are also well aware that the party needs to overhaul its image.

But Mr. Trump’s critics within the party say that no overhaul can be complete without denouncing the president.

Michael Gerson, who was the top speechwriter for Mr. Bush, published an opinion article in The Washington Post this week that carried the headline, “Republicans Need to Condemn Trump’s Brazen Bigotry.”

Mr. Wehner agreed: “It’s a massive inconsistency and a sign of cowardice and intimidation on the part of Republicans — and I think also a sign of a guilty conscience.”

After Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, said Tuesday on television that Mr. King’s comment’s were “absolutely abhorrent” and “racist,” Mr. Wehner took to Twitter: “I wonder if Liz Cheney would say the same thing about Donald Trump?” he wrote.

But some Republicans say they cannot be the word police, and note that Democrats were in no rush to condemn Representative Rashida Tlaib, a freshman from Michigan, after she used a vulgarity to call for the impeachment of the president. Others insisted that the president’s comments have not been as offensive as those of Mr. King’s.

“It’s just very different — the context of what is said, the way of what is said, it’s very different,” said Representative Mark Meadow, Republican of North Carolina and a close ally of the president’s. “I’m not going to go back and go through all of his quotes, but it’s very different.”

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Opinion | Victims of the Shutdown

To the Editor:

Re “Plan to Summon Workers Back Without Pay as the Deadlock Drags On” (news article, Jan. 16):

Why are people surprised when President Trump expects federal government employees and contractors to work, but stiffs ’em when it’s time to pay? That’s his business model.

Jay Lynch
Upper St. Clair, Pa.

To the Editor:

As a former federal employee, I have experienced furloughs and shutdowns. If President Trump believes that federal employees support shutting down the government and not receiving paychecks, he is delusional.

Douglas R. Leander
Tacoma, Wash.

To the Editor:

Re “It’ll Be Worth It, Trump Tells Farmers as His Policies Cause Them Pain” (news article, Jan. 15):

Now that American farmers find themselves unable to obtain the Agriculture Department loans Congress has funded to enable them to contract for the equipment, seeds and fertilizers they will shortly need for spring planting, perhaps this government shutdown will remind Americans how much their government does for them. Maybe next election government will no longer be the enemy.

Peter Flemming
West Caldwell, N.J.

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Pelosi Asks Trump to Reschedule State of the Union Amid Shutdown

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing security constraints from the ongoing government shutdown, has asked President Trump to reschedule his Jan. 29 State of the Union address or deliver it to Congress in writing unless the government reopens this week.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government reopens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has reopened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to Congress on January 29,” she said in a letter on Wednesday.

[Read the full text of the letter here.]

Neither the White House nor the Secret Service had an immediate comment on Ms. Pelosi’s letter.

With the leadership of all three branches of government gathered in one place, the State of the Union is one of the highest-stakes events for federal law enforcement each year, requiring weeks of preparation. The Secret Service, the lead agency coordinating security for it, is among the agencies affected by the shutdown.

“Both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have not been funded for 26 days now — with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs,” Ms. Pelosi wrote.

But rescheduling would have other benefits, too.

With Democrats and Mr. Trump at an impasse over his demands for funding for a wall along the southern border, the speech would give Mr. Trump a nationally televised bully pulpit to hammer away at Ms. Pelosi and her party.

The Constitution says the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.” But what is now a speech to a joint session of Congress in the Capitol has taken different forms over the years, including in writing for much of the 19th century. The House speaker typically arranges the address by invitation, though its date is the subject of mutual agreement with the White House.

In her letter, Ms. Pelosi said there was no precedent for holding a State of the Union address during a government shutdown.

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