Intitially, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wasn’t disinviting President Donald Trump from delivering his State of the Union address — the California Democrat insisted she just wanted him to come another time, once the partial government shutdown has ended.
But on Wednesday, Trump declined her recommendation to postpone, saying it would be “so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on schedule, and very importantly, on location!”
Pelosi, in turn, officially rescinded the invitation until federal operations resume. The shutdown Wednesday reached its 33rd day with no obvious end in sight.
But can Pelosi actually prevent Trump from delivering his speech from the dais of the floor of the House of Representatives on Jan. 29 as originally planned? What procedural maneuvers are at her disposal to complicate his efforts?
Here’s what Pelosi can and can’t do.
Pelosi has the power to invite the president to deliver his address.
It all begins with an invitation. On the evening of Jan. 3, just hours after she was elected speaker, Pelosi sent Trump a letter inviting him to address “a joint session of Congress” on Jan. 29.
A joint session convenes when the House and Senate gather for any official event, typically for the purposes of hearing an address from a foreign dignitary, world leader or, in this case, the president of the United States. The joint session takes place in the House chamber, the larger of the two legislative bodies’ meeting places.
Pelosi can prevent an agreement to meet in a joint session.
A joint session isn’t an ad hoc event. Both the House and Senate must formally agree to the session by adopting a “concurrent resolution.”
These resolutions are typically noncontroversial, often simply advanced by voice vote or what’s called unanimous consent, meaning no one objects so the measure is agreed to.
Pelosi, as the speaker, can control whether this resolution comes up for a vote at all in the House — or, if it does, she can urge her members to vote “no.” If there’s no joint session of Congress, Trump can’t come to the House floor to deliver his address. On Wednesday, Pelosi told Trump she did not intend to allow a vote on a concurrent resolution.
Pelosi can’t stop Trump from coming to the Capitol anyway on January 29.
There are restrictions on who can walk onto the House floor. The privilege is reserved for current and former members of Congress, along with congressional staffers with specific credentials allowing them access. The president is also permitted to enter the House chamber at any time.
Pelosi can use House rules to silence Trump.
Whether Trump could just get up on the dais and start delivering his State of the Union address is another question. Nothing could physically stop Trump from speaking in the House chamber, but there is a strict set of rules governing what is allowed to take place on the floor and what would be subject to condemnation.
In order for someone to deliver formal remarks in the House of Representatives, the chamber must be “in session,” which is at the discretion of the speaker.
Pelosi can make it difficult for C-SPAN to broadcast Trump’s floor speech.
Ordinarily, C-SPAN is the only entity allowed to record House floor proceedings. But C-SPAN only has permission to operate when the House is officially in session. If the House isn’t in session and Trump comes to the floor and begins speaking, there would be no way of broadcasting the address to a national audience. The chamber lights might not even be on for Trump to see his written speech.
Unless someone broke House rules. Someone could videotape Trump and carry it live on Facebook or Twitter. When Democrats, then in the minority, took over the House floor in a 24-hour “sit-in” in 2016 to protest gun violence, Democrats filmed their own floor speeches and C-SPAN chose to air that content. The same thing could happen in this scenario.
Then Pelosi would have to decide whether to move forward with a vote to formally rebuke of Trump.
Pelosi can’t keep Trump from delivering his address elsewhere.
In her letter recommending an alternative date for Trump’s State of the Union speech, Pelosi had suggested Trump submit his remarks “in writing” to Congress, which was once a common practice for presidents.
The address is required by the Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution, but does not stipulate it must be given in the House of Representatives. It only says that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
Written messages were commonplace until President Woodrow Wilson personally delivered his message in 1913. Since President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, which began in 1933, such appearances have “become a contemporary tradition,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
Chances are slim that Trump would miss an opportunity to appear in front of an audience, however, so he’d be more likely to take his speech elsewhere if Pelosi blocks him from coming to the House floor.
He could request the TV news networks carry his address in prime time from the White House — a request that was granted last week so he could speak to Americans about the government shutdown and border security. Trump could also hold a campaign-style rally that evening, giving networks more discretion in deciding whether to give him the air time.
Pelosi can’t keep Trump from addressing the Senate.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, an ally of the president, has suggested Senate Republican leaders invite Trump to deliver the State of the Union address in their chamber.
“This is the first time in history that the House would deny the president a forum of speaking. If she is going to do that, let’s hold it in the Senate,” Paul told Fox News.
If Senate Republican leaders went forward with this gambit — there’s no indication it’s under serious consideration — they might not be able to actually make it happen. Hosting Trump for a televised State of the Union address in the Senate would likely also require adoption of a resolution, and if Democrats all vote “no,” the measure would not be able to overcome a filibuster.
There are 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents who typically vote with Democrats. That means Republicans would not be able to garner the 60 votes they need to proceed.