House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she's pushed back a congressional trip to Afghanistan she was attempting to organize after the Trump administration leaked that she was trying to make the trip on a commercial airline.
Pelosi called the move, which the White House denies, "very irresponsible."
Asked by reporters if she thought Trump was retaliating for her request that Trump reconsider giving his State of the Union address at the Capitol, given that many government workers responsible for security aren't being paid, Pelosi said, "I would hope not. I don't think the president would be that petty, do you?"
Trump hasn't responded to Pelosi's State of the Union request, but a day later, on Thursday, denied Pelosi and other members of Congress a military plane to make the trip, citing the shutdown. He suggested at the time that she could still fly commercially if she wanted to.
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Trump tweeted Friday that he would be making a "major announcement" about the shutdown on Saturday afternoon.
Senior American delegations to war zones are usually planned and executed under strict secrecy, since reporting those plans ahead of time would tip-off the enemy on where to attack high-value targets. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement that Trump's revelation of Pelosi's travel plans on Thursday increased the danger to all involved.
Hammill said that the delegation had been prepared to make the trip commercially, but Friday morning, "we learned that the Administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well."
The trip was postponed given "the grave threats caused by the President’s action," Hammill said.
The White House said it had leaked nothing that would cause a security risk.
Asked about the denial, Pelosi said, "I rest my case."
For security reasons, Pelosi would normally make such a trip on a military aircraft supplied by the Pentagon. According to a defense official, Pelosi did request Defense Department support for overseas travel and it was initially approved. The official wasn't authorized to speak by name about the matter, so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said the president does have the authority to cancel the use of military aircraft.
Pelosi said that, "You never give advance notice of going into a battle area, you just never do. Perhaps the president's inexperience didn't have him understand that protocol. The people around him, though, should have known that, because that's very dangerous."
Trump's initial letter — his first public comments to or about Pelosi after she suggested Trump push back the State of the Union from Jan. 29 until after the end of the shutdown — was sent just before she and other lawmakers were set to depart on the previously undisclosed trip to Afghanistan and Brussels. Trump belittled the trip as a "public relations event" — even though he had just made a similar warzone stop — and said it would be best if Pelosi remained in Washington to negotiate to reopen the government.
"Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative!" Trump wrote.
Denying military aircraft to a senior lawmaker — let alone the speaker, who is second in line to the White House after the vice president, traveling to a combat region — is very rare. Lawmakers were caught off guard. A bus to ferry the legislators to their departure idled outside the Capitol on Thursday afternoon.
The political tit-for-tat between Trump and Pelosi laid bare how the government-wide crisis has devolved into an intensely pointed clash between two leaders both determined to prevail. It took place as hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay and Washington's routine protocols — a president's speech to Congress, a lawmaker's official trip — became collateral damage.
Hammill said that Pelosi was planning to meet with commanders and troops on the front lines in Afghanistan as part of Congress' oversight responsibilities. Her trip was initially scheduled for Brussels as well.
Trump's move was the latest example of his extraordinary willingness to tether U.S. government resources to his political needs. He has publicly urged the Justice Department to investigate political opponents and threatened to cut disaster aid to Puerto Rico amid a spat with the island territory's leaders.