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January 17, 2019


Republicans are crying out that the Speaker is playing politics by disinviting Trump to give his State of the Union address from the Peoples’ House, or alternatively, to submit such address in writing. The Speaker has cited concern for the president’s safety with a perhaps still unpaid Secret Service contingent charged with his safety as of January 29, the proposed date of the speech, suggesting that he will be welcome to give his speech after the government is reopened and workers such as the Secret Service members are being paid for their work. Trump is not accustomed to being told what he can or cannot do, especially by a woman, but there is a new sheriff in town, and the Constitution gives him no more right to speak in the House than the Speaker has in speaking from the Oval Office due to this pesky Madisonian idea of “separation of powers.” She has told him he may speak from any other venue he pleases but it won’t be from the House unless a certain issue is resolved (I call it a lockout, not a shutdown). Politics? To some extent, but Trump set the stage with his wall politics (which has little if anything to do with a wall and a lot to do with his narcissistic ego).

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution reads, among other things, that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the State of the Union.” It does not set out the method by which the president shall give such information, and sending speeches to the Congress to meet the constitutional requirement by written rather than oral speech was typical for presidents in the past, so the Speaker is asking for nothing new. Thus, for instance, the tall Scotsman, Thomas Jefferson, had a high, squeaky voice, and given the acoustics of the time would probably not have been heard with an oral discourse, thus necessitating a written statement for delivery to the Congress of his day.

BUT, say the Republicans, the ignominy of it all! Politics! Politics! Politics! Curtailing speech! First Amendment! First Amendment! Of course, these same Republicans are mute on Trump’s bullying of the press and its First Amendment rights with his frequent (Leninist) “enemy of the people” description of their constitutionally protected activities. Apparently wannabe dictators may selectively choose who is to be or not to be protected by particular provisions of the Constitution even before being officially crowned with dictatorship status and freed of all constitutional restraints in governing.

The Speaker has done what Republicans in the House and Senate have utterly failed to do – she has reminded Trump that there are three separate and coequal branches of government, each with powers of its own to the exclusion of the other two branches, and by doing so has in a larger sense told him that his plan to bully and lie his way into some form of authoritarian rule and the destruction of our democracy has just come to an end.         GERALD        E

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