WASHINGTON — In a high-stakes case of dare and double-dare, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi served notice Wednesday that President Donald Trump won’t be allowed to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress next week. She took the step after Trump said he planned to show up in spite of Democratic objections to the speech taking place with big swaths of the government shut down.
Denied that grand venue, Trump promised to come up with some sort of alternative event. But the White House was scrambling to find something matching the gravitas of the traditional address from the rostrum of the House to lawmakers from both parties, Supreme Court justices, invited guests and a television audience of millions.
“I think that’s a great blotch on the incredible country that we all love,” Trump said. “It’s a great, great horrible mark.”
Fireworks over the speech shot back and forth between the Capitol and the White House as the month-long partial government shutdown showed no signs of ending and with about 800,000 federal workers facing the prospect of going without their second paycheck in a row come Friday.
Pelosi told Trump the House won’t approve a resolution allowing him to address Congress until the shutdown ends. Trump shot back that Pelosi was afraid of hearing the truth.
The drama surrounding the State of the Union address began last week when Pelosi asked Trump to make other plans but stopped short of denying him the chamber for his address. Trump called her bluff Wednesday in a letter, saying he intended to come anyway.
“It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location,” he wrote.
Pelosi quickly squelched the speech, writing back that the House “will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened.”
The president cannot speak in front of a joint session of Congress without both chambers’ explicit permission. A resolution needs to be approved by both chambers specifying the date and time for receiving an address from the president.
The gamesmanship unfolded as the Senate prepared to vote this week on dueling proposals on the shutdown. A Republican one would give Trump money for the wall while one from Democrats would re-open government through Feb. 8, with no wall money, giving bargainers time to talk about it.
Both proposals were likely to fail to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority. As well, House Democrats were putting forward a new proposal, aiming to lure Trump away from his demand for a border wall by offering billions of new dollars for other border security measures.
The Constitution states only that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union,” meaning the president can speak anywhere he chooses or give his update in writing. The address has been delayed before.
Ronald Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union address was postponed after the Challenger space shuttle exploded in flight on Jan. 28 of that year.
But there is no precedent for a State of the Union invitation being rescinded.
Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter issued their final messages in print. As Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack in 1956, he prepared a seven-minute, filmed summary of the message from his retreat in Key West, Florida, that was broadcast nationwide. Richard Nixon sent a printed message in 1973; his staff said an oral message would have come too soon after his second inaugural address.
White House officials have been working on a backup plan to have Trump give the speech somewhere else if Democrats blocked access to the House chamber. Nevertheless, they were rattled by Pelosi’s move Wednesday and expressed concern it would further sour shutdown negotiations.
Officials have been considering alternative venues, including a speech in the Senate chamber and a visit to a state on the southern border. Multiple versions of the speech were being drafted to suit the final venue. Trump has been presented with a series of options for making the address and is expected to decide within the next day or so, said a person familiar with White House discussions but not authorized to speak publicly about them.
Pelosi said that when she extended her Jan. 3 invitation to Trump to deliver the State of the Union address on Jan. 29, there was no thought that the government would still be shut down.
She wrote Wednesday: “I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened.”
Moments after her letter became public, Trump told reporters he wasn’t surprised by Pelosi’s action. Democrats have become “radicalized,” he claimed. He expanded on those sentiments during a subsequent event at the White House, calling the cancellation a “disgrace” and asserting that Pelosi didn’t want to hear the truth about the need for better border security.
The White House and Democratic lawmakers have been accusing one another of pettiness since Pelosi raised doubts about the speech. Trump followed up by revoking her use of a military plane for a congressional delegation visit to Afghanistan.
North Carolina’s House speaker, Tim Moore, invited Trump to deliver the speech in the North Carolina House chamber. Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield has offered his state capitol. Trump spoke with both of them this week, according to Moore’s office and a tweet from Chatfield.
Veterans officials announced Wednesday that they have a green light to proceed with a joint venture between the federal government and a private developer to build affordable housing for homeless veterans on the campus of the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco.
Christopher Sandles, CEO of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, said the project has been a long time in coming and should help ensure more affordable housing for homeless veterans, those at risk of becoming homeless and other veterans and their families finding it difficult to find quality housing.
The project proposes to provide at least 35 units to house veterans and will be built on 3 acres at the northwest corner of the 85-acre Doris Miller Medical Center on Memorial Drive.
While the goal is to provide affordable, sustainable housing for veterans, the project also will put to use an underused portion of the campus, which the government put on its endangered list for potential closure more than a decade ago during a review of nationwide veterans’ services under former President George W. Bush.
Sandles said the public-private collaboration project would be the first to be built at a VA medical center in Texas. A review committee narrowed the choices for location to Waco and Temple before recommending the Waco center, he said.
“I am really excited about it,” Sandles said. “I think it will be really great for this campus. It has been quite a while since we brought something brand new to the Waco campus. Many don’t know the multitude of renovations we are doing behind the walls that folks pass by as they drive down the freeway. But this will be a brand new development here and something we think this campus can really use.”
Sandles said the project is near to his heart because both his parents are veterans who divorced when he was young. His father got custody of him and a sibling, and his mother was homeless for a time.
“We may think that getting someone off the street is all there is to it,” Sandles said. “That is only step one. When you are talking about building someone’s sense of self-worth, it is beyond just getting you off the street. It is putting you in a housing environment that is actually supportive, where you have the clinical and social services you need but also be somewhere that you are proud to call home.
“So that is why projects like this are so important. You can put them in an environment that is not just medically appropriate but it is also aesthetically appealing and can create a greater sense of worth and help them in that transition to become a more productive member of society.”
Three large brick structures that were built in 1932 as housing for nurses and have been vacant for 40 years sit on the 3 acres where the development is proposed. The VA is donating the land to a developer, who will devise a plan for at least 35 housing units.
Developers, who will submit competitive bids for the project, can choose to renovate one or all of the three historical buildings, raze them and build apartment-style housing units or come up with other plans, Sandles said.
Besides getting the free land on the Doris Miller campus, the developer, who will take on construction costs, will be compensated through government vouchers the VA gives veterans for housing, he said.
“As noted in the Tribune-Herald recently, there is a lack of low-income housing in the Waco market, and we identified that,” Sandles said. “We saw Waco as an opportunity as a campus that we could grow and we felt the environment was right and decided to start here.”
If the Waco project is a success, it could lead to similar developments at other Central Texas VA medical centers, Sandles said, including Temple, Brownwood, College Station and Palestine. Waco was a natural choice because of its proximity to Fort Hood and because the VA regional office is in Waco, he said.
Jana Hixson and Jacob Hogan, of U.S. Rep. Bill Flores’ office, and Steve Hernandez, McLennan County veterans service officer, attended Sandles’ announcement.
“While we have made great strides in lowering the number of homeless veterans to nearly half of what it was in 2010, more must be done to assist our brave military men and women as they transition (from) military life,” Flores, R-Bryan, said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with Director Sandles and the Central Texas VA on this project to provide our most vulnerable veterans access to affordable housing. The Doris Miller VA campus is an important resource for out Central Texas veterans, and the addition of this new service will help ensure its future sustainability.”
Hernandez said he thinks the project is a positive step to help veterans and that he is looking forward to see what the next stop brings.
“This represents progress, especially from the days when there were major concerns that the campus would be shuttered,” he said.
A public hearing to discuss the project will held at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 in Building 6 at the Doris Miller VA.
An 18-wheeler dropped 5,000 menstrual pads off at Pam McKown’s house over Thanksgiving.
“They’re stuck every possible place in my house,” McKown said with a laugh.
The donation, while it may seem like it would last a lifetime, is expected to cover a year’s demand for Take Heart Ministries, which seeks to meet homeless women’s needs during menstruation.
However, the Waco nonprofit is pushing for donations of other sanitary items ahead of its participation in Project Homeless Connect, which runs from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday at First Baptist Church of Waco, 500 Webster Ave. Organizers will provide the homeless community various services, including dental information, employment assistance, haircuts, health and vision screenings, HIV testing, housing information, pet care, social services and veteran benefits help.
Take Heart Ministries also plans to distribute a Love Tote to each woman who participates.
Each tote will have pads, tampons, Granola bars and wipes.
The Thanksgiving delivery came through Take Heart Ministries’ partnership with Alliance for Period Supplies, a national nonprofit organization that collects, stores and distributes menstrual supplies.
“Their platform is to end period poverty, which is really what we’re doing too,” McKown said.
People typically think about clothes, food and shelter when they think about the needs of the homeless population, she said.
“I think a lot of people miss the opportunity to recognize women and their unique need,” McKown said. “This is a small thing but has really big meaning.”
It is important that women know they are not alone and that community members understand their struggle, she said.
“To help them, say, ‘We get it,’ because we’re all women and we all deal with this,” she said. “We want to take away one little burden to help you succeed on whatever path you’re going. It would be great to get the community around that and to be involved.”
McKown said she is also seeking donations of items that might add a little something special to each tote, whether travel-size shampoo, lotions or makeup.
“Clearly homeless women aren’t going to sit in a bubble bath, but if you have extra makeup samples … an extra little touch that says, ‘Here’s something special for you,’ ” she said.
The nonprofit distributed about 800 Love Totes last year, McKown said. It also now works with Communities in Schools, helping teens identified as low income or homeless, and works with Compassion Ministries, Caritas of Waco and other organizations.
In McLennan County, 188 people were classified as homeless in 2018, according to the latest annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Donations can be arranged by emailing pam@ takeheartministry.org.
The annual spike in reported flu cases has hit McLennan County, and it is not too late to get a flu shot, health officials said.
The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported a jump to 872 local cases of the flu and flu-like illnesses between Jan. 12 and Saturday, up from 538 cases the week before and 138 cases two weeks before.
This is the typical time of year for the flu, and based on the last five flu seasons, the number of cases in the area could continue to increase, health district spokeswoman Kelly Craine said.
“There’s still the opportunity to protect yourself before it gets to you,” Craine said. “Flu can still be very active through March, which means through your spring break. Do you want the flu on your spring break? You don’t. Get the flu shot.”
The health district gets weekly reports of flu and flu-like illnesses year-round from local hospitals, clinics, labs, schools, nursing homes and other agencies.
Flu activity so far this season has not matched the highs reported during the 2017-18 flu season but has surpassed totals between 2014 and 2017.
While seasonal influenza viruses are detected year-round, they are most common during the fall and winter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The season typically runs October through May, with a peak between December and February, according to the CDC.
“Generally, the flu likes cold weather,” Craine said.
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against influenza.
Craine said she has not seen reports yet on how effective this year’s flu shots are.
What she calls “the momma rules” also help prevent the flu, Craine said. The rules include washing hands often with soap and water and covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
Anyone who is sick should stay home, she said.
The CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
“The flu is very serious,” Craine said. “It’s more than just a cold.”
A cold makes its way to a person gradually, while the flu hits a person like a truck, she said.
“Don’t dismiss the fever,” she said. “And it’s not too late to get your flu shot.”
The CDC also recommends cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated.
Other respiratory viruses circulate at the same time flu cases spike, according to the CDC.
Two years ago, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stood on the steps of the Texas Capitol before a throng of waving yellow scarves and urged lawmakers to vote for programs that give parents state money to attend private schools.
This Wednesday, those two top Republicans may not even attend the rally for National School Choice Week, let alone have speaking roles.
Though “school choice” supporters will still excitedly don their signature bright yellow scarves Wednesday, they will likely be fighting an uphill battle the rest of this session to get support in the Capitol.
In the months after 2017’s rally, House lawmakers unequivocally voted to reject school vouchers or similar programs that allow parents to use public money for private education. In 2018, a key election ousted some of the programs’ largest supporters, including Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, one of the loudest cheerleaders in the House. And as state Republicans tour the state making constituents a new set of education-related promises, many have swapped the words “school choice” for “school finance.”
So far, even Abbott and Patrick have rarely brought up their former pet issue without being asked directly — beyond Abbott’s routine proclamation for this year’s School Choice Week. The new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, said last week that the House would not pass legislation approving vouchers — and that he had consistently voted no on similar bills.
“I’m not willing to say, ‘hey, this issue is dead.’ But leadership seems to be saying that, at least for this particular session,” said Monty Exter, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, one of the biggest opponents of those programs.
The issue was politically divisive last session, with public school educators arguing it would siphon money from public schools. The Senate passed a diluted version of the bill that would allow parents of students with disabilities to pay for private school and homeschooling, with supporters arguing it would empower families to make the best educational choices for their kids. Facing resistance in the House, Senate leaders refused to approve an overhaul of the school finance system without those subsidies — forcing a stalemate.
Abbott demanded lawmakers pass both in a summer special session. Both failed to pass again.
Randan Steinhauser, who along with her husband Brendan has helped lead the fight for voucher-like programs in Texas, said both Abbott and Patrick have been invited to support the cause from the stage at Wednesday’s rally. But they aren’t scheduled to give formal speeches. Sen. Ted Cruz and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, both Republicans, are expected to speak and, she said, “having one elected official after another is not the most engaging thing for our audience.”
In 2017, Steinhauser helped start an organization called Texans for Education Opportunity, which hired about a dozen lobbyists to push the benefits of giving parents taxpayer money to use for private school tuition and homeschooling. This year, Texans for Education Opportunity has no lobbyists registered.
Steinhauser and Texans for Education Opportunity founder Stacy Hock both say they are instead focusing on organizing families to speak directly to lawmakers.
“Thankfully, we will not be doing a huge lobby effort this session,” Hock said. ‘What has become apparent to me is that the most important voice in this discussion is that of Texas families.”
Steinhauser rejects the idea that lawmakers got kicked out of office for supporting the issue.
“If that were the case, Dan Patrick would have lost. He’s the biggest champion in the state and he’s coming back for another term,” she said. “No one won or lost on the issue of school choice.”
But lawmakers appear to be putting distance between themselves and the issue, at least for the time being.
Sen. Larry Taylor, the Friendswood Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, told a group of free-market conservatives earlier this month that school choice “is not going to be the focus this session” and “not part of the school finance bill.” That’s a far cry from 2017, when he authored the Senate’s bill for private school tuition subsidies.
But he’s not alone in his change of tone. Two years ago, sporting a yellow scarf of his own atop a navy blue suit, Patrick expressed his disappointment with the Texas House in front of thousands of students and family members from charter schools and private schools.
“We want a vote up or down in the Senate and in the House this session on school choice,” he said, amid loud cheers. “It’s easy to kill a bill when no one gets to vote on it.”
This year, when asked whether the issue would return to the Senate, Patrick was less direct: “We’ll see, we’ll see. It’s a long session.”