The allegation, if true, was extraordinary: The White House, in leaking the travel plans of members of Congress, put the safety of the speaker of the House in jeopardy.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday cancelled her plans to travel by commercial plane to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan, saying President Donald Trump had caused a security risk by talking about the trip. The White House said there was no such leak.
But it was the latest turn — and potentially the most dangerous — in the high-stakes brinkmanship between Trump and Pelosi, playing out against the stalled negotiations over how to end the partial government shutdown.
And it showed once again the willingness of the former hard-charging businessman to hit hard when challenged, as he was earlier this week when Pelosi suggested postponing his State of the Union address during the shutdown.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said it “gives new meaning” to tensions between the executive and legislative branches.
“There are public back and forths,” he said, citing relations between past presidents and House speakers. “But this kind of tensions, preventing the speaker from visiting the troops and the speaker suggesting the White House leaked information about a crucial flight, this is one more example of where Trumpism brings us into new territory.”
The political stakes are high as the shutdown moves into a fifth week, with hundreds of thousands of federal workers going without pay and no outward signs of resolution.
Trump is demanding money from Congress to build his long-promised border wall with Mexico. But Congress has not approved the funds.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stressed the importance of a looming Tuesday deadline to process paychecks, when the government will need to decide if workers get another round of zeroes on Friday’s payday.
“One of the key reasons that the president did not want Speaker Pelosi to leave the country is because, if she did, it would all but guarantee the fact that the negotiations couldn’t take place over the weekend,” Sanders told reporters.
No talks, though, are scheduled.
It was an unusually combative week between the executive and legislative branches.
Tensions flared when Pelosi suggested Trump postpone the annual State of the Union address, a grand Washington tradition — and a platform for his border wall fight with Democrats — that was tentatively scheduled for Jan. 29.
Trump never responded directly. Instead, he abruptly cancelled Pelosi’s military flight on Thursday, hours before she and a congressional delegation were to depart for Afghanistan on the previously undisclosed visit to U.S. troops.
Trump belittled the trip as a “public relations event” — even though he had just made a similar stop in a conflict zone during the shutdown — 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,” wrote Trump.
Pelosi, undeterred, quietly began making her own preparations for the overseas trip.
But on Friday, Pelosi said her plan to travel by commercial plane had been “leaked” by the White House.
“The administration leaked that we were travelling commercially,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol. She said it was “very irresponsible on the part of the president.”
She said the State Department told her “the president outing” the original trip made the scene on the ground in Afghanistan “more dangerous because it’s a signal to the bad actors that we’re coming.”
The White House said it had leaked nothing that would cause a security risk.
Denying military aircraft to a senior lawmaker — let alone the speaker, who is second in line to the presidency after the vice-president, travelling to a combat region — is very rare.
Trump’s trip to Iraq after Christmas was not disclosed in advance for security reasons.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California slammed Trump for revealing the closely held travel plans.
“I think the president’s decision to disclose a trip the speaker’s making to a war zone was completely and utterly irresponsible in every way,” Schiff said.
Some Republicans expressed frustration. Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted, “One sophomoric response does not deserve another.” He called Pelosi’s State of the Union move “very irresponsible and blatantly political” but said Trump’s reaction was “also inappropriate.”
The White House also cancelled plans for a presidential delegation to travel to an economic forum in Switzerland next week, citing the shutdown. And it said future congressional trips would be postponed until the shutdown is resolved, though it was not immediately clear if any such travel — which often is not disclosed in advance — was coming up.
The new White House travel ban does not extend to the first family.
Next week, House Democrats will pass bills to try to fund the government, including one adding $1 billion to border security — to hire 75 immigration judges and improve infrastructure. The Senate, controlled by Republicans, has declined to consider any bills unless Trump is prepared to sign them into law.
Lisa Mascaro, Zeke Miller, Jill Colvin And Catherine Lucey, The Associated Press