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White House officials caught off guard by Pelosi's letter canceling State of the Union address

Posted at 7:36 PM, Jan 23, 2019

White House officials were caught off guard Wednesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally disinviting President Donald Trump from giving his State of the Union address from the House chamber, leaving them scrambling for a response.

White House officials had believed Pelosi wanted only to postpone Trump's State of the Union for political reasons after she sent a letter to him last week asking him to delay the address until after the partial government shutdown ended. The plan from administration officials was to call her bluff by pressing forward with plans to deliver the speech, including a new letter on Wednesday that they hoped would force her hand.

Now they're left exploring alternative venues. White House officials say they are hesitant to hold a campaign-style rally because they realize it's not formal enough to look like the traditional speech. Officials also recognize that it's harder to keep Trump on message during a rally, where he often feeds off the crowd, versus a more formal address.

Officials noted that television networks rarely carry the rallies live.

The message Trump planned to deliver at the Capitol -- even one shaped around the shutdown -- would be much more tamped down than the President's usual rhetoric at a rally, where he often deviates from the script and works off the crowd.

It would also include other topic areas, like the economy and foreign policy, that might be hard to include in a speech on the border or in a political venue. And officials believe they have a positive message on both of those areas that they want to break through.

Some officials believe a rally would be seen as just another campaign speech, which they acknowledge people have started to tune out.

Right now, the White House is floating the idea of holding a rally outside Washington, but not seriously, according to one official.

Officials have also looked again at the Oval Office and at other venues in the White House.

The Oval Office is a tough sell for the President, since he disliked the last address he made from there and the polls showed it changed zero minds. They like the East Room/Cross Hall and the Diplomatic Room. The East Room would be easier for hosting Republicans as an audience.

The Senate is set to vote Thursday on two different proposals to end the shutdown, one that was passed by the Democratic-controlled House and one built off Trump's own proposal presented in a speech on Saturday. White House officials expect both bills will fail. But their hope is that once they do, Democrats will be more amenable to negotiations.

It appears that the White House is waiting on those votes before moving forward with negotiations.