- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2019

Senate Democrats are refusing to embrace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s rhetoric denouncing border walls as an “immorality,” but they are being careful to avoid undercutting her new role as the party’s leader in the shutdown standoff.

Mrs. Pelosi has moved unsteadily since seizing the speaker’s gavel amid the partial government shutdown, including the “immorality” comment and her shifting explanations for why she told President Trump to postpone the State of the Union address.

Still, she garners strong support from Democrats on both sides of the Capitol for remaining steadfast in shutdown fight and refusing Mr. Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for border security.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, balked at her bringing morality into the border wall dispute.

“That’s not a word that I’ve used,” he said.

Mr. Whitehouse hesitated to say Mrs. Pelosi speaks for Senate Democrats in the shutdown debate, though he applauded her for suggesting Mr. Trump postpone the Jan. 29 State of the Union address.

Mrs. Pelosi’s jab at the annual speech was her most pointed attack yet in the shutdown fight with Mr. Trump.

The move would deny Mr. Trump a uniquely presidential platform to take on Democrats, while allowing Mrs. Pelosi to highlight another shutdown disruption.

Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said he fully backed nixing the big speech. And he came close to making the shutdown a matter of right and wrong.

“It is an atrocity what is happening to ordinary workers,” he said.

Support for Mrs. Pelosi’s bold confrontation of the president was even stronger on the other side of the Capitol, as House Democrats have rallied behind the new speaker in her showdown with Mr. Trump.

“It’s down-the-line united,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat. “The Democratic caucus is united, and the Democratic caucus is united behind Speaker Pelosi — without question.”

Mr. Trump retaliated against Mrs. Pelosi by canceling an official government jet that was supposed to take her and a group of lawmakers Thursday to Brussels and Afghanistan.

Earlier, Mrs. Pelosi changed her reasoning for requesting Mr. Trump postpone the January address to a joint session of Congress. She originally cited security concerns because of the shutdown, but Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen then affirmed that the Secret Service is “fully prepared” to handle the speech.

On Thursday, Mrs. Pelosi said she didn’t want Secret Service agents working the speech without getting paid.

Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, said it would be “odd” for the president to deliver the speech during a shutdown.

“The right thing would be for the government to be open that day,” he said. “We always want a president to look at the audience and say, ‘The state of the union is sound.’ I don’t see how a president can say those words when the government is shut down,” said Mr. Kaine, who was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2016.

House Democrats said they were in lockstep with Mrs. Pelosi. Some were puzzled by Mr. Trump’s claim that rank-and-file Democrats looking to make a shutdown deal are being held back by party leaders.

“I know the ideological sort of corners of the caucus, and I don’t sense that that’s the mood of the caucus,” said Rep. Mark Takano, California Democrat and the new chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “I think everybody is very aligned [by] sending a message to the president that it’s time to open the government. And I think our caucus really sees the president as the impediment.”

Rep. Anthony Brown, whose Maryland district is home to a significant number of federal employees, said his constituents support the notion that members shouldn’t be negotiating the border wall while the government is shut down.

“I do believe at this point, we are very united as a caucus in that framework of, you got to open government before you can have meaningful conversations,” he said.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, Virginia Democrat, acknowledged that her Northern Virginia district is hard hit by the shutdown also but said the party is “unified that we want the government to reopen.”

“I don’t see how negotiations can really take place while the federal workers and contractors and all those who depend on the services of the federal government are being held hostage,” she said.

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