WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi abandoned her plans to travel commercially to Afghanistan after President Donald Trump canceled her military flight, while leveling the remarkable allegation that the commander in chief, with authority over security preparations, had imperiled the safety of lawmakers and troops when he disclosed the confidential plans.
“We had the prerogative to travel commercially, and we made plans to do that until the administration then leaked that we were traveling commercially,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Friday. That disclosure “made the scene on the ground much more dangerous, because it’s just a signal to the bad actors that we were coming,” she said, citing State Department security reports.
The trip, originally scheduled to disembark Thursday afternoon, was set to include several other House Democrats, including the leaders of House committees involved in national security and government oversight, as well as newly elected members with military experience.
"You never give advance notice of going into a battle area - you just never do it," Pelosi added. "Perhaps the president's inexperience didn't have him understand that protocol. The people around him, though, should have known that, because that's very dangerous."
Trump has not traveled to Afghanistan; a Dec. 26 trip to Iraq was his first and only trip to a war zone.
Trump tweeted an apparent rejoinder Friday morning: "Why would Nancy Pelosi leave the Country with other Democrats on a seven day excursion when 800,000 great people are not getting paid. Also, could somebody please explain to Nancy & her 'big donors' in wine country that people working on farms (grapes) will have easy access in!"
The White House declined to offer on-the-record comment. But officials moved forward Friday with a broader crackdown on congressional travel: Acting White House Budget Director Russell Vought said in a memo that "[u]nder no circumstances during a government shutdown will any government owned, rented, leased, or chartered aircraft support any Congressional delegation, without the express written approval of the White House Chief of Staff."
No other executive branch expenditure would be permitted for such delegations without similar authorization, Vought added, though agencies "shall continue to provide appropriate logistical and security support."
First lady Melania Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago in Florida on government aircraft on Thursday.
The travel standoff comes as the partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, entered its 28th day. The impasse remains centered on Trump's demand for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Trump's reference to "easy access" appeared to refer to a willingness to negotiate a guest worker program for the agriculture industry.
Trump on Thursday informed Pelosi in a letter that he was postponing the originally planned trip due to the shutdown and called it a "public relations event." That move was in apparent retaliation after Pelosi suggested to Trump in a Wednesday letter that he reschedule his planned Jan. 29 State of the Union address due to security concerns prompted by the shutdown.
"Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative," Trump wrote.
Members of Congress routinely travel around the world as part of their congressional business; that travel is frequently done on military planes and arranged by State Department protocol officers.
Such trips are typically kept secret for security reasons until lawmakers are safely back in the United States.
Asked how she was certain Trump had leaked her travel plans, Pelosi shrugged and said, "I rest my case."
Asked if she considered it retaliation as part of an ongoing tit-for-tat amid the shutdown, she said, "I would hope not. I don't think the president would be that petty, do you?"
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said earlier Friday that the trip to Afghanistan would be indefinitely postponed "so as not to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights." But he said that lawmakers would not be cowed in discharging their constitutional duties.
"The United States Congress is a coequal branch of government in our system of checks and balances," he said. "The Congress has a constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight in the war zone where our men and women in uniform are risking their lives every day."