After news broke on Wednesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was rescinding her invitation for President Trump to deliver his State of the Union address to Congress during the ongoing government shutdown, the broadcast networks hailed the Democratic leader “flexing her muscles” with the “brazen power play.” However, when Republican House Speaker John Boehner suggested President Obama delay an address to Congress by a single day in 2011, reporters lost their minds, calling the move “racist” and telling the GOP to “grow up.”
“And now this, a power play from Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker flexing her muscles in a move that appears designed to deprive the President of a high-profile platform to attack Democrats and to sell his border wall,” White House correspondent Peter Alexander announced on NBC’s Today show Thursday morning.
He parroted the Speaker’s dubious claim that her objection to the speech was based on “security concerns”:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging the President to postpone his annual address or deliver it in writing, in this new letter, citing “security concerns.” Noting that due to the shutdown, the Department of Homeland Security and Secret Service have been “hamstrung by furloughs.”
Only later in the show did co-host Savannah Guthrie explain: “Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says Secret Service is ‘fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.’”
After leading off ABC’s Good Morning America by touting “Pelosi’s power play,” co-host George Stephanopoulos introduced a report minutes later by declaring: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushing President Trump to put off his State of the Union address until the government is open again, citing security concerns because of furloughs at key federal agencies.”
Congressional correspondent Mary Bruce noted that it was “surprising” that the President had not yet responded to Pelosi’s partisan maneuver, asserting: “The ball is in his court here after the Speaker made this brazen power play, suggesting that unless the President can agree to re-open the government, there will be no State of the Union address.”
Like Alexander, Bruce seemed excited by the fact that “by postponing this speech, the Speaker would deny the President a pretty powerful platform to make his case for his border wall.”
The reporter added, “she says this isn’t about politics, but security concerns.” Bruce did provide a quick fact check: “But the [Homeland Security] department is disputing that. The Secretary says they stand, quote, ‘fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.’”
Following the report, rather than criticize the move as unproductive political posturing, Stephanopoulos noted that Pelosi could take even more aggressive action: “And Mary, Speaker Pelosi has not taken this step yet, but she can block the President from giving a State of the Union by not putting a resolution on the floor to approve it, so she has that power.” He also reminded viewers: “You know, presidents until Woodrow Wilson generally just sent it up to Capitol Hill, didn’t give a big speech.”
On Wednesday evening, ABC’s World News Tonight also celebrated Pelosi’s “bold power play.”
Thursday’s CBS This Morning was more balanced than the NBC and ABC morning shows, with correspondent Paula Reid mentioning how “sources inside the White House tell us that top officials are suggesting to the President that he should view this political maneuvering as a sign of weakness” by Democrats.
However, co-host Norah O’Donnell still seemed impressed by Pelosi: “Well, yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says unless the government opens this week, she is rescinding the invitation to the President to deliver his State of the Union address in the House of Representatives. She said, ‘You can do it in writing if you want.’”
Minutes later, Reid observed: “President Trump responded to Pelosi’s power move with uncharacteristic silence.” The headline on screen throughout the segment blared: “Pelosi’s Power Play.”
Like her NBC and ABC colleagues, Reid responded to Pelosi’s claim of “security concerns” for the State of the Union: “DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen countered, and said her department and the U.S. Secret Service ‘are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.’”
Contrast all the talk of Pelosi’s “power play” against Trump to how the liberal media reacted to a Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, requesting in 2011 that President Obama push back a September address to Congress – not a constitutionally required State of the Union – by a single day so as not to conflict with an long-scheduled Republican presidential primary debate.
“Any hopes that a kinder, gentler bipartisan Washington would surface once Congress returns after Labor Day were summarily dashed on Wednesday when President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner clashed over, of all things, the date and time of the president’s much-awaited speech to the nation about his proposal to increase jobs and fix the economy,” The New York Times decried on September 1.
On September 2, the liberal paper’s editorial page demanded that Speaker Boehner “grow up” and feared that “the vital importance of the speech – and the need for Congress to take its full responsibility for creating jobs and reviving the economy – was upstaged by yet another Washington soap opera.”
On the September 1 Good Morning America, Stephanopoulos tried to protect Obama from any blame in the scheduling snafu, claiming all of “Washington” was responsible: “And, boy, do we have a lot to get to this morning, including this latest chapter of politicians behaving badly. What a mess in Washington. Takes the White House and Congress all day long to even agree to a time for President Obama’s big job speech next week.”
Talking to Democratic strategist James Carville, the host lamented: “But, who could have predicted the fight over the timing of the President’s speech? It seems like both sides in Washington, now, determined to get everyone hating them.”
Over on MSNBC that night, political analyst Richard Wolf insisted to Last Word anchor Lawrence O’Donnell that racism was at the root of Republicans wanting to reschedule Obama’s speech: “Why do the Republicans think this president is unpresidential, unpresidential and shouldn't dare to request this kind of thing? It strikes me that it could be the economic times, it could be that he won so big in 2008, or it could be, let's face it, the color of his skin.”
Even four months after the controversy, in January of 2012, the New York Times was still agonizing over the topic, as Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal ranted on his NYTimes.com blog:
There has been a racist undertone to many of the Republican attacks leveled against President Obama for the last three years, and in this dawning presidential campaign. You can detect this undertone in the level of disrespect for this President that would be unthinkable were he not an African-American. Some earlier examples include: Rep. Joe Wilson shouting 'you lie' at one of Mr. Obama's first appearances before Congress, and House Speaker John Boehner rejecting Mr. Obama's request to speak to a joint session of Congress – the first such denial in the history of our republic.
Not one mention of Boehner making a “power play” or congratulating him on his clever political maneuvering. Of course that’s because it wasn’t a political game, he was simply making a polite request for a 24-hour delay in Obama’s address. Meanwhile, Pelosi’s move is blatantly political and the media are rewarding her with positive coverage.