Michigan House speaker invites Trump to deliver State of the Union in Lansing

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
New House Speaker Lee Chatfield applauds his colleagues during opening ceremonies for the 100th Legislature.

Lansing — Michigan’s GOP House Speaker Lee Chatfield has invited President Donald Trump to deliver his State of the Union address in the House chamber of the state Capitol.

Chatfield of Levering noted Michigan also has a divided government but the Republican legislative majority is invested in the success of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

“…because some have chosen to stand in the way of your official duties, we would be honored to host you in our Capitol for this necessary address to our nation,” Chatfield wrote.

Chatfield's invitation seemed to get a boost when it was retweeted by Michigan native and Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel.

"The American people deserve to hear from @realDonaldTrump about the state of our union," McDaniel added in the tweet. "Nancy Pelosi’s opposition begs the question: Are Democrats afraid of the public hearing about all of the progress we’ve made?"

The White House didn't immediately comment on the offer.

The invite comes as the president faces opposition from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who requested a delay of the Jan. 29 speech normally held in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., for alleged security concerns during the partial federal government shutdown.

Trump made several stops in Michigan during his 2016 campaign to pull out a 10,704-vote win over Democrat Hillary Clinton. The president's victory marked the first time a Republican candidate had won Michigan since George H.W. Bush in 1988 and guaranteed the state will be a major focus in the 2020 campaign.

Vice President Mike Pence also made several appearances in Michigan ahead of the 2016 election and Michigan's November 2018 general election. 

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has said the Secret Service and the Homeland Security Department “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”

"Washington, D.C., may be bogged down in partisan politics, but Michigan is different," Chatfield wrote in his letter.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declined to comment on the invite.

The president is constitutionally required to deliver an update to Congress through a written State of the Union update or through an in-person address, said Aaron Kall, director of debate at University of Michigan and co-author of "The State of the Union Is...: Memorable Addresses of the Last Fifty Years."

The address, once called an annual message, is scheduled through a House concurrent resolution for a joint session "for receiving such communication as the President of the United States shall be pleased to make to them," according to the U.S. House website. 

Without that joint resolution scheduling the address, such a speech in Michigan would be "high profile," but not an actual State of the Union address, Kall said. 

"President Trump could deliver a State of the Union address in writing and then just give a totally separate speech in Michigan," Kall said. "But no matter what happens, he still has to give a written” update to Congress.

Chatfield's letter echoes his calls for cooperation among Republican and Democrats in Michigan, a priority he voiced upon becoming speaker last week, said Chatfield's spokesman Gideon D'Assandro. 

"...He wants Michigan to set the tone and show that leaders who disagree can still work together," D'Assandro said. "Washington, D.C., cannot figure that out, but the people of Michigan deserve better."

Such a speech in Michigan would gain "publicity and attention," which was perhaps the point of the invitation, Kall said. But the proposition also raises practical issues such as security, television network coverage and Trump's likely disregard for the bipartisan tone Chatfield emphasized in his invite, the UM expert said. 

What's more likely to happen is a delayed State of the Union address in Washington, Kall said, a prospect that has precedent in 1986, when former President Ronald Reagan delayed his speech because of the Challenger space shuttle disaster. 

The letter prompted swift responses from liberal critics and Democratic state leaders. 

The Michigan Democratic Party called the invitation a "gimmick" and a "slap in the face" to out-of-work federal employees. 

"Instead of pandering to Trump, Chatfield should demand he stop his temper tantrum and end his shutdown so thousands of Michiganders can start getting paychecks again," said Lavora Barnes, the party's chief operating officer and a candidate for the party chair. 

House Democratic Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills said Michigan should not be distracted from its mission of "building bridges" by political games. 

"Instead of inviting Washington’s dysfunction to Lansing, I am ready to work with the speaker and Gov. Whitmer to focus on the things that matter to Michigan families — fixing the roads, lowering health care costs and cleaning up our water," Greig said in a statement.  


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Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.