Trump to Michigan speaker: How do you work with Democrats?

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Donald Trump

Lansing — Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield was in the middle of a media interview when he started getting text messages from White House contacts and a call from an unknown number he asked his assistant to take.

The caller hung up on the assistant but called Chatfield back after his interview ended. The caller told him President Donald Trump wanted to talk about his offer to host the State of the Union address at the Michigan Capitol during the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government.

“He was very down to earth,” Chatfield, R-Levering, said of his 12-minute phone conversation in which the president declined his State of the Union offer.

Trump asked about the Michigan economy and discussed local projects, including advancing plans to build a new lock at the Soo Locks in the Upper Peninsula.

“We talked somewhat about the political landscape, and he said, ‘You know, I understand you have a Democrat governor. How are you able to work things out?’” Chatfield recounted Thursday during a taping of “Off The Record" on WKAR-TV. “And it was a genuine interest in wanting to have further investment in the state of Michigan.”


Asked later if the Republican president was seeking advice on bipartisanship amid his border wall funding standoff with Democratic House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Chatfield said “he was certainly asking how we do it.”

Trump late Wednesday officially postponed his State of the Union address after Pelosi blocked him from delivering the annual speech in the House chambers amid the record-long shutdown that has lasted more than a month.

“This is her prerogative — I will do the Address when the Shutdown is over,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “ I am not looking for an ... alternative venue for the SOTU Address because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber.”

Chatfield and GOP North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore had each extended Trump an invitation to deliver the speech in their chambers instead. The president called Chatfield on Tuesday.

“It was a neat experience, I can’t lie,” Chatfield said of the call, which he took in his office at the Michigan Capitol. “He was appreciative of the invitation, but I think his first goal is to see the federal government reopen.”

The invite was given a boost on social media by Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniels, a native Michiganian, and former U.S. Senate candidate John James. The Michigan Democratic Party labeled the invitation a “gimmick” and called on Chatfield to demand Trump “stop his temper tantrum and end his shutdown.”

Chatfield did not consult Democrats before extending the offer to Trump but stressed bipartisan cooperation in his letter to the president. He knew it was a long shot, he said.

“I wanted him to know that though there were partisan games being played in Washington, here in Michigan we’ve found a way to do it, and I wanted him to have a venue to deliver his State of the Union address.”

Chatfield, 30, took over as speaker of the House in January and last week participated in an initial “quadrant meeting” with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle.