First lady flies on government jet after Trump postpones Pelosi trip to Afghanistan due to shutdown
First Lady Melania Trump flew to Florida on a government jet Thursday for a weekend vacation, hours after President Donald Trump dramatically postponed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip with other members of Congress to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan, NBC confirmed, citing a law enforcement source.
President Trump cited the ongoing government shutdown as his reason for postponing Pelosi’s travel plans, shortly before she and her team were scheduled to depart on a military plane.
While Pelosi was practically grounded by Trump’s actions, the president’s wife headed to Joint Base Andrews for her own trip on a military aircraft, NBC said.
The first lady is expected to be in Florida for the holiday weekend at her family’s private Mar-a-Lago resort, according to NBC, which reported that the president is set to stay in Washington.
CNN said the flight to Palm Beach was previously scheduled.
The flight was officially designated EXEC1F, a call-sign known to be used when members of a president’s family are aboard a military plane. The jet was a Boeing C32-A, which is the same kind of plane used to transport the president, the first lady, the vice president and the secretary of state.
Neither the first lady’s spokeswoman nor the White House immediately responded to a request for comment from CNBC.
President Trump’s abrupt move to postpone Pelosi’s travel overseas came a day after the California Democrat urged Trump in a letter to either reschedule his upcoming State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress or deliver it in writing.
Pelosi cited potential security concerns related to the partial shutdown. She was scheduled with other members to visit NATO commanders in Brussels and troops in Afghanistan over the next several days.
Pelosi and several other members of Congress were about to depart the Capitol on a bus to drive to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to fly to Europe when the White House announced the postponement.
A White House official told NBC News that all congressional delegations overseas that would have used federally funded military aircraft have been grounded by Trump until the shutdown ends.
Late Thursday, the White House also canceled its delegation’s trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, next week. It had originally planned on sending a five-person delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over,” Trump wrote in in his letter to Pelosi. “Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.”
Trump’s letter, which was made public in a tweet by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did not mention Pelosi’s call for him to postpone the State of the Union address, which the president has not otherwise commented on. But his letter was seen as a retaliation for her suggestion.
A White House official said Trump “took immediate action” on Thursday after learning Pelosi was planning to take the trip.
Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, in a series of tweets, wrote that the congressional delegation’s trip to Afghanistan included a required stop in Brussels for pilot rest.
“In Brussels, the delegation was scheduled to meet with top NATO commanders, U.S. military leaders and key allies – to affirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance,” Hammill wrote.
He added that the weekend trip to Afghanistan did not include a stop in Egypt, as Trump had suggested in his letter.
“The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation and thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service and dedication, and to obtain critical national security and intelligence briefings from those on the front lines,” Hammill said.
“The President traveled to Iraq during the Trump Shutdown as did a Republican [congressional delegation] led by” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., Hammill said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Trump’s letter is “petty and ridiculous and demeans the presidency.”
“It’s small. It’s vindictive,” Hoyer fumed. “It is unbecoming of the president of the United States and it is an unfortunately daily occurrence.”
White House officials, however, said Trump’s move was the result of his desire to end the shutdown, and not payback to Pelosi personally.
“If she had gone on this trip she would have guaranteed that 800,000 federal workers would not receive their second paycheck because she would not have been here to negotiate any kind of deal,” a White House official told NBC.
The dueling letters between the president and the speaker come amid the nearly four-week-long partial shutdown of the federal government over border security disputes between Trump and Democratic lawmakers.
Politico reported that Pelosi’s trip had been kept under wraps due to security concerns.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., criticized both his ally Trump and Pelosi after the president’s letter to the speaker became public.
“One sophomoric response does not deserve another. Speaker Pelosi’s threat to cancel the State of the Union is very irresponsible and blatantly political,” Graham said in a series of tweets. “President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and NATO is also inappropriate.”
Graham’s office told NBC News that he left for Turkey on Wednesday night on a commercial flight.
“I am glad the Speaker wants to meet our troops and hear from our commanders and allies,” Graham said. “I am very disappointed she’s playing politics with the State of the Union,” he said. “I wish our political leadership could find the same desire to work for common goals as those who serve our nation in uniform and other capacities.”
Read Trump’s full letter to Pelosi below: