EXECUTIVE-LEGISLATURE RELATIONSHIP: The Case of President Trump and Speaker Pelosi

By Ibrahim Ahmad Kala, LL.M

“State of the Union Address” like a “Speech from the Throne”, is an official event where a Head of State delivers address or message before the legislature either at the beginning of a parliamentary session or during the first quarter of the year.

Such message may also include the gains and achievements of the government in the previous year. A joint session of the two houses of Assembly will usually receive the speech. A debate on the speech is nominally allowed by the House where the House takes a closer look at the message, praising and or criticizing it as the case may be.

The history of this event could be traced from December 13, 1913, when the former American president, Woodrow Wilson gave the first in-person Annual Message since the 18th century. Subsequent U.S. Presidents including President Donald J. Trump’s delivered their respective State of the Union Address. There have been a total of 85 in-person Annual Messages/State of the Union Addresses, since President Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 address.

An array into the Trump’s third State of the Union Address delivered on Tuesday 5th February, 2020 at the House Chamber revealed about how great America has became since he took office.

During his speech at the House Chamber, Trump talked on how strong the U.S. economy has been especially with the improved tie with Beijing. Other areas include the provision of most affordable healthcare; his so-called peace plan which envisioned the recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as “Israel capital”, and which he described as “ground breaking”; he also claimed victory against Daesh when the U.S. forces destroyed Daesh “territorial caliphate” in Iraq and Syria leading to the death of Daesh leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Trump also boasted about U.S. assassination of Iranian general, Soleimani. Trump further claimed that his administration has undertaken an unprecedented effort to secure the Southern border of U.S., although this is amidst harsh criticism on immigration policies    levelled against his administration.

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However, Trump avoided mentioning the subject of his impeachment during his 80-minute speech on Tuesday, but political tension continued to dominate the atmosphere with fellow Republicans giving the president standing ovations, while rival Democrats remained seated.

As the president took his place at the front of the House chamber for his State of the Union address, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reached out to shake his hand, which Trump refused while turning his back.

In return, Pelosi, who appeared to be taken aback, avoided citing the usual “high privilege and distinct honor” that accompanies the speaker’s introduction of the President to Congress. All she said in introducing Trump was this, “Members of Congress, the President of the United States.”

The speaker then proceeded to rip apart a copy of Trump’s remarks behind his back after his speech was over on live television.  There was also booing and several Democrats walked out. Leaving the House floor, Pelosi said she had torn up the speech “because it was the courteous thing to do, considering the alternative.” The speech “was a manifesto of mistruths,” she added. Also in a statement issued shortly after the speech ended, Pelosi called Trump’s message deceitful – as quoted by Press TV correspondent.

From all that happened on the floor of the Congress of the U.S. on the conducts of both President Trump and Speaker Pelosi – which are unarguably the head of the biggest Democracy of the world –  is rather unfortunate. Perhaps, it’s as a result of the fall out of the executive-legislature relationship which was foiled by the botched impeachment saga dominated by the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives (a wing of the Congress), and which later saw the majority Members of his Democrats in the U.S. Senate – another wing of the Congress voting against the process, and thus, discharging President Trump of wrong doing.

As an embodiment and symbol of the United States, President Trump should rather be reminded to mutually relate with the Speaker Pelosi and vice-versa. Rather than being separated and always being in “opposite positions” to each other, the governmental powers must be coordinated and allowed to overlap if government is to be carried out effectively. Thus, Walter Bagehot observed over a century ago that “the efficient secret of the English constitution may be described as the close union, the nearly complete fusion of the executive and legislative powers”. In short, separation  of powers  does not meant that the powers of government would never touch at any time. What Montesqui had in mind was that each organ would impose restraints which would prevent the abuse of power. What obtains in most cases therefore, is “checks and balances”, and which should not be misconstrued as creating enmity among the organs of government within the administration.

Kala writes from Gombe.

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