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White House Widens Its Clampdown on Congressional Travel

After cancellation of Pelosi trip, OMB instructs agency security teams to get permission.

In the latest tit-for-tat between the White House and congressional Democrats on overseas travel, President Trump’s acting budget director on Friday sent an all-agency-head memo requiring them to obtain permission from the White House chief of staff before spending money on support for lawmakers’ trips abroad.

The memo from deputy budget director Russell Vought, titled “Executive Branch Support for Congressional Travel During a Government Shutdown,” introduced “new policies” at the request of Trump.

 “Under no circumstances during a government shutdown will any government owned, rented, leased or chartered aircraft support any congressional delegation, without the express written approval of the White House chief of staff,” the memo stated. “Nor will any funds appropriated to the executive branch be used for any congressional delegation travel expenses, without his express written approval. Departments and agencies shall continue to provide appropriate logistical and security support for such delegations. Further guidance following the shutdown will be forthcoming.”

The current acting chief of staff is Mick Mulvaney.

The memo follows the dramatic letter Trump wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday, received just as Air Force buses transporting her and other lawmakers were ready to drive to Andrews Air Force Base for a trip to Afghanistan, Egypt and Brussels. Trump White House officials later acknowledged that the cancellation of Pentagon aircraft and security services was “retaliation” for Pelosi’s earlier letter telling Trump that he should not come to Congress to deliver his annual State of the Union Address while the government is partially shut-down.

Pelosi on Friday issued a statement through spokesman Drew Hammill, saying, “The United States Congress is a co-equal branch of government in our system of checks and balances. The Congress has a constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight in the war zone where our men and women in uniform are risking their lives every day. After President Trump revoked the use of military aircraft to travel to Afghanistan, the delegation was prepared to fly commercially to proceed with this vital trip to meet with our commanders and troops on the front lines.”

The Pelosi statement went on with an accusation that Trump's move endangered lives.

“In the middle of the night, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service provided an updated threat assessment detailing that the president announcing this sensitive travel had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops, security and other officials supporting the trip,” Hammill continued.  “This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”

Hammill added: “In light of the grave threats caused by the president’s action, the delegation has decided to postpone the trip so as not to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Thursday, had told reporters he supported Trump’s cancellation of Pelosi’s trip. “Why would she want to go overseas while the government is shut down, with people missing their paychecks?” McCarthy told reporters. “I think it’s appropriate, that we could get back together, it would not take long and we could solve this problem.”

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