The animosity between Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi is bleeding over into Irish government St. Patrick's Day traditions in Washington. Isn't it time for us all to grow up?
One of the smartest moves made by Irish government leaders was lobbying for the annual St. Patrick’s luncheon hosted by the speaker of the House on Capitol Hill. The custom began in 1983 with Ronald Reagan in the White House and Thomas “Tip” O’Neill in the speaker's chair.
Reagan was a very proud Irish American, if not always a politically correct one. On St. Patrick's Day 1986 he was hosting a Cabinet meeting when a fully-fledged leprechaun rushed in to serenade him with an Irish ballad.
But he was very open to expanding the Irish influence in Washington, and his Irish legacy was to provide far greater access for Irish officials in top Washington circles, including the annual speaker’s lunch.
It quickly became the go-to destination for the incumbent president of whatever stripe, a tradition that lasted 37 years. On three or four occasions because of travel, the incumbent president missed the event, but otherwise, the White House occupant attended.
During the early 1990s with the progress of the Irish peace process, many critical meetings took place around the speaker’s lunch.
In 1995 President Clinton added on an evening Irish reception at the White House which became the hottest ticket in town. On one memorable occasion that party lasted until almost midnight with SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams closing proceedings with “The Town I Loved So Well.”
Year after year the Irish came back to the speaker’s lunch and the White House party through every presidency, Republican and Democrat. It became one of the few reliably bipartisan events in an increasingly polarized political context.
Until this year.
It is a well-known fact that current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trump despise each other. Look no further than this year’s State of the Union address when Trump refused to shake hands with Pelosi, and Pelosi tore up her copy of the president’s speech. Both gestures were wrong.
But even with that animosity, no one expected the annual St. Patrick’s agenda to be impacted. Surely the first and third most powerful figures in America could find a way to bury the hatchet for an Irish goodwill lunch.
Apparently not. Trump is refusing to attend this year’s event on Thursday, March 12.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Sunday that Pelosi has “chosen to tear this nation apart with her actions and her rhetoric,” and said Trump “will not participate in moments where she so often chooses to drive discord and disunity.”
“The relationship between our two countries has never been stronger, and the president looks forward to welcoming the prime minister of Ireland for the annual shamrock bowl presentation,” Deere said.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman Pelosi said, “One would think that the White House could set petty, partisan politics aside for this historic occasion."
It is ridiculous that hostilities cannot be forgotten about for one afternoon, even for the most welcoming event of the St. Patrick’s season where there is a moment to reflect and give thanks for the Irish contribution to America.
But, alas, that is the world we now live in where breaking bread together is a step too far for the president and the speaker.
Isn’t it time that our president – especially as the world is in the midst of a coronavirus crisis – grew up? Clearly, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day – and good health – to all.