When Nancy Pelosi initially let it be known that President Trump would not be invited to Congress to deliver his State of the Union speech until he reopened the government, the widespread media take was that Pelosi had sunk to Trump’s level. “Washington these days represents nothing so much as an unruly sandbox,” sniffed one New York Times analysis, in which “septuagenarian politicians are squabbling like 7-year-olds.”
This narrative purported to hold both sides accountable for the standoff, but it put the thumb on the scales for Trump in an insidious way. It did not permit space for a reasonable judgment as to whether one side’s use of the levers of power (Trump shutting down the government to force massively lopsided concessions from Democrats, versus the House speaker denying Trump a platform to profoundly mislead the country about that destructive act in the midst of carrying it out) might be more legitimate, mature and considered under the circumstances than the other.
Now Trump has capitulated. In two tweets on Wednesday night, Trump conceded that it’s Pelosi’s “prerogative” to decline the invitation, and allowed that he’d give the speech “in the near future." That is, after the shutdown is over.
The result of this is that the obscuring fog of both-sidesism lying atop this whole situation has been dissipated. What has been laid bare, instead, is a simple reality: Democrats actually do control one chamber of Congress, after having won a major electoral victory, and that actually does give them some veto power over Trump’s conduct and agenda.
Pundits can claim all they want that Pelosi is being “as petty as Trump,” as if this is all just a matter of interpersonal conduct. That objection is now irrelevant: What really matters is that Trump will not deliver the speech.
He will not use this ceremony as a platform to browbeat Democrats or to spread gales of (disinformation) about the shutdown and about the wall fantasies driving it. He will not use its pomp and elevating power to, in effect, launder his profound bad faith and the resulting deep imbalance of the situation. Perhaps the only antidote to the false-equivalence fog machine is the reality of power — the power of “no.”
I don’t mean to overstate the long-term significance of this capitulation. Instead, my point is that it gets at the deeper problem we all face here: Trump and his GOP enablers are proceeding as if the 2018 elections never happened.
What’s really driving Trump’s shutdown
This is the whole reason for shutting down the government: To break the influence that the Democratic House has over whether Trump’s wall will be funded, by threatening severe harm to the country until Democrats rubber stamp what he wants to end that damage. The theory is that they will care more about that damage than he does. The true nature of this staggering malevolence driving Trump’s misconduct here is also being obscured by a great deal of both-sides media coverage. Once again, the only antidote to it may be the power of “no.”
On Thursday afternoon, the Senate will vote on two bills reopening the government: the Trump sham compromise, which packages Trump’s wall funding with fake concessions to Democrats; and the Democratic proposal to reopen the government with no strings attached.
Both of these will almost certainly fail. It is widely assumed that this will open the way toward a new compromise push. But that compromise cannot happen unless Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proceed from an acceptance of the fact that Democrats now control the House.
Trump must leave Foxlandia
And this requires Trump to venture outside of what I have called “Foxlandia,” the place where Trump always possesses all the leverage; where any and all polls showing him cratering are fake news; and a glorious victory, entirely on Trump’s own terms, is always lurking in the next news cycle. As Simon Rosenberg notes, no real compromise can happen until Trump leaves Foxlandia behind and enters the new Washington.
Foxlandia, to be clear, is not a place where Trump is immune from criticism. Right-wing media pounded him mercilessly when he offered temporary reprieve to 700,000 “dreamers” in exchange for wall funding. But they did this to warn Trump off of giving Democrats any more in this regard, such as permanent protections for them. Importantly, the temporary reprieve is not a real concession to Democrats — it only undoes the damage Trump himself is trying to inflict — whereas permanent protections would be a real concession, i.e., an acknowledgment that Democrats now control one chamber and must be given something. Thus, even when it is criticizing him, Foxlandia remains the place where the last election never happened.
There is a compromise to be had
But outside of Foxlandia, there really is a compromise to be had. It might look something like this: Hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade border infrastructure to handle the crush of asylum-seeking migrant families, including more medical care and counseling to deal with distressed migrant children, which both sides want. Democrats would get permanent protections for dreamers and people who stand to lose temporary protected status — not merely a reversal of Trump’s damage.
Trump would get much more money for border security — perhaps even the full $5.7 billion he wants — and, yes, this could include additional barriers, provided they are in keeping with a serious accounting provided by the Department of Homeland Security, illuminated by fact-finding via legitimate congressional processes. That would give Trump what he means by the “wall,” as you’ll note from his downgrading of it to “steel barriers in high-priority locations.” All this actually would address the border crisis — including the humanitarian crisis Trump keeps claiming to care about.
But again, this would require Trump to make actual concessions in exchange for Democrats giving him his barrier money, as opposed to Trump using the damage of a government shutdown to extract it unilaterally from them.
Democrats are now operating from the premise that this is really what’s at stake: Whether Trump and McConnell will recognize the outcome of the last election going forward. As Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) put it: “This is no longer just about the wall, it’s about how Donald Trump operates with the Democratic majority in the House.” Rep. Tom Malinowski (N.J.) adds: “If we give in to this tactic in any way we will validate it, and there will be no end to these shutdowns.”
These basic stakes have been badly obscured by the both-sides fog machine. Perhaps the only thing that can cut through that fog is the power of “no.”
WASHINGTON — When President Trump is battling a man, he tends to belittle his foe with nicknames like “Cryin’ Chuck” and “Low-energy Jeb.” When he is in a fight with a woman, he is known to lob insults like “horseface” and “ugly” and “dog.”
But Mr. Trump has never before faced an adversary like Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Their latest clash, over the State of the Union address, ended with the president capitulating late Wednesday night, and agreeing to delay the speech until the government shutdown is over. Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump tried to back Ms. Pelosi into a corner by saying he intended to give the speech next Tuesday in the Capitol. She called his bluff and disinvited him.
For a president who prides himself on being a master negotiator, Ms. Pelosi is a different kind of opponent, and one who so far has flummoxed him.
Longtime friends of the president say Mr. Trump is not afraid of powerful women, respects them and has empowered them at the White House and in his business. But on the rare occasion when he was challenged by a woman, Mr. Trump was either in charge — or knew the woman had a boss, usually a man, to whom he could appeal, said Barbara A. Res, a former executive vice president of the Trump Organization.
In this case, Ms. Pelosi is her own boss. And under the Constitution, she is a leader of a branch of government that is equal to the chief executive.
“Dealing with anyone with power equal to his is a first for him — at least in his mind,” Ms. Res said. “He has the perception that he is the most powerful person in the world, and then he comes up against somebody who thinks they have as much power as he or as much control as he, and that’s a shock to him. And it’s complicated by the fact that she is a woman.”
Unlike Hillary Clinton, Ms. Pelosi is not running a race against the president and she is not going away. She also has an understanding of the way the legislative branch works that he does not. Most important, she is blocking him from getting something he desperately wants: a wall along the southern border with Mexico that was a core promise of his 2016 campaign.
“I think that he’s caught between his respect for Pelosi and his anger at her resistance,” said Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump.” “He gets very frustrated when he can’t close a sale. And I think that he’s perplexed about how to get what he wants here because he respects Pelosi.”
The president went so far as to acknowledge Ms. Pelosi’s powers on Wednesday in a takedown of Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, in what Democrats saw as a bit of projection. “I think that Chuck Schumer sadly is dominated by the radical left and he’s dominated by Nancy Pelosi, very strongly dominated,” Mr. Trump said. “He can’t move, he’s a puppet, he’s a puppet for Nancy Pelosi, if you can believe that.”
(Mr. Schumer has proved an adept negotiator in his own right, provoking the president to claim ownership of the shutdown during an Oval Office meeting in December.)
In one sense, the row over the State of the Union reveals as much about the difficulty Mr. Trump is having adjusting to life in Washington under a divided government as it does about his treatment of women. When Paul D. Ryan, a Republican, was speaker, Mr. Trump could exert leverage over Mr. Ryan, just as he can over Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. He cannot do that with Ms. Pelosi.
Gwenda Blair, another Trump biographer, said Mr. Trump typically viewed women as “easier targets” in negotiating sessions. But that is not the case for Ms. Pelosi. For starters, the only nickname he has devised for Ms. Pelosi is her own name — Nancy.
“Nancy Pelosi, or Nancy, as I call her, doesn’t want to hear the truth,” the president told reporters Wednesday at the White House — a comment that was either meant to showcase a supposedly close relationship or, alternately, diminish her by dropping her last name. But if it was an attack, it was by Trump standards unusually restrained. (Before the election, Mr. Trump tried calling Ms. Pelosi “High Tax, High Crime Nancy Pelosi” on Twitter, but it did not stick.)
“He knows how to emasculate men and he assumes that will work, and he knows how to attempt to shame women around their appearance, but he doesn’t have a useful weapon in this relationship,” Mr. D’Antonio said. “He has yet to give her a nickname, he has yet to criticize her appearance and I think he knows that would be very risky for him to do. So I think he’s stuck in a way that he’s rarely stuck.”
John Feehery, a Republican strategist who advised former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, sees something else at work: smart politics. He said Mr. Trump treated Ms. Pelosi respectfully for a very simple reason: He respects her.
“Compared to how he treats everybody else, I think he’s been very respectful and I think that’s good politics for him,” Mr. Feehery said, adding: “You have to be careful when you’re trying to deal with the speaker. She’s got power. You don’t want to unnecessarily insult her because that’s not good politics and I don’t think it gets him a better deal.”
The speaker, for her part, has used Mr. Trump’s playbook against him. After their much-publicized Oval Office meeting, she described his demand for a wall as “like a manhood thing for him” during a private session with Democrats. The comment quickly leaked out. At other times she has cast Mr. Trump as a toddler.
“A temper tantrum by the president,” Ms. Pelosi said this month, describing Mr. Trump’s conduct during the shutdown. “I’m a mother of five, grandmother of nine. I know a temper tantrum when I see one.”
Ms. Pelosi, who is often the only woman at the negotiating table with Mr. Trump, has not been shy about correcting him. The first time he hosted her at the White House, he asserted — without evidence — that he had won the 2016 popular vote because three million to five million people had voted illegally, Ms. Pelosi told MSNBC at the time. “I said that’s just not true,” she recalled telling him.
When Mr. Trump tried to undercut Ms. Pelosi during the Oval Office session last month by suggesting she was constrained because she was facing a challenge in her bid to become speaker, she cut him off.
“Don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats,” she told him, in a moment that quickly went viral.
Ms. Pelosi’s allies have been celebrating.
During a closed-door meeting of Democrats, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3. Democrat, introduced Ms. Pelosi by quoting from the ancient Chinese military treatise, Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” according to a Democratic aide in the room.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win,” Mr. Clyburn said. Turning to Ms. Pelosi, he said, “Thank you for winning for us. Now let’s go to war.”
Ms. Pelosi replied by reminding rank-and-file lawmakers to stick together, and to hold fast to the Democrats’ position that they would not negotiate over border security with the president until the government was fully open. “Our unity is our power,” she told them, “and that is what had the president change his mind.”
Republicans portrayed Ms. Pelosi as disrespectful and tried to put a good face on Mr. Trump’s retreat. “I think the president showed some humility, which is an awesome thing,” said Representative Daniel Webster, Republican of Florida.
Even so, some Republicans conceded that Ms. Pelosi had won this round.
“She stood her ground in the initial test,” said former Representative Tom Davis, a Republican who ran the party’s campaign committee. “I think she’s shown she’s an iron woman — and tough as nails.”
This is probably the first time in Trump's life time that someone with actual power has told him "No" to something that he wanted.
It's as if Nancy Pelosi is telling him "No" he can't have any candy and to go to his room until he has learned his lesson.
This entire government shutdown debacle is about the government going on strike as much as possible to twist Trump's arm into re-opening government despite the fact that the house is abusing its Democratic majority to obstruct constructive multi-party democracy.
Nancy Pelosi’s first showdown with President Trump began with him publicly questioning her political viability. It ended with the House speaker winning an unmitigated victory and reviving her reputation as a legislative savant.
Trump’s capitulation — agreeing to reopen the federal government after a 35-day standoff without funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall — generated rave reviews for Pelosi from fellow Democrats and grudging respect from Republicans who watched as she kept an unruly party caucus united in the face of GOP divide-and-conquer tactics.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) emerges from the shutdown as a stronger leader of her party — and more popular with the public, by early measures — as Democrats eye aggressive efforts to counter Trump’s agenda through ambitious legislation and tough oversight. That suggests the shutdown might have been a strategic misstep for Trump, in addition to a tactical error.
“He’s used to hand-to hand combat,” said former senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a longtime Pelosi friend and partner in politics. “With Nancy, it’s hand-to-hand combat with a velvet glove, and he’s not used to it.”
Even before the shutdown began, it became a clash between Trump, 72 — the political outsider, a New Yorker born to privilege and accustomed to getting his way — and Pelosi, 78 — the oft-caricatured San Francisco liberal who was actually steeped in the street politics of her Baltimore youth and years of hardball on Capitol Hill.
When the two met in the Oval Office on Dec. 11 Trump suggested she was constrained by the fact she had not yet been formally elected speaker: “Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now.”
Pelosi shot back: “Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting.”
In retrospect, the remark was more a warning than a retort. Throughout the past seven weeks, according to interviews with dozens of lawmakers and congressional aides from both parties, Trump and White House officials appeared to fundamentally misjudge Pelosi’s support among Democrats and her resolve to hold firm against border wall funding.
As recently as Thursday, Republicans indicated that they thought they might be able to break Democrats apart by painting Pelosi as intransigent and unwilling to negotiate on the wall. “I think it’s time for the Democratic Party to have an intervention with the speaker,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the Republican Conference chairwoman, told reporters.
Indeed, not all Democrats share Pelosi’s view that the wall is an “immorality,” but she kept fractious Democrats focused on a simple message:
There would be no negotiations on the wall as long as the government remained closed.
“We can’t set a precedent for holding the federal workers hostage, holding anyone hostage, and using them as a bargaining tool for a policy discussion,” said Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), one of many freshmen who beat a suburban Republican by running on a moderate platform. “People have different views on the right way to get [border security] done, and there’s legitimate policy differences there, but let’s have that discussion after we get our federal workers back to work.”
Tweeting late Friday, Trump vowed to keep fighting for his wall, saying the reopening of government “was in no way a concession.”
“It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!” he said.
But there appears to be little appetite on Capitol Hill for a reprise of the draining shutdown. Trump’s Plan B — declaring a national emergency and tapping military construction accounts to fund the wall — has unnerved many Republicans and spurred Democrats to prepare for litigation that might not be settled before Trump’s term is up.
“I think he’s finally met his match,” said Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.). “The speaker always presents herself in public and in private with the utmost respect. But she’s firm, and she’s strong, and she understands how to wield that power.”
Throughout the standoff, Pelosi followed her own advice: Don’t get in the gutter with Trump — or, as she put it colorfully last month, don’t engage in a “tinkle contest with a skunk.” The episode was also influenced by her respect for the presidency, if not for the president himself, aides said.
In a central episode in the shutdown ordeal, Pelosi effectively blocked Trump from delivering the State of the Union address that they had mutually scheduled for Jan. 29. But Pelosi’s initial message to Trump did not cancel the invitation outright — instead, she suggested “that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has reopened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing.”
Her decision puzzled observers on Capitol Hill and in the White House — including the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), who declared in a television interview moments after the announcement that the speech had been canceled outright, a step Pelosi had carefully avoided.
Several Pelosi allies said the nuance in her letter to Trump was a sign of respect, not weakness.
“There was no way on earth that he was ever going to get in that chamber if the government was shut down,” Boxer said. “But she did it in the right way. . . . Another guy might have said in a macho battle with Trump, ‘Forget it. It’s not happening. We’re canceling it.’ I think it took him off his track for a little while. It threw him back.”
Trump did not get the hint. A day later, Trump retaliated by canceling a military flight that was set to ferry Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers on a trip that would include a visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Then this week, after Trump indicated that he had no interest in rescheduling the speech, Pelosi informed Trump that she had no intention of calling the traditional joint session as long as the government remained closed.
Finally Trump, in late night tweets, acknowledged that the speech would have to wait.
Speaking to a group of opinion journalists Friday, Pelosi explained the strategy: “You only start with a feather until you get to the sledgehammer.”
Though Trump’s legislative director, Shahira Knight, kept Pelosi’s chief of staff, Danny Weiss, abreast of developments, Pelosi and Trump had no direct interactions after Trump walked out of a Jan. 9 meeting in the White House Situation Room.
There, Pelosi had insisted that any short-term funding extension would not compel Democrats to agree to wall funding. Pelosi stuck to that position throughout the fight.
“Have I not been clear on the wall?” she said Friday when asked if her position had changed after the agreement to reopen the government was reached. “No, I have been very clear on the wall. I have been very clear.”
As the confrontation played out, the House moved bill after bill to reopen government agencies. Meanwhile, in the Republican-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to move on them without Trump’s assent — creating an imbalance of action that helped cement a perception that it was Trump and Republicans, not Pelosi and Democrats, who were keeping the government closed.
On Friday, after Trump agreed to sign the bill reopening the government, Democrats showered Pelosi with praise.
In one tweet, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said Pelosi “should give the State of the Union since she’s obviously the one running the country.” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) referred to the reported physical problem that disqualified Trump from the Vietnam-era draft: “@POTUS has bone spurs. @SpeakerPelosi has a backbone.” And the rapper Cardi B suggested that Pelosi had treated Trump like a pet dog.
One tweet also underscored Pelosi’s ability to unify her diverse caucus, from moderates in Trump districts to the party’s far left.
“I will tell you something most of the country probably already knows: @SpeakerPelosi does not mess around,” wrote freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a dominant voice in the party’s liberal wing.
Said Pelosi on Friday: “Our unity is our power, and that is what, maybe, the president underestimated.”
A CBS News poll released this week pegged Pelosi’s approval number at 39 percent, a figure higher than Trump’s and McConnell’s — and appreciably higher than seen during last year’s midterm campaign, when Republicans spent tens of millions of dollars on ads attacking Pelosi as a symbol of dysfunctional governance. Fourteen percent of Republicans surveyed said Pelosi had outnegotiated Trump during the shutdown, vs. 6 percent of Democrats who saw Trump outmaneuvering Pelosi.
Among Pelosi’s recent fans are some of the Democrats who wanted to oust her as speaker, arguing that the party needed a fresher face at the helm.
Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.) said he was “more than pleased” that Pelosi had held the line against the wall. He represents a border district centered on Brownsville, where a coast-to-coast wall is widely viewed as folly.
“Those of us who represent these border districts who just think that the wall is just a total waste of money are grateful to Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer for the battle that they waged,” he said.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who ran against Pelosi for House Democratic leader in 2016 and tried to recruit an alternative speaker after the 2018 midterms, said, “I don’t think anyone’s ever denied her ability to negotiate, to be very tough and smart in these scenarios. The irony of the whole thing is, Trump was able to run over all of the Republicans and get them to cower with every demand he had . . . and he ran into a buzz saw.”
“People are seeing her as responsible in the face of gross irresponsibility and chaos,” Ryan added. “You don’t know who else would have been better. But she’s definitely up to the task.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised the possibility the House would not send the Senate articles on impeachment if Republicans could not guarantee a “fair trial,” ABC News reports.
Said Pelosi: “We have legislation approved… that will enable to decide how we send over the articles of impeachment.”
She added: “We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side… so far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us.”
Politico: “Pelosi refused to commit to any timeline for sending the articles, which is required to begin the impeachment trial.”
I have been amazed that Pelosi and Shcumer have not yet caved.
RM, as I watch Pelosi navigate the duplicity and land mines that are the constant offerings of the Trump Party, I wonder...
Do those Democrats who were clamoring for her ouster and replacement a few months back think and feel the same way about her now?
RM, as I watch Pelosi navigate the duplicity and land mines that are the constant offerings of the Trump Party, I wonder...
Do those Democrats who were clamoring for her ouster and replacement a few months back think and feel the same way about her now?
I think there were a few Dems on here who were very doubtful of her ability and motives. Really curious to know if they give her any credit for doing a very ******* tough job.
I strongly suspect that those democrats are probably telling Nancy Pelosi that they greatly appreciate everything that she is doing and that they were completely wrong for ever doubting that she would clearly be the best person to hold the position of Speaker of the House.