Nancy Pelosi has been speaker of the House for just 22 days, and she just humiliated the president of the United States.
Ever since President Donald Trump shut down much of the government last month, Pelosi has delivered a consistent message to Trump — “my offer to you is this: nothing.” On Friday, Trump took that offer, announcing his support for a short-term funding bill that will reopen the government for three weeks without any additional funding for a border wall.
Trump’s cave on Friday is absolute. He will reopen the government and he will not get his wall. Pelosi wins. Trump loses.
Trump agreed to take nothing after leading his party into the political abyss. An AP-NORC poll shows his approval rating at just 34 percent. Multiple polls show that solid majorities of the country blame Trump for his shutdown, while only about a third blame Democrats. Senate Republicans reportedly spent a Thursday lunch with Vice President Mike Pence sniping at each other. An angry Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), “This is your fault.”
Reopening the government for three weeks may seem like a temporary solution, but Republicans now know that they’ll be the ones in the barrel if they shut down the government again. Speaker Pelosi holds all the cards in the upcoming negotiation.
Sure, Trump began his statement in the White House on Friday by suggesting he could declare a state of emergency to fund his wall, but the legality of that option is, at best, dubious. And it is significant that he has not yet done so.
Pelosi’s victory over Trump highlights why Republicans spent the better part of the last two years demonizing her — and why they and their super PACs spent lavishly on ads intended to convince members of Pelosi’s caucus that she is too toxic to elect as speaker. She’s good at what she does.
This is not Pelosi’s first rodeo. In 2005 and 2006, Democratic power was at its lowest ebb. Then-President George W. Bush had just won re-election — and his first popular vote victory — and he had big plans for his second term. “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and I intend to spend it,” Bush proclaimed. He planned to spend it on a program that would have privatized Social Security shortly before the collapse of investment banks like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.
Bush hoped to legitimize his Social Security plans by goading Democrats into offering an alternative proposal. But he did not count on Nancy Pelosi. When nervous House Democrats came to Pelosi asking when their caucus would release an alternative to Bush’s Social Security proposal, Pelosi offered a simple response.
“Never. Does never work for you?”
It worked. Bush’s plan tanked, along with his popularity, and Democrats regained Congress in the 2006 elections, effectively saving Social Security for the foreseeable future.
Four years later, Pelosi was speaker — and she faced an even greater challenge. President Obama’s signature health care legislation was on the rocks. Democratic lawmakers were spooked by armies of angry men and women at their town hall meetings — many of them bused in by conservative groups to intimidate pro-Obamacare lawmakers. Then, in January of 2010, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) won a shocking victory in a special election, denying Democrats the filibuster-proof majority they needed to push health reform through Congress under ordinary procedures.
And yet Pelosi held firm. “You go through the gate,” she said shortly after Brown’s victory. “If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in. But we’re going to get health care reform passed for the American people.”
Pelosi did it. At a time when Democrats were demoralized and even liberals like Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) were ready to throw in the towel, Pelosi rallied her party and she saved Obamacare — also saving tens of thousands of lives in the process.
As a Washington Post headline put it shortly after Pelosi won, “Why did health-care reform pass? Nancy Pelosi was in charge.”
Now Pelosi is in her second stint as speaker, and she has not lost a step. Republicans were so desperate to keep Pelosi out of the speaker’s chair because they know what she can do when she sits in it. The government will reopen. Trump gets nothing. And Nancy Pelosi once again led her party to victory.