Pelosi at Center Stage
On impeachment, infrastructure, Canada-Mexico trade, the budget, and the debt ceiling, the Speaker is methodically calling the shots — and/but she has a lot of decisions still to make.
My take: Nancy Pelosi thinks the president is a menace, a liar, and a fool. Yet she has to spend the next year and a half dealing with him, his advisers, and her own party’s impassioned feelings about him.
After two sessions of budget talks with Hill Republicans and administration officials on Tuesday, Pelosi has her own Wednesday double header: a morning meeting with the House Democratic caucus to contain the growing (but still smallish) segment of her members that is insisting that impeachment needs to begin now — and then a White House meeting to talk about the prospects for an infrastructure deal.
Pelosi herself has many of the traits veteran strategists say Democrats need in their eventual presidential nominee if they are going to wrest back control of the Oval Office. She understands Trump and isn’t afraid of him; she knows how to command the media stage to frame debates in the party’s favor; she knows how to keep together Democrats across the political spectrum; she realizes she has to keep Trump from getting any major political wins before the election, without looking to the American people to be obstructionist; and she knows how to deploy day-to-day tactics in service of the strategic goal of winning in November, 2020.
All that savvy will be on display as Pelosi tries to keep the House wing of the party in line with her persistent view that congressional investigations should continue, but formal impeachment proceedings should be put off, because all the polling Pelosi sees suggests that voters overall don’t support impeachment, and the Senate will never convict.
As more House Democrats have signed on to the pro-impeachment roster, Pelosi has had to marshal new arguments to put out the brush fire. Per the NY Times: “People involved in the investigations say that the speaker has also approved an escalation of tactics short of impeachment to try to turn the tables.”
Pelosi has to be concerned that the drumbeat will continue to grow louder, however. The media mostly cheers for impeachment (for one thing, the press loves process stories, and impeachment is about the biggest process story there is…); there now appears to be a real possibility that Bob Mueller might never testify publicly; and the White House is continuing to refuse to honor investigative subpoenas — all this and more are making many Democrats restive.
On policy, in a Trump-free world, Pelosi would like a big infrastructure deal, a new North American trade pact, and an agreement to deal with the budget and the debt ceiling that was rational and spared the middle class more pain. But Pelosi is all too aware that she does not live in a Trump-free world.
The Speaker is scheduled to go to the White House today with Chuck Schumer to hear the president’s ideas for funding an infrastructure deal. But those conversations will be complicated by a letter Trump sent the two top Hill Democrats Tuesday saying he wants the North American trade measure passed before turning to infrastructure. The letter also included language seemingly intended to lay the foundation to blame the Democrats if Wednesday’s talks falter.
Pelosi is nimble and always anticipates the prospect for changed circumstances, but right now her goals are clear.
A. Stave off impeachment proceedings, while convincing her more aggressive members that the president will be held accountable by on-going, real investigations across several committees.
B. Get agreements on the budget and the debt ceiling that take those issues off the table through the election.
C. Manage infrastructure and North American trade talks in a manner in which either there are deals on terms over which Democrats can claim victory, or have any prospective deals fall apart in a manner in which the public blames Trump.
These are the major issues Pelosi is juggling now. There will be more balls thrown her way in the coming months. With gavel in hand, the Speaker will be the de facto Democratic counterweight to Trump until there is a unambiguous presidential nominee.
As the clock ticks towards Election Day, Pelosi knows she will have to continue to exhibit the discipline and patience required to hold her party together and put it in position to win.
That is a daily heavy lift. But it is also something she is prepared to do — by heritage, temperament, experience, and steel.