Pelosi, Well, Manhandles Trump
She said more than once that she is respectful of the office Trump holds, ‘perhaps more respectful than he is.’
As Speaker Pelosi settled in for lunch Friday with a dozen or so columnists, news began to break of the impending deal to open the government. Eyeing her favorite dark chocolates in a bowl next to the sandwiches and salads, she told how her husband likes hard chocolate and keeps it in the freezer. “I like to put it in the palm of my hand to soften it up,” she said, an apt metaphor I thought for how she had just handled President Trump over the five-week government shutdown.
She makes it sound easy, following a few simple rules. One, no State of the Union speech while the government is partially closed. Two, no negotiating about policy until the government is open. Then she stood her ground. No complicated back and forth. A straightforward “no” to every demand for a wall.
The deal reached between Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell opens the government for three weeks with no wall money. An online CNN story assessing the politics called it a clear win for Pelosi with the hashtag “Queen Pelosi.” Asked if she liked that, Pelosi responded with an emphatic “No, I don’t want anybody thinking in terms like a monarchy.”
Not many politicians have gone up against Trump and emerged victorious, with their dignity intact. How did she do it? “First you start with a feather,” she said, “then you move to a sledgehammer.” In her telling, when she first told the president he couldn’t give his SOTU while the government was closed, he said he was coming. She rebuffed him a second time, and he said he was coming anyway. Then she said “please don’t,” telling him the House that she controls would not vote on a “concurrent resolution” to formally invite him.
Bingo! “One step at a time, and he understood, and when he understood, he understood, and sometimes it’s about timing,” she said. Asked if she thought Trump and his people realized her power over something as traditional as the SOTU, she said, rather dismissively, “I don’t spend a lot of time sussing out what they know.”
It’s clear from her public performance and her confident demeanor behind the scenes that Trump hasn’t gotten into her head the way she has into his. When a reporter noted that Trump has said she is actually very reasonable, she said, “I don’t even think about what he thinks of me.”
Trump has not tagged her with a demeaning nickname, though it wouldn’t hurt for him to call her “Madam Speaker” once in a while in addition to “Nancy.” Asked how he treats her when the cameras aren’t there, she said, “He’s courteous, he’s respectful in his own way—and like other men he sometimes doesn’t know his condescension.”
She repeatedly refused to psychoanalyze Trump, but did say that whenever he makes an accusation, “he’s projecting” his own weakness or failing. When he canceled what would have been her ninth trip to Afghanistan earlier this month, refusing military transport as she and the bipartisan congressional delegation were in a bus on the way to the airport, he called it an “excursion,” hardly the term most people would use to describe a visit to a war zone.
“Excursion,” she said, “That’s how he thinks of these trips.”
She did note that hardly a day goes by where some expert doesn’t diagnose Trump with megalomania or narcissism. “Maybe it was how he was raised,” she said, waving off additional questions. “I’m not going to get into psychoanalyzing him. I do know that he needs prayers.”
She was at home Wednesday night when Trump caved on the SOTU, tweeting that he would postpone the speech "because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber." She caught the news on TV, pronouncing it “great,” and adding that she doesn’t watch much television except for sports. What’s her favorite? “Whatever’s in season,” she said.
Asked why Trump folded, she likes to think he came to terms with the power of the speaker, but says that “his erosion of support may have had some impact on his thinking,” adding in an aside that she had used the word “thinking” lightly. A CBS poll showed Trump’s job approval sinking to 34 percent.
She said more than once that she is respectful of the office Trump holds, “perhaps more respectful than he is.” By sticking to the principles she outlined at the beginning of the standoff, she believes she has put down an important marker for a president as unrestrained as Trump, and that “it makes it less likely” that another government shutdown will follow because “public opinion is aware not only of their actions but their attitude.”
The media hammered Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a billionaire, for saying how puzzled he was that laid off federal workers didn’t just take out loans. No question for those who are keeping score that the longest standoff on government funding in history ended as a clear win for Pelosi and her “for the people” agenda.
Asked if she thought a woman might be elected president in 2020, Pelosi allowed that would be great, “so we can dispense with the title of the most powerful woman.”
That of course is the title she now holds, and that Trump must reckon with as he heads into the rocky shoals ahead.