Speaker Pelosi Takes The Helm Once Again

[ Posted Friday, January 4th, 2019 – 19:30 UTC ]

Program Note: Our apologies, but due to circumstances beyond our control, there will be no Friday Talking Points column this week. We've been dealing with some behind-the-scenes technical problems with the site (and with our network access to our ISP), and so did not have time to put together a Friday column. We realize it's already been two weeks without one (due to the year-end awards columns), so we do apologize for the delay.

What we would have written about this week would have heavily relied upon two themes: how Democrats are easily winning the talking point battle over "the Trump Shutdown" (see how easy that was to do?), and secondly, how breathtakingly expansive the Democrats' first House bill turned out to be. This was covered in great detail (complete with a link to the full text of the bill) by HuffPost, so anyone feeling the loss of this week's FTP column should check that out for what would have been our prime source material today. Although the bill overreaches in a few instances (proposes things which will likely require constitutional amendments, like forcing the Supreme Court to come up with ethics rules for itself, for instance), it is a very ambitious bill with a lot of very excellent reforms built into it and deserves a whole lot more media attention than it is likely to get this week. A third issue that I would have also brought up in passing is the new effort by Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee to introduce two very interesting constitutional amendments: one to prevent presidents from pardoning themselves and one to abolish the Electoral College. This is a very interesting tactic for a Democrat to take, and I would have voiced support for his efforts. Of course, now that a Friday column proved to be impossible today, I will likely write about all of these issues at some point next week.

What follows below is the article I was working on yesterday when the connectivity problems started. I finished it up last night, and thought it would be a good consolation article to run today if I wasn't able to finish a FTP column. So although there won't be a Friday column today, here at least is the Thursday column you should have gotten yesterday.


Nancy Pelosi can now correctly be called Speaker of the House Pelosi once again. It's been eight years since that has been true, most of which the Republicans spent proving their own slogan: "Government doesn't work -- elect us and we'll prove it!" The speakerships of both John Boehner and Paul Ryan never really accomplished all that much, other than one massive tax cut for billionaires and Wall Street. Almost the entire time the GOP was in control, their entire legislative agenda was halted in its tracks not by Democrats, but by their own intransigent Tea Party members. With all of that as prologue, Nancy Pelosi won't have to do much to outperform the two intervening House speakers.

But of course, she's not setting the bar that low. Far from it. Pelosi has big challenges ahead and a large "to do" list to take care of. Fortunately, Democrats are a lot more politically cohesive right now than the Republicans have been for the past eight years. Progressives are just not stupid enough to become "the Tea Party of the left," content only to stop all legislation that doesn't pass their ultra-purity test. Pelosi already has the support of her caucus in a way that neither Boehner nor Ryan ever really could plausibly claim.

Pelosi has three main goals for the next two years. First, directly take on President Trump, on such bills that have to pass (such as budgets and whatnot). She's already doing an admirable job of this in the current Trump Shutdown. Pelosi's second goal is to provide oversight of the swamp of corruption and malfeasance that is the Trump administration. This will begin soon, in all the relevant committees. Pelosi's final goal will be to set a bright, forward-looking agenda for the entire Democratic Party by passing bills through the House that will in all honesty probably never be taken up by the Senate. This will provide all the 2020 Democratic candidates with a ready-made platform to run on: "Look what we're doing in the House -- if you want these great bills to actually become law, elect more Democrats!" Pelosi is easily up to all three of these tasks.


Pelosi v. Trump

Of course, the first big fight is already underway, because for some bizarre reason Donald Trump thought that he'd somehow have more leverage after the Democrats took control of the House than he had with Republicans in control. I'm still scratching my head wondering how anyone could believe such a thing, but then this is Donald Trump we're talking about. But before we get to where things stand now between Trump and Pelosi, there are two points that need making about how it's all been playing out in the press.

One thing that pretty much everyone in the mainstream media (that I've yet seen) is totally missing is any sort of recent historical context to the current government shutdown battle. This is the paragraph I'd like to hear that has somehow never been uttered by any journalist to date on television:

"Of course, you have to look at the history of this fight. In all the budget disagreements that have happened since Donald Trump became president, the Democrats have successfully blocked any money for his wall each and every time. They've been winning politically on this fight all along. Even the Republicans in the House couldn't manage to get their act together, so Democratic votes were always needed -- and Democratic votes meant no wall money, period. This isn't some new issue we're now seeing fought out, this is the extension of a struggle that has been happening over the course of the past two years. Trump has lost, every single time, because Democrats held firm. There is absolutely no reason to expect a different outcome this time around."

How hard is that to say? Well, perhaps those last two sentences are a little too opinionated, but the rest of it is solid historical fact that the same reporters reported on when it happened. They should remember it, and they should provide this context. This isn't ancient history, after all, it happened over only the past two years.

My second comment on the media coverage is that Democrats have another point they really should be hammering home in a big way, if it really is true. A few times in the midst of this fight, I've heard the statistic being tossed around by Democrats that: "We gave the president $1.3 billion last year, and he didn't spend something like 94 percent of it." [I'm doing that from memory, so the numbers may not be perfectly accurate, but the dollar figure was definitely north of $1 billion and the percentage was north of 90 percent.] If this is true, then it should be the Democrats' first and main argument. "Even when we give him money, he refuses to spend it -- so who is more concerned with border security, really?" It's an excellent argument to make, and it needs more airtime.

But back to the bigger picture. This whole showdown is the opening act in Donald Trump having to deal with a divided government for the next two years. Already, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, and Kevin McCarthy have been effectively sidelined -- the entire fight is now between Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. McConnell took himself out of the fray by stating that he is only going to bring up bills that the president has said he will sign. This may change if the House ever passes a bipartisan bill to open the government back up with a veto-proof two-thirds majority, though. But until we get to that point (which is still a long way off), McConnell -- and, by extension, Schumer -- are mere spectators to the debate. McCarthy is irrelevant because (unlike Ryan and Boehner), Pelosi commands the votes in her own caucus, meaning the Democrats simply do not need any Republican votes right now to pass budget bills.

Pelosi and Trump have both staked out very solid positions. Pelosi is holding firm to the tenet "no money for the wall." This is the same stance Democrats have, quite successfully, taken since Trump became president, and has not changed one iota. Trump has changed, since he signed off on all the previous budget deals. Now Trump says he won't sign anything that doesn't have his $5 billion in wall funding, period. These two positions, of course, are mutually exclusive.

How this all ends is anyone's guess, but for the moment it is a one-on-one contest of wills between Pelosi and Trump, and most Democrats have so far been pretty impressed with Pelosi's spinal fortitude. This bodes well for future standoffs between Pelosi and Trump as well. Because this certainly won't be the only one she faces in the next two years.


Investigate the facts, and only then talk impeachment

This issue barely even exists, beyond the media's own invention. The media has, over the past year or so, pushed two largely false narratives: (1) that impeaching Trump was the most important issue for Democratic voters, and (2) that the House Democrats could either put all their energy into legislating or all their energy into investigating Trump, but they certainly could never do both at the same time. Neither one of these bears much resemblance to reality, it's worth pointing out, right here at the start.

The vast majority of Democratic politicians -- from leaders like Nancy Pelosi on down to the rank and file -- never (or barely) mentioned impeachment on the campaign trail. They just didn't run on it, much to the media's disappointment. The media expressed this disappointment by asking about it in every single interview, only to get some version of the same answer:

"I'm not running on impeachment at all, I'm running on fighting for better healthcare, education, jobs, and for the middle class. I will wait to see what Bob Mueller's investigation reveals, and if Democrats take control of the House or Senate then we will do the proper oversight of the executive branch that Republicans have refused to do and see what such investigations reveal. But I'm happy to wait for the facts to be uncovered before anyone uses the 'I-word', especially since the only time I hear it out on the campaign is in questions from journalists."

Democrats, as a whole, are reality-based. They like to see the facts before coming to a conclusion. Republicans used to be this way as well, but sadly no longer are (see: climate change, most obviously). So Democrats have no problem waiting to see what is uncovered.

But the digging is now going to begin in earnest, and it is going to have a very different flavor than Mueller's investigation. Congressional investigations are a lot more public. Testimony will be heard. Facts will be uncovered. Hard data (such as tax returns) will be presented. That is what Democratic voters are really clamoring to see right now. And that is precisely what Democratic committee chairs will be working on over the next few months.

Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, are fully capable of doing this while at the same time working on their legislative agenda. Pelosi is about to prove this to the world, in fact, much to many pundits' astonishment. Pelosi is a pretty good conductor of her own orchestra, and her organizational skills will come into play in a big way when coordinating investigations and legislation simultaneously.

Pelosi has always been fairly consistent in saying what the timeline would be, once she regained power. First, investigate and find out all the facts. Then we can all cross the impeachment bridge when (and if) we get to it. And all the while, Pelosi will also be moving her legislative agenda forward. No matter how many breathless articles are written about "Will Democrats impeach Trump tomorrow?" Pelosi's timeline has never changed, and it won't. First, uncover the facts; then, decide what to do about them. Period.


Setting the Democratic agenda for 2020 and beyond

Pelosi is a good political leader because she has uncanny political instincts. She knows how to count votes, and she knows (to the millimeter) how far any one particular bill can politically go and still pass with Democratic support. Her agenda will be precisely as bold as her own membership allows it to be, to state this in slightly different words.

Pelosi knows full well how timing can work to Democrats' advantage. She is going to move forward immediately with ideas that are wildly popular with the public -- so much so, in fact, that it's going to be downright embarrassing for Republicans to vote against them. The prime example of this could come to a vote as early as next week -- a measure designed to strengthen Obamacare's protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Republicans tried a flim-flam campaign strategy in 2018 (not to any noticeable success), where they all swore up and down that they'd protect people with pre-existing conditions. Well, now it's going to be time to put up or shut up -- and Pelosi knows that there will never be a better time for such a vote.

These bills will pass the House (with who knows how many GOP votes, from representatives terrified of the issues being used against them in two years), and then they will go to the Senate where Mitch McConnell will likely ignore them. But by doing so, he's opening up all the Senate Republicans to the same sort of ads, so it carries some degree of political risk for him to do so.

A few of these bills may even become law, if Pelosi can convince Trump himself to get behind them. Infrastructure is the obvious first candidate for this. If Pelosi passes a bill in the House that Trump likes, then McConnell will almost have to bring it up in the Senate, and with Trump's support it might get a fair number of Republican votes. Once Trump figures out that he won't be able to have any more signing ceremonies (which he loves) without Pelosi's help, he may be the one to put the most pressure on McConnell.

Of course, there are always other issues wildly popular with the public that Trump and McConnell will balk at, but that won't stop Pelosi from moving the Democratic agenda forward. Each and every bill she passes that dies in the Senate will become campaign fodder for the 2020 election, and she knows it. Anti-corruption bills, strengthening voting rights, a minimum wage hike, further Obamacare protections, a "Medicare for all who want it" public option, a green new deal, reining in drug companies and Wall Street -- a long list of such items exists that you can bet Pelosi will be aggressively moving forward on. Each and every one of these will be pointed to by Democrats in the 2020 election as evidence of where the party stands, and what great things could happen if they get full control again.



Nancy Pelosi is fully up to the three tasks she has in front of her. In electing her speaker once again, Democrats secured the fact that there will be no on-the-job training necessary. Pelosi knows how to do all of this stuff, and she knows how to do it well. Sure, eventually she'll need to step down and turn the reins over to a younger generation of Democrats, but for the time being she will have the House under control, and that's a good thing for Democrats.

Speaker Pelosi will likely get criticism from both the left and the right, but she's fully capable of handling such slings and arrows. She will set her own timetable and she will be so much more visibly productive than either Paul Ryan or John Boehner that the difference is likely to be pretty breathtaking. Nancy Pelosi is about to show America what the House can do with some real leadership -- on all fronts, simultaneously. She'll be the de facto head of the Democratic Party for at least the next year (until she gets eclipsed by whomever wins the Democratic presidential nomination), and she's fully up to that task as well. She'll take on Trump, she'll investigate all of Trump's swampiness, and she'll pass an agenda that Democrats everywhere can be proud of -- and proud to run on in 2020. Achieving those three things will be the real measure of her leadership over the next two years.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


15 Comments on “Speaker Pelosi Takes The Helm Once Again”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i wonder how nancy will respond if donald follows through on his threat of declaring a "national emergency" to get funding. a wall across the rio grande wouldn't accomplish much logistically, but it sure would remind folks how our government kidnapped children and threw them in cages while their parents were deported. donald is kind-of like the kid who kills his parents and then asks for leniency because he's an orphan...


  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    As much as I admire Pelosi's obvious character and experience, your piece here approaches hagiography, and a little prematurely. The rhetoric drips with the kind of gushiness I'd expect of Sarah Sanders when describing the president's latest superhuman skills and accomplishments.

    "Pelosi is easily up to all three of these tasks."
    "most Democrats have so far been pretty impressed with Pelosi's spinal fortitude."
    "she has uncanny political instincts"
    "Pelosi knows full well..."
    "...and *she knows it*."
    "Nancy Pelosi is fully up to the three tasks..."
    "...and she knows how to do it well."
    "she's fully capable of handling such slings and arrows"
    "she's fully up to that task as well."

    I mean, God, I hope you're right and the white-hatted gunslinger has come to town for a showdown with Dirty Don. But nothing about this administration or this president has followed anyone's predictions, beyond the obvious ones of oh my god expect a sh**storm folks and it will be worse than we can possibly imagine and the days of the American republic are now numbered.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    John M from Ct. [2] -

    Yeah, guilty as charged -- I'm a pretty big fan of Pelosi's.

    I like to think this is due to her stellar performance in the past, though. When I started blogging (in 2006), Democrats were splintered and the phrase "herding cats" was often heard to describe their leadership's efforts to corral them.

    Since Pelosi's rise, however, they have been astoundingly unified, even when tested by the Blue Dogs or (now) the Progressives. When Dems hold together as a caucus and the GOP can't seem to (Tea Partiers), that is a huge sea-change.

    I lay most of this at the feet of Pelosi, personally. So hagiography it may be, but it's still based in my admiration for her past achievements. But then again, as I said, I'll freely admit that by this time, I am biased towards her.


  4. [4] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    Re impeachment: However much many people loathe Trump, and however thoroughly he may be shown to deserve impeachment, the prospect of a President Pence tends to dampen calls for Individual 1's impeachment. I don't see Pelosi and other pragmatic Dems in either house going for impeachment unless and until they know they will get a conviction, in any case. But some elements of the media don't seem to see past BIG STORY! LOTS OF AIRTIME! HEADLINES!
    Re the new Congress: I hope to see a (fairly) steady stream of positive legislation, even if it can't pass the Senate and Individual 1 wouldn't sign it, even if it doesn't all meet my personal specifications, rather than the blanket 'no' directed at Obama.
    I also very much hope that some of the younger and the newly-elected members will be tutored and mentored by Pelosi, so they learn how to turn their ideals into legislation.
    Of course hopes aren't the same as reality, but the photos and film clips from the House this week have made me smile--and how often does that happen?

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    the trouble with impeachment, and i think nancy knows this full well, is that its use as a check on the executive branch rests on a sense of shared facts existing outside the bounds of party dogma. and in the current "post-truth" political environment, mutually agreed upon facts are in short supply. basically, until there is a set of related facts that democrats and republicans can agree upon, impeachment proceedings would end in acquittal and weaken her political hand.


  6. [6] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    A good example of beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    But credit where credit is due, you did at least admit the obvious bias.

    As for Pelosi's three main goals, the first is obvious.

    But the second and third are ridiculous.

    "...provide oversight of the corruption and malfeasance of the Trump administration."

    In what alternate universe is the person that is leading the corruption and malfeasance of the Democratic Party the person to provides oversight of anyone else's corruption and malfeasance?

    "Look at what we're doing in the House- if you want these great bills to actually become law elect more Democrats!"

    I'm still scratching my head wondering how anyone could believe such a thing.

    Of course it's a ready made issue. The Democrats have been running on that empty promise for years.

    But somehow when the Democrats do gain control all those "great" bills they vote for when they won't pass become something they can't do right now or become so compromised in efforts to appear bi-partisan that they bear little resemblance to the "great" bills that had no chance of passing when they were not in control. (see Obamacare)

    There is hope the the progressives will behave like the tea party and push the Big Money Democrats. It would be stupid for progressives elected to do that to fall in line with the Big Money Democrats.

    Are you really going to spend the next two years peddling this more of the same bullshit?

    According to Ralph Nader the Democrats claim to be an opposition to the Republicans is a LIE.

    Reality is usually confined to being true.

  7. [7] 
    John M wrote:

    [1] nypoet22

    "I wonder how Nancy will respond if Donald follows through on his threat of declaring a "national emergency" to get funding."

    One thing that has been brought up but that people do tend to forget about is:

    Even if Trump were to declare a national security emergency in order to use the military to get his wall built....

    He still has to get the money for it from somewhere...

    and that funding can only come from an appropriation bill passed by the House Democrats and Nancy Pelosi!

  8. [8] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    my concern is that donald may use "national emergency" to provide a pretext to raid other departments' budgets that are already allocated for something else. probably illegal, maybe unconstitutional, but perhaps not impossible. remember, just because no sane person would do something doesn't mean donald won't.


  9. [9] 
    TheStig wrote:


    This column is a very impressive synthesis! You have hit the ground running in 2019!

    I hope the Democratic leadership is thinking along the same lines you are...and that the Democratic noncoms and foot soldiers fall into line. The latter is never a given for the Democratic Party.

  10. [10] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Nancy Pelosi's moment comes when the budget for the shutdown reaches $5 billion. Then she starts saying, "you spent it all."

  11. [11] 
    italyrusty wrote:

    Great summary of Ms Pelosi's strength and possibilities. I agree entirely that the Democrats in the House are much more unified in their objectives than the Republicans were. I hope that the newly-elected progressives will ignore the Huffington Post, Politico, and MSNBC in the repeated attempts to manufacture conflict. Unfortunately, the Democrats are their own worst enemy, easily distracted by right-wing rhetoric disguised as 'civility' (see the defunding of ACORN in 2009!)

    I do wish that the House Democrats would keep silent more often. The latest tempest in a teapot: Representative Tlaib stating that 'we will impeach the motherfucker'. The media ate it up, because it
    a) gave them another outspoken woman to call to task and
    b) adds 'evidence' to the media's narrative that Democrats are a one-issue party, as you have excellently addressed, Chris, in your essays.
    Note the pearl-clutching headlines I've seen:
    Politico: "Dems livid"
    The Guardian: "Senior Democrats chide Rashida Tlaib"
    MSNBC: "Democratic Rep criticizes Tlaib"

    The Democrats need to STFU or turn their backs on reporters who ask them for a statement about a non-issue like this. They should leave it to Ms Pelosi, who responded perfectly: "Nothing worse than the President has said".

  12. [12] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    From and to...'Crusty words to...'

    I much prefer the term ...'synergy' to 'collusion'. It portrays a more synical*, synister* intertwining of the Trump campaign and the Ruskies.


  13. [13] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    italyrusty [11]: The Democrats need to STFU or turn their backs on reporters who ask them for a statement about a non-issue like this.

    I dunno. Maybe you're the pearl-clutcher. I still don't see anything wrong with that statement.

    The Repubs want it that way. They want Dems to be mild and non-abusive while they go off in every direction to get their way. I call bullshit.

    Trump couldn't get a wall out of the Repub congress for two years, NOW he wants a wall? Bullshit.

    The truth is that Trump is in big trouble with his core constituency, and this is the symptom. Trump doesn't know how to get out of it without a wall, plain and simple. It's up to the Dems to show him the way...

  14. [14] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    the push for a wall came from irrational anger, and i think this was captured pretty well by a recent article i read in the atlantic. a long read on the role of anger in civic life:

  15. [15] 
    Kick wrote:
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