Pelosi Brilliantly Trolls Trump

[ Posted Wednesday, January 16th, 2019 – 18:30 UTC ]

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is trolling President Donald Trump. She just sent him a letter (which she then immediately released to the public, for maximum impact) suggesting that the upcoming State Of The Union speech be either: postponed until the government is open once again, given from the Oval Office on television, or just written down by the White House and sent over to Congress. This is obviously designed to do nothing short of getting under the president's skin, but at the same time it is indeed a real threat, since Pelosi actually does have the power to deny Trump the chance to give his annual speech. Officially, the speaker invites the president and then somewhat later (often mere days before the speech) the House and Senate pass an official invitation which schedules the event. Pelosi has already informally invited Trump to speak on January 29th, but Congress has not yet officially acted. If Pelosi doesn't allow a floor vote, then the official invitation will never happen and the speech will essentially be cancelled. Such is the power of having the majority in the House.

It probably won't get that far, but these days you never know. If Pelosi denies Trump the chance to speak to the full Congress, then perhaps Mitch McConnell will invite him to speak only to the Senate, in retaliation. If this is the way things work out, I would fully expect most every Senate Democrat would decline to attend such a speech. But again, I doubt it'll get to that point.

Trump supporters were quick to decry Pelosi's move, although as of this writing Trump hasn't blasted Pelosi on Twitter yet, so we'll see what the "official" response turns out to be. But for those invoking the supposed sanctity of this speech, historians were quick to point out two important historical facts: (1) the Constitution does not actually require such a speech, and (2) we went for over 100 years of our history where presidents did indeed just write down their speech and send it to Congress. Of course, that entire century was before the dawn of commercial radio, much less of television or the internet. From Thomas Jefferson to William H. Taft, there simply was no speech at all, just a written laundry list of legislative priorities that the president would send to Congress in the hopes of them actually passing a few of them.

As for the Constitution, the reality of what is actually required was perhaps best summed up in an episode of The West Wing, where C..J. asks Toby: "Should we postpone the State Of The Union? What are the rules on that?" and Toby -- quite correctly -- answers back: "He's required to give Congress information on the state of the Union. If he buys Congress a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, he's fulfilled his Constitutional [duty]." The actual phrase from the Constitution reads: "He [the president] shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." That's it. Doesn't say a word about a speech at all. George Washington started the tradition of personally delivering an annual message to Congress, but as noted this tradition was soon changed by the third president, Thomas Jefferson, into merely sending a document to Congress instead. This continued until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson decided to revive the original tradition of personally giving a speech. But even an annual message is not required, as "from time to time" is about as vague a phrase as can be imagined.

But getting back to the current situation, it would indeed be extraordinary if a speaker of the House denied a president the chance to address a joint session of Congress. Then again, these are extraordinary times. We've never had a State Of The Union speech given while the government is shut down before, so one way or another this could be an unprecedented event. As for Republicans whining about "civility in Washington" and "keeping to congressional traditions," well, I have two words for them: Merrick Garland. Democrats would not be the first to weaponize Congress in unprecedented ways, in other words. Pelosi would just be showing that two can play at such games. And missing one speech is not all that consequential in the grand scheme of things, whereas denying a Supreme Court justice appointment is.

Even before Pelosi's move today, the speech was going to be problematic. There are really only a few ways it could have happened: during a continued shutdown, after Democrats gave in to Trump on the wall in order to reopen the government, or after Trump either gave in or was forced to open the government with no wall money. Any of those three would result in a -- shall we say -- lively speech by Donald Trump. In the first case, Trump would spend the whole speech railing against Democrats for not caving in to his demands -- demands his own Republican Congress couldn't manage to pass in two whole years, mind you. Plus a whole bunch of fearmongering about brown people at the border. It'd be that eight-minute Oval Office speech last week on steroids, in other words. In the second case, Trump would spend the entire speech bragging about how he had beaten the Democrats into submission, and how that was now going to be the new reality for the next two years. In the third case, if Trump had already caved, it certainly would have been entertaining to see how he twisted this into some sort of "win" for his side. I certainly wouldn't put it past Trump to make such an attempt, but the real question is whether he'd convince Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh or not.

Today, Pelosi sent a shot across Trump's bow. She has the capability to deny Trump his speech altogether, although she did not explicitly say so or even threaten such a thing in her letter. She makes the case that because all the security forces (Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service) are currently working for no pay, this would increase the risk of providing security for the big night. This is obviously just an excuse, but at this point who really cares? Pelosi is playing hardball, which is what really matters. Pelosi politely suggests that Trump postpone his speech, deliver it to a camera in the Oval Office, or just write it down and send it over. Without once mentioning it explicitly, Pelosi is telling Trump that until the government reopens there will be no speech. If the government does reopen, then (and only then) maybe she'll reschedule it.

This is designed to enrage Trump, quite obviously. But at this point, Pelosi and the Democrats have the public solidly on their side in the shutdown battle. Poll after poll shows a majority of the public blame Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown, not Pelosi or the Democrats. So most people are probably going to react with some version of: "Serves him right, for denying paychecks to 800,000 people." Why have some fake "business as usual" grand photo op when business is about as far from usual as can be imagined? Pelosi is using both a carrot and a stick here -- Trump can have his speech if he reopens the government, but if he doesn't, then no speech for you, pal.

This is precisely why Nancy Pelosi was the best Democratic candidate for speaker in the first place. She knows how to play the game of politics even when it turns into hardball, and she has a backbone made out of titanium. As an added benefit, she obviously knows how to effectively troll Trump. That may sound juvenile, but in the end it may wind up being the most important skill Democrats need over the next two years. Oh, and meanwhile, Pelosi moved forward a bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, proving that baiting Trump can indeed be accomplished while at the same time doing the people's legislative business.

Nobody knows how any of this will end, of course, but Pelosi just raised the stakes for Trump. If he continues to refuse to budge, then he will not get his big speech. He will not get to see Republicans leaping to their feet to applaud his every utterance. He will not get any television ratings at all. And for Trump, the most important thing imaginable is whatever is on television at the moment. So denying him his big televised speech hits him where it hurts him the most. Which is why Pelosi using it to troll him is nothing short of brilliant.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


11 Comments on “Pelosi Brilliantly Trolls Trump”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    Great move by a great Speaker of the House.

    I am thrilled to see Dems going on offense in several areas - thrilled. This is what I want to see.

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:

    A bloody brilliant move!

    The State of Our Union is: Shut down. If His Neediness Comrade Benedict Donald Treasonous Trump requires the stroking of his ego, he can damn well reopen the government. He has one job.

    The right-wing echo chamber and chattering MAGAts encourage Trump to make an example out of "Chuck and Nancy" and the Democratic Party on the national stage during the annual State of the Union Address, and Nancy responds saying: "Hold my beer." :p

  3. [3] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Yeah, I thought it was brilliant the minute I saw it tonight.

    Later I read the beginnings of the endless parsing and reparsing of 'what might happen' and 'is this going to work' and 'what if it backfires' etc. It quickly goes over my head into the la-la land of the commentariat, who have repeatedly shown for the past few years that they have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to this president and the world he's created.

    But it felt right, the minute I saw it.

    And, yeah, to just about any objection involving congressional traditions and courtesy and reciprocity and .... well, Merrick Garland to you, too.

  4. [4] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Until Pelosi plays hardball with the Big Money contributors to the Democratic Party by eliminating the Big Money from the Democratic Party nothing she does can be considered admirable.

    This shows why she was a bad choice for speaker (or to even be elected to Congress).

    It is just business as usual. If polls show the public blames the RepubliCONS it plays into the Deceptocrat strategy of you have no other choice.

    Funny how when poll after poll shows that 80% of citizens want the Big Money out of our political process it isn't a reason to play hardball with the Big Money CMP candidates by withholding what they want from us- our votes.

    Maybe citizens should start trolling journalists that spew out the party line bullshit for both CMPs until they start playing hardball against the Big Money interests and their lackeys like Pelosi.

    The people want bold. Give them bold instead of this nonsensical party line bullshit.

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i agree it is a brilliant move by pelosi.

    however, the people also want pie. give us pie.

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I think Pelosi's State of Union strategy shows a way forward towards ending The Shutdown. Democrats should never negotiate directly with Trump because Trump lacks a fundamental understanding of how the US Governmental System actually works. He is too ignorant, too emotional and too lazy to be an effective executive. Oh, one other little thing - Trump is not a man of his word.

    Trump's Presidential skill set is limited to temper tantrums, signing official documents and capturing the news cycle. Democrats only play to his considerable news manipulation strengths when they negotiate with Trump directly.

    Democrat leadership should only work directly with Republicans in the House - and only with the intention of pressuring House Republicans and the Republican controlled Senate to realize there are actually likely to be severe election consequences (early retirement) to further kissing Trump's Ass.

    In short, pay little or no attention to the orange man behind the Executive Office Curtain. He is a one-trick humbug.

    By carefully working around Trump, Democrats can effectively limit Trump's ability to be newsworthy thus forcing the news media to find other stories that sell readership/viewers/listeners. This approach is not a panacea, but part of winning battles is wisely choosing where you fight them - and where you don't.

  7. [7] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Nancy Pelosi is no one's lackey. That's for sure.

    And she sure knows how, and when, to troll Trump.

    But I'd guess that this is just the opening salvo, a precursor to many more. Don't forget that the Repubs have an ace card they haven't played: the American Dreamers Act, which has hung in limbo ever since this President took office. But conservative columnists consider it poison: to trade one idea for another isn't in their DNA. They'd way prefer that that debate be scheduled for another day.

    But it could open a new seam where none exists today. It could solve this whole mess. Trump and Pelosi could both declare victory and walk away. That's the carrot.

    The question is: is Trump ready to make a purely political deal to save his presidency? I'd say yes, but we'll see...

  8. [8] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Trump throws a tantrum and "cancels"
    Pelosi's planned international trip. Senator Graham quickly tells off Trump. Perhaps Graham and other Republicans can get together with Stormy D. and arrange another Presidential spanking....and no Twitter or a Fox & Friends for a week! Don't give me that look or we'll really give you something to cry about!

    Pelosi should book a commercial flight on the Democratic Party Credit card and keep all receipts for later reimbursement after Republican Senators realize that being a coequal branch of govt. with terrific benefits is more important that soothing a pouting 300 lb man baby.

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    this travel retaliation is so thoroughly trumpian, and demonstrates just how badly he was pwned on the state of the union. i hope nancy has a good long smile over it, as i'm sure she's not too broken up over not getting to visit any war zones.

  10. [10] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    This whole state of the union thing really highlights just how low the state of our government has become.

    Perhaps, it is time for a no budget, no pay bill on steroids.

    Any time any part of the government shuts down, In addition to not getting paid and receiving back pay when congress does not do their job, congress shuts down, no bills, no show boat votes, nothing until the government is reopened.

    Additionally since aides and senior staff do the heavy lifting in reality, they should also not get paid and the offices lose their funding...So no mailings,trips, gym perks, ect,ect.

    The executive branch also needs to suffer, so the both POTUSES and the cabinet as well their senior staff also go without pay and the hope of getting it back. Their offices also lose funding, and all of the associated perks.

    Of course it also should be made automatic that any furloughed workers (contract workers included) get back pay with an interest penalty bonus to help offset the extra financial damage from not getting paid.

    Now that we have the financial penalties lined out, time to make life difficult for congress and the executive by preventing congress from being allowed to recess until the government is reopened and any planned junkets, planned speeches/rallies, as well as fundraising/campaign adventures are cancelled. With the exception of an emergency or disaster use of all government modes of transportation are off-limits unless it is to travel to a meeting to reopen the government.

    I am sure that there are many constitutional hurdles to overcome, but it would certainly go along way to getting the government back to governing.

    Assuming that this could get done, somehow, it would require the GOP to return to governing vs ruling.

  11. [11] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    John M from Ct. [3] -

    But it felt right, the minute I saw it.

    And, yeah, to just about any objection involving congressional traditions and courtesy and reciprocity and .... well, Merrick Garland to you, too.

    Yeah, that about sums up my feelings too!



    Don Harris [4] -

    Sigh. OK, who would have been a better pick for speaker? Who is pure enough for you?

    nypoet22 [5] -

    Tasty, tasty pie. To quote the famed poet Homer (not that one, "Simpson" instead...): "Pie... mmmmmm... pie...."

    TheStig [6] -

    OK, I have but one thing to add -- Dems should back McConnell into a corner, and present him with the same refrain: "Deal with us, or be voted out... it's your choice..."

    Balthasar [7] -

    (written late at night on Friday): let's see what Trump offers up tomorrow. It might just be exactly what you proposed. Then again, it might not...

    goode trickle [10] -

    Oh, hell yeah. All of that! Hear hear!



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