(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT)
NANCY PELOSI STRODE confidently into a Capitol meeting room Thursday, papers in hand and a get-to-work look of determination on her face. She had just finished decisive negotiations to ensure she had the votes in her Democratic caucus to return as House speaker when the 116th Congress begins in January. It was harder this time than when the California representative became speaker in 2007, as the veteran lawmaker this month faced opposition from some younger members who wanted a fresh face or new image for the party. But Pelosi had done it – agreeing to stay in the job four years, unless there was overwhelming support for her to remain further – and this time, the prize was even bigger than when she made history by becoming the first female speaker a decade ago.[
Pelosi, as leader of the opposition party, arguably will become the most powerful person in the country.
Not only will Pelosi head the House chamber that is expected to investigate President Trump and possibly impeach him, but she can thwart the president’s legislative wish list as well, experts note. Even before she had tied down the final votes she needs to become speaker, Pelosi was adamant to Trump in an extraordinary, combative public negotiating session Tuesday that he would not get the border wall he had promised during his campaign.
She never said it out loud, but the implication was clear: Pelosi might be ascending to a third-ranking post – behind the president and vice president – but she holds much of his fate in her well-manicured hands.
“She’s not only [about to be] the most powerful person in the country, but she’s exactly the right person to be in this role at this time,” says political strategist Les Francis, who has known Pelosi since the mid-1970s. “She’s smarter than Trump. She’s tougher than Trump. We saw that the other day in the Oval Office,” Francis says.
Speakers have had reduced power in recent years in their own caucuses. Parties now have less control over which candidates were fielded for office, making freshman members less nervous about challenging leadership. The elimination of earmarks – federal money dedicated to specific local projects – deprives speakers of a tool to corral lawmakers. Intraparty divisions, such as the conservative Freedom Caucus’s feuds with more establishment Republicans, have also limited the ability of leaders to keep their members in line.
“She’s smarter than Trump. She’s tougher than Trump. We saw that the other day in the Oval Office.”
Pelosi, however, has a more united caucus and will have a kind of power over Trump, who will need Democrats to approve parts of his agenda on the Hill and who has been weakened by the special prosecutor’s inquiries.
“Nothing can come through the House without her involvement, which puts her in an incredibly powerful position,” says James Curry, a former Hill staffer and political science professor at the University of Utah, where he specializes in Congress and the legislative process. “Major policy is largely done at the leadership table. She’s going to be in on every single major policy meeting and then come back to her party with a take-it-or-leave-it offer.”
And it’s not just the job, experts say – it’s Pelosi herself. While some of the younger members chafed at reinstalling the 78-year-old lawmaker to the top leadership job, Pelosi, Hill-watchers say, showed why her extensive experience negotiating with presidents matters.
“She has the political force of character, and she has the temperament and the strategic instincts that come with being very experienced in the Democratic Party leadership,” says Wendy Schiller, chairwoman of the political science department at Brown University and a former Senate staffer. “She knows how to play the short game and the long game.”
Part of that, experts say, is that Pelosi has a very canny sense of when to pull the trigger on investigations or impeachment and when to focus on policy issues directed at the middle class. When George W. Bush was president, for example, Pelosi rejected demands from the left that the Democrats impeach Bush over the war in Iraq, aware that the effort could provoke a backlash.[
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“In some ways, the biggest problem for Trump is that Pelosi is very savvy when it comes to whether to pursue investigating versus legislating,” says Matthew Green, a Catholic University political science professor and co-author, with Douglas Harris, of the upcoming book, “Choosing the Leader: Leadership Elections in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Addressing reporters on Thursday, Pelosi downplayed any plans for dragging Trump administration officials before the House to testify – a scene that has many rank-and-file Democrats salivating in anticipation. Instead, the presumptive next speaker ticked off two items she said the House Democrats could work on with Trump – lowering prescription drug prices and building infrastructure – and said the House would move onto other issues, such as preventing gun violence, strengthening the Voting Rights Act and protecting young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
And instead of casting Trump as corrupt, Pelosi continued with a line she expressed during the meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer – that Trump simply isn’t in touch with reality.
Trump, she noted, was ready to shut down the government and take the blame for it.
“Perhaps he doesn’t understand people need their paychecks. That’s not the life he leads,” she said. Pressed about whether the impasse over the budget would indeed lead to a shutdown, Pelosi looked baffled at the president’s pronouncements.
“He doesn’t know that much about what it means to shut [the government] down,” she said. As for Trump’s insistence that Mexico would, in fact, pay for his border wall, through the economic impact of the pending new trade deal among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, Pelosi shook her head.
“It doesn’t make sense. Does that sound familiar to you?” Pelosi said. First of all, she said, the trade deal isn’t even finalized. And, secondly, any economic benefit would be just that – a trade benefit for the country’s consumers and businesses – and not a kind of Mexican payment for a wall.[
“I think the Oval Office is an evidence-free zone,” Pelosi said.
Incoming House committee heads are signaling that they indeed will investigate the Trump administration: Intelligence is expected to look into the Trump family’s connections to Saudi Arabia, Ways and Means will likely seek Trump’s tax returns, and the Judiciary Committee is expected to take an ever broader look at the embattled administration.
None will result in impeachment proceedings without Pelosi’s OK – and experts say she will only give the go-ahead if the political climate is right. But Trump must now look to Nancy Pelosi to see his future.
“I did tell the president I pray for him,” Pelosi said. He may need it.
Susan Milligan, Senior Writer
Susan Milligan is a political and foreign affairs writer and contributed to a biography of the … READ MORE