In the year’s first test of divided government, give round one to Nancy Pelosi. And it wasn’t really competitive.
When the record 35-day partial federal shutdown began before Christmas, Pelosi was just a month removed from her vote-by-vote struggle for enough Democratic support to become House speaker. To win the job, she had to overcome critics’ arguments that the 78-year-old House veteran had been party leader for too long and wasn’t Democrats’ best bet to appeal to diverse, social media savvy audiences.
By the time President Donald Trump capitulated on Friday, ending the shutdown, Pelosi’s image was tougher and more formidable image than a month earlier. She had kept Democrats united as public pressure built to end the standoff. And she stood up to Trump repeatedly, challenging his intelligence (“Let’s give him to time to think it – oh, think, did I say think?”) and even exercising her power as speaker to block him from using the House chamber to deliver a State of the Union address planned for this Tuesday.
Trump “found out that Pelosi is no pushover,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who once headed the House GOP campaign organization.
Easily found on Twitter is an oft-shared, month-old video of an unruffled Pelosi emerging from a televised Oval Office confrontation with Trump, coolly easing sunglasses onto her face and striding toward reporters.
“I’ve heard people say to me, ‘It looks like we really did elect the right person as speaker,’” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said days before Trump’s surrender.
Pelosi demurred when asked whether the shutdown had been a test between herself and Trump. “I don’t see this as any power play,” she told reporters Friday. “If you’re saying that the president held out over wall funding to show who was in charge, I think that’s quite a bad statement to make about any leader in our country.” But actually, it unmistakably was a contest between Washington’s two power centers, each gauging the other’s tenacity and smarts.
Published in Today’s Muslim, January 28th 2019.