Donald Trump may have finally met his match in Nancy Pelosi.
As the partial government shutdown grinds on with no end in sight, the struggle between the president and the speaker is becoming an unprecedented political fight — with the fallout likely to extend far beyond this episode.
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Pelosi privately refers to Trump as the “Whiner in chief.” She’s questioned his manhood. She calls out Trump’s lies to his face and openly wonders whether he’s fit for the job. She mocks Trump for his privileged upbringing and his lack of empathy for the less fortunate. She jokes with other senior Democrats that if the American public saw how Trump acts in private, they’d “want to make a citizen’s arrest.”
And by proposing Trump reschedule the annual State of the Union address until the government shutdown is over, as she did Wednesday, Pelosi has pulled her most aggressive gambit yet.
After more than two years of Trump’s whipsaw presidency, Pelosi is saying what perhaps every Democrat feels should be said to Trump: No, no and no.
While Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blocked many Trump initiatives during the last Congress, Pelosi is the first leader able and willing to really challenge Trump since he took office. And with control of the House and public polls firmly on her side in the shutdown fight, Pelosi is empowered to act. Unlike the Republicans on Capitol Hill, Trump can’t really hurt her, back home or on Capitol Hill.
Pelosi’s letter Wednesday to Trump suggesting he reschedule his address until the government shutdown ends was a stunning rebuke for the president. Pelosi even told Trump he could simply send a letter to Congress instead, like presidents did in the 1800s.
“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,” Pelosi wrote, with mild-mannered language that belied the explosive maneuver.
It was a daring move, one that appeared to catch the White House off guard. While it could backfire on Pelosi by making some Republican Trump skeptics more sympathetic to the president, it also showed exactly how Pelosi operates. She’s tough and wily, with a ruthless streak that Democrats who have crossed her readily acknowledge. She’s not afraid of Trump, and she’s capable of surprising moves that keep opponents off balance.
“She’s satin and steel. He’s just untethered,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a longtime Pelosi friend and political ally.
“She’s just a badass,” added Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). “There is some truth when she says, ‘I’m a grandmother, I know a temper tantrum when I see it.’”
Pelosi is planning to make Trump’s life difficult on a host of other fronts as well, targeting everything from his business dealings to his personal life to Russia. Every issue the president has tried to avoid the last two years — while shielded by the GOP-controlled Congress — is fair game for Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, and they’re happily trampling through those fields right now.
The House Oversight Committee has called Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, to testify on Feb. 7, a month before Cohen heads to prison. Cohen is expected to dish on payments made to women Trump allegedly had affairs with to buy their silence during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Feb. 8 appearance for Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, where he will be grilled over how he’s handled special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential Trump campaign ties to the Kremlin.
And on Wednesday, the General Services Administration’s inspector general said in a report that the agency “improperly ignored” concerns that Trump’s lease on the Old Post Office — where the Trump International Hotel is — may violate the Constitution. The IG’s findings are a gift to Democrats, who already planned to investigate the lease.
“Anybody’s relationship with Trump is difficult, but not because they want it to be,” said Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “Listening to her, I believe that [Pelosi] has truly approached this with integrity and straightforwardness. And she’s just not sure who she’s dealing with. You never know with Trump, from one hour to the next.”
As the shock from Pelosi’s State of the Union announcement was still reverberating throughout the Capitol, House Republicans railed against the California Democrat. But being in the House minority means they’re powerless to stop her.
“What the speaker is doing is making it all political. I think what the American public wants us to do is actually find common ground, to find compromise,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) complained Pelosi “was part of the ‘Resist’ movement that didn’t want to acknowledge that [Trump] got elected. And they got the majority on an agenda of blocking anything the president wanted to do.”
Trump, for the most part, has refrained from publicly attacking Pelosi; Schumer, aka “Cryin’ Chuck,” has been a more frequent target of his Twitter barbs.
But Pelosi is starting to get under the president’s skin. In recent days, Trump has started mentioning Pelosi more often on Twitter.
“Why is Nancy Pelosi getting paid when people who are working are not?” Trump asked his followers on Tuesday.
Pelosi hit right back at him, tweeting: “.@realDonaldTrump, stop holding the paychecks of 800,000 Americans hostage. There is no reason for them to be suffering right now. Re-open the government! #TrumpShutdown.”
Schumer didn’t want to comment on Pelosi or Trump when asked about their relationship Wednesday. But he did make clear — once again — that Democrats won’t negotiate any border security funding until federal agencies are back in operation.
“Democrats House and Senate are united,” Schumer told reporters. “We have three words for President Trump, Mitch McConnell, Leader McCarthy: Open the government. We are all united and we’re finding Republicans are beginning to join us.”
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), himself an occasional Pelosi sparring partner over the years, said Trump is woefully misjudging the longtime Democratic leader if he thinks she can be bullied or pushed around.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Hoyer said. “She doesn’t back down to anybody.”