Speaker Nancy Pelosi is vowing that the federal government will not shut down again, even as President Donald Trump ratchets up pressure for his border wall ahead of a fast-approaching deadline.
“There will not be another shutdown,” Pelosi confidently asserted during a half-hour interview Wednesday in her Capitol office. “No, it’s not going to happen.”
After the 35-day shutdown — and the political drubbing that Trump and Republicans took during the record-breaking impasse — Pelosi predicted GOP leaders won’t go down that road again.
“I have a club that I started, it’s called the ‘Too Hot to Handle Club.’ And this is a too-hot-to-handle issue,” Pelosi quipped.
Pelosi said she believes a bipartisan House-Senate panel negotiating on border security will come to an agreement before the Feb. 15 funding deadline. And she pledged to support any deal that emerges from those talks, even as she remains firm that there won’t be new money for Trump’s wall.
Pelosi is clearly relishing her return to the speaker’s chair after triumphing over both Republicans in November and rebels within her caucus in January. And the California Democrat underscored how firm a grip she has on Washington and its agenda as she sounded off in a POLITICO interview on everything from the border wall talks and climate change to impeachment and the 2020 presidential campaign.
But Pelosi’s tenure will not be without challenges: She faces a fractious caucus and an unpredictable president. And if she wants to keep her majority past 2020 and position her party to take the White House, Pelosi will have to carefully guide a freshman class that’s among the most diverse in history, brimming with progressives as well as dozens of Democrats who hold seats in Trump country.
While saying she respects the office Trump holds — and prays for him daily — Pelosi dismissed Tuesday’s State of the Union address, even as the California Democrat insisted she can work with the president to move legislation that would benefit the country.
“Don’t waste your time on this. This is theatrics, this is not government,” Pelosi said of Trump’s speech. “We just take this in stride.”
Pelosi also defended Congress’ oversight authority and rejected Trump’s suggestion Tuesday night that investigations could hurt the economy and prevent legislative cooperation, rhetoric Pelosi called an “all-out threat” on Wednesday.
She had harsh words for Trump after he attacked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a close Pelosi ally, as a “partisan hack who’s just trying to build a name for himself.”
“When [Trump] makes an assault on Mr. Schiff and congressional responsibility for oversight, he is making an assault on the Constitution of the United States, the separation of powers, co-equal branches of government,” Pelosi said. “We honor the institution in which we serve, the Congress of the United States. I hope he would honor it, too.”
After prevailing in her toughest leadership battle since becoming speaker in 2006, Pelosi has settled into her role as the de facto leader of the Democratic Party. She won the faceoff with Trump and Senate Republicans over the government shutdown, even canceling the State of the Union at one point. The move outraged Trump and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, but proved once again that Pelosi never makes a threat she can’t deliver on.
House Democrats are now moving ahead with their own ambitious agenda as they attempt to put the all-consuming shutdown behind them. Just this week, the House held its first hearings on gun control, climate change, Obamacare and the minimum wage.
House Democrats have also taken cautious steps toward formally investigating Trump — his administration, his personal finances and his businesses — even as special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe continues to unfold.
Still, Pelosi signaled that she’s treading carefully on anything related to Trump personally. She described her efforts as an attempt to strike a balance between freshmen progressives who are eager to seize Trump’s tax returns or impeach him, and veteran chairmen who have seen high-profile investigations go awry in the past.
“You have to do it right,” Pelosi said on the issue of the Ways and Means Committee obtaining Trump’s tax returns. “I hear people say, ‘Why didn’t they do it the first day?’ You have to do it right. You have to protect the prerogatives of the House of Representatives and you cannot be scattershot about that.”
The cautious approach is classic Pelosi: Have a plan, build support for the idea inside and outside Congress, and then methodically execute the strategy.
Pelosi defended her high-profile Democratic freshmen, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who have come under increasing GOP attacks.
“You can’t worry about what the Republicans are going to say about you,” Pelosi said. “This place is not a place for people who are worried about what the Republicans are going to say about you.”
Pelosi’s efforts have paid off with Ocasio-Cortez, especially. The freshmen superstar told NPR on Wednesday that Pelosi has “done a really good job so far,” even as Pelosi has sidestepped one of the left’s top priorities — a “Green New Deal.”
Progressives had demanded a special climate panel tasked specifically with drafting legislation to end the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels in just over a decade and transform the economy.
The California Democrat did agree to launch a select committee on climate change, similar to the one she created back in 2007, when she first became speaker. Pelosi said Wednesday, however, the panel would not be tasked with writing a specific bill, and brushed off the idea of the Green New Deal as a “suggestion.”
“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” Pelosi said. “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?”
Pelosi has long championed stronger environmental rules, and described climate change as her “flagship” political issue.
In the past decade, she has already seen Democrats try and fail to pass a sweeping cap-and-trade climate law. The next attempt, she said, will need broader support. “This time it has to be Congresswide,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi has also worked to silence some of the outside critics on the left who are demanding Trump’s immediate impeachment, such as California billionaire and Democratic donor Tom Steyer.
“The fact is, you are by definition as an advocate dissatisfied, relentless and persistent,” Pelsosi said, recalling her own experience as a Democratic activist. “Whatever the electeds are doing is a compromise, it’s not the purity of what we want.”
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As the Democratic race for the 2020 presidential nomination kicks off, Pelosi said she’s not ready to back any of the many candidates eyeing the White House. She “rarely endorses” in presidential primaries, she noted.
“People are going to have to show their ‘why.’ …What is your vision? Why are you doing this?” she said of the various Democratic presidential contenders. “The person who wins is the person who has that and connects. So I want to see who connects.”
Washington has a narrow window before attention turns completely to the presidential contest and the odds are slim of bipartisan breakthroughs in the polarized Trump era.
But Pelosi said she has identified a few policy areas where Democrats can work with the president — lowering prescription drug prices, protecting people with pre-existing conditions and perhaps rebuilding the country’s highways and transit systems. Trump mentioned these issues during the State of the Union.
“I pray for him all the time,” Pelosi said. “And I say to him, ‘Mr. President I would never ask you to do anything that is not in your interest.’”