Spare, if you will, a moment’s pity for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). They are not exactly enjoying the government shutdown as they might have hoped.
Pelosi had already packed her bags and boarded the Air Force bus Thursday, along with a sizable delegation of House Democratic leaders, for her overseas junket.
She and her comrades were, no doubt, looking forward to touring NATO’s billion-dollar-plus new headquarters in Brussels; posing for selfies on camelback by the pyramids in Egypt; grinning for photo-ops with the troops in Afghanistan.
Then the order came from President Donald Trump to prohibit her use of government aircraft.
Fly commercial, he suggested. There is a government shutdown going on, after all.
And, as Trump noted, 800,000 federal workers will continue to go unpaid — unless Democrats stay in town to negotiate.
The bus went ’round the block and back.
Pelosi’s shock must have been quite something to observe.
She is not used to being treated like this, you see. She apparently expected she could cancel (ahem, “postpone”) the State of the Union address due to the shutdown — and then disappear abroad.
Trump’s response — blocking Pelosi’s use of the aircraft — was gutsy. It was a “drain the swamp” moment.
But the timing was pure comedy gold. (Adam Schiff, stepping off the bus, looked like he’d seen a Russian.)
In a statement, Pelosi’s spokesman protested that the purpose of the trip had been “to affirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance,” something the president had already done earlier that day.
Her real goal was to conduct an alternative foreign policy — as she did after being elected Speaker in 2007, when she paid a friendly visit to Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad.
Pelosi’s flack complained that President Trump himself had flown to visit the troops in Iraq early in the shutdown.
But Trump is the commander-in-chief, and Pelosi is not. How jarring for her to be reminded that although she might pretend the Constitution grants her equal power to the president, only Trump can turn the bus around.
It was just the latest setback for Pelosi in the shutdown fight.
She and Schumer insisted on equal television time after Trump’s Oval Office address last week — only to be mocked mercilessly for odd staging and absurd makeup.
Pelosi must have thought her State of the Union gambit would be a winner. And it was — with the media.
Politico’s lead headline Thursday morning blared: “PELOSI PLAYS HARDBALL.” The article added: “The bold move also sent the unmistakable signal that Pelosi holds all the cards in the lower chamber.” A separate article in Politico declared: “Donald Trump may have finally met his match in Nancy Pelosi.” It described her as “satin and steel.”
CNN’s Chris Cilizza also chimed in, praising Pelosi’s “major power move.”
But her decision was soon exposed as a major blunder.
First, Pelosi’s stated justification — security concerns — was quickly debunked by the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security. (In other words: she lied.)
Second, by refusing to hear the president’s speech, Pelosi effectively gave Trump license to give his speech anywhere — in the Senate, perhaps, or in a football stadium, far beyond the frowns of Pelosi’s new majority.
Believe it or not, Trump is winning the shutdown.
True, polls suggest a majority of Americans blame him — not a surprise, since he told us he would be “proud” to take responsibility. And a National Public Radio poll suggested that there are “cracks showing with his base.”
Moreover, though the public is somewhat inoculated against the media’s usual shutdown horror stories — they have cried wolf too many times before — there could be some real hardship ahead.
Yet Trump is winning — because he is fighting back.
That is partly a consequence of his position: the White House always has the advantage in a negotiation with Congress, especially a divided Congress.
But Trump is also winning because he is fighting harder — and smarter — than any Republican has before.
He began by picking the right battle. The one reason for which the public — or enough of the public — might forgive a government shutdown is national security. And Trump has framed the border issue as a national security problem, not a question of immigration policy.
That means the shutdown can never be entirely his fault: it is his duty, as commander-in-chief, to refuse to sign a budget that places Americans in danger.
Trump does not need to convince the polls that he is right. He knows if he begins to solve the problem, his support will return.
Pelosi and Schumer are somewhat new to problem-solving. They have also never seen a Republican who fights back. That is why they are losing the shutdown.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.