It’s stumping even the experts on Twitter: what is Donald Trump doing praising Nancy Pelosi and offering to help her get the votes she needs to become speaker of the House in January?
Twice since the midterms, Trump has offered to use his proclaimed power to deliver votesfrom House Republicans to Pelosi.
Trump on Twitter: “I can get Nancy Pelosi as many votes as she wants in order for her to be speaker of the House. She deserves this victory, she has earned it but there are those in her party who are trying to take it away. She will win!” This followed a tweet the day after the election: “If they (Democrats) give her a hard time, perhaps we will add some Republican votes.”
To understand what Trump is really doing, a little context is required.
For all his boasting about being a great deal maker, the fact is that Trump has failed miserably to cut any significant deals in Congress during his presidency. Trump failed to repeal and replace Obamacare. He failed to pass an infrastructure bill. He has failed to fully fund The Wall. His major legislative achievement – the tax cuts – was passed over the objections of the Democratic leadership, and with no Democratic votes for final passage.
When crises erupted in two major policy areas – how to resolve the “Dreamers” and granting them permanent immigration status and whether to take any significant steps on gun control, particularly in the wake of the mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida – Trump began what looked like some serious work with Democrats to actually get something done. On both immigration and guns, there were live televised sessions from the Cabinet room, elbow-to-elbow with Democrats, with Trump engaging in significant give-and-take debate on possible legislative options.
What stunned Washington was that Trump seemed to entertain significant departure from orthodox Republican positions on immigration and guns.
But in both instances, Trump was pulled back in the days that followed by his staff, especially on immigration and by special interests such as the National Rifle Association on gun control.
No bipartisan compromise legislation on these issues has ever been reached, and certainly not passed into law.
With Democrats, Trump’s art is that of the no deal.
So what’s up with his superficially generous and magnanimous offer to Nancy Pelosi to help ensure she becomes speaker in January?
It’s all about Trump.
Trump is making a crude power play. If he delivers the votes to ensure that Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker, Trump will be able to say that the only reason Pelosi is speaker is because he made her speaker. Trump lost control of the House in the midterms. If his influence helps make Pelosi speaker, then he will claim a measure of control over the Democratic House of Representatives.
Out of defeat, a Trump triumph.
Nancy Pelosi is nobody’s fool. She will neither need, nor accept, any votes directed by Trump when she wins the vote on the House floor to become speaker. She has been clear: “I intend to win the speakership with Democratic votes.” Her spokesman affirmed: "Leader Pelosi will win the speakership with Democratic votes."
It is a quaint custom in Washington that former high officials retain the last title they held as they go about life without the trappings of power. Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Paul Ryan – all “Mr Speaker” with whomever they encounter in Washington.
Since 2006, for Nancy Pelosi, it has been “Madam Speaker.”
And it will be so again on January 3, 2019. And she will not owe the 45th president a damn thing.