In Defense Of Nancy Pelosi — It’s Not Easy To Deal With An Outlaw President*
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the most consequential female political leader in U.S. history. Since 2003, Pelosi has won many victories for the Democratic Party and progressive causes. Pelosi has been demonized by the radical right for years because she has been a very effective advocate for progressive causes. If she wasn’t good at what she does, the GOP would have simply ignored her.
Pelosi’s first big challenge as Democratic House leader was when George W. Bush introduced a plan to privatize Social Security and turn it over to Wall Street in 2005. At that time, the (phony) conventional wisdom from the “liberal” mainstream media was that Social Security was going broke and the Democrats had to work with the Republicans in cutting benefits. Pelosi was under tremendous pressure to come up with her own plan. In response to this pressure, Pelosi was asked when she would come up with a Democratic plan. She defiantly responded: “Never. Is never good enough for you?” Pelosi’s courage in standing up to Bush, Wall Street and the press was a key factor to the demise of Bush’s plan.
The defeat of the GOP’s Social Security privatization scheme marked a turning point in Bush’s presidency. Due to the Democratic victory on this critical issue, Bush’s approval ratings dropped below 50% for the first time during his presidency and he never recovered. The Democrats rode that momentum to win a huge victory in the 2006 mid-term elections in which they regained control of the House and the Senate.
Pelosi and the Democrats governed effectively during the time of divided government in 2007–08. The last federal minimum wage increase passed with bi-partisan support and Bush’s signature in 2007. (Jeff Fortenberry voted against this minimum wage increase.) After the economy collapsed in 2008, Pelosi worked with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to save the banking system from a meltdown by helping pass the controversial TARP bill. (A major factor that turned a recession into the Great Depression was when Hoover allowed the banking system to disintegrate beginning in 1930).
After the big Democratic victory in 2008, Pelosi helped engineer the greatest Democratic legislative victories since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in 1965–66. When the Democrats had the majority in both Houses in 2009–10, Pelosi supplied the necessary Democratic votes to pass the 2009 Recovery Act, an Affordable Care Act with a public option, cap and trade legislation and Wall Street reform. (The public option had to be dropped from the Affordable Care Act when Scott Brown won the special 2010 Massachusetts Senate election due to Democratic voter apathy.)
The years following the 2010 mid-terms were fallow ones for the House Democrats. However, Pelosi led the Democrats out of the wilderness again in 2018. In the most recent mid-term cycle, Pelosi recruited a diverse set of candidates that consisted of both progressives and moderates. Those Democrats went on to win 40 seats in the House. It was the best showing in the mid-terms for the Democrats since 1974.
Shortly after the GOP was routed in the 2018 mid-term elections, Trump shutdown the government in an attempt to get money for the wall. At a fateful meeting in the White House, Pelosi and Schumer goaded Trump into taking the blame for the shutdown. The former TV reality star folded after a 35 day shutdown and he didn’t get a nickel for the border wall. It was a complete victory for the Congressional Democrats.
Since that shutdown victory, the House Democrats have attempted to fulfill their oversight duties under the Constitution. In an unprecedented move, the Trump Administration has rejected all subpoenas for witnesses and documents. In response, the House Democrats have filed several lawsuits to force the Administration to comply with their subpoenas.
Trump’s strategy is cynical and effective at the same time. Trump and his enablers in the Republican Congressional delegation don’t want any witnesses to testify because the hearings would be devastating for the GOP. They remember in 1973 when former White House counsel John Dean testified there was a “cancer on the presidency” and White House aide Alexander Butterfield shocked the nation when he said Nixon was taping conversations in the Oval Office. They don’t want that to happen again.
The refusal to cooperate and the ensuing litigation allows the Trump Administration to run out the clock before the election. It will take months — if not years — for this litigation to be resolved. Even then, there are no guarantees the Democrats will win.
This is a much different judiciary than the one we had in 1974. During the Nixon era, a majority of the judiciary were Democratic appointees and most of the Republican appointed judges were moderates. The current judiciary has been packed with radical and politically minded extremists vetted by the Federalist Society. Brett Kavanaugh was selected — in part — due to the fact he believed the Nixon tapes case was wrongly decided.
Some progressive pundits have criticized Pelosi for not initiating impeachment proceedings. One of the arguments they have advanced is that impeachment proceedings will cause the federal courts to expedite the Democrats’ document requests. Like I said, this a much different judiciary than the one we had forty five years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if the five “conservatives” on the Supreme Court find some way to change the previous law on executive privilege.
I do believe that impeachment proceedings are justified but there won’t be any Administration witnesses testifying at the hearings. It simply won’t be compelling. Moreover, there would be no Senate trial. McConnell and the 53 Republicans have the power to simply dismiss the proceedings before there is a trial. Impeachment is no silver bullet or panacea.
While the House Democrats have attempted to fulfilled their oversight duties, they have also been very productive in passing legislation that is good for the country. Since the House Democrats were sworn in earlier this year, they have passed bills on: election reform; LGBTQ equality protections; a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients; equal pay for women; gun background checks; climate change; strengthening the Affordable Care Act; the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act and net neutrality. The House will soon pass a bill increasing the minimum wage.
In my opinion, Nancy Pelosi has played a difficult hand very skillfully. She has had the misfortune to deal with the most lawless and corrupt president in history. The Founding Fathers never anticipated a president who would refuse to cooperate on oversight matters. Quite frankly, I’m not sure the Constitution is up to the task of dealing with Trump.
There will be no deus ex machina that will save America from Trump. Robert Mueller didn’t save us. The press won’t save us and impeachment won’t save us. There is no quick and simple fix to an outlaw president and the Republican rubber stamps in Congress. The only way out of this mess is to win in 2020. That’s it. Now we all need to devote our time and money to electing Democrats up and down the ballot next year. We also need to be united. We don’t have the luxury of having a circular firing squad. This is a national crisis. It’s all hands on deck. Now let’s get it done!
P.S. Since I wrote this piece on July 15, 2019, Speaker Pelosi has initiated impeachment proceedings against Trump in the wake of the Ukraine extortion scandal. In my opinion, she has played her hand masterfully. Back in May 2019, Pelosi predicted that Trump would self impeach. That’s exactly what has happened.
Due to Trump’s self-impeachment, support for impeachment and removal is soaring. A new CNN poll found that 50% of voters support both impeachment and removal. A new Quinnipiac poll indicates that 55% of voters support the impeachment inquiry. As recently as July, support for an inquiry was in the mid to high 30s. This follows on the heels of several other polls that indicate the same growing support for impeachment and removal. This shift in public opinion on impeachment is moving faster than it did in 1973–74.
At the end of the day, Nancy Pelosi will be seen as an historic figure. I believe one of her signature accomplishments will be how she saved democracy in the U.S. in 2019–2020 from an outlaw president* and a radicalized GOP. But Speaker Pelosi can’t accomplish this task without our help. Vote Blue no matter who in 2020! Let’s leave it all out on field! We can do this!