Trump snubs highlight Pelosi’s grip on Dems

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller End of Mueller shifts focus to existing probes Democrats renew attacks on Trump attorney general MORE (D-Calif.) has her troops locked down and walking in step as the Democrats face off against President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE over border security.

Just weeks ago, Pelosi had faced the toughest challenge to her leadership career from disgruntled Democrats fed up with her long reign, leading to questions of how effectively Pelosi would manage her diverse and restive caucus heading into the high-stakes 2020 presidential cycle.

But 25 days into a partial government shutdown, virtually every Democrat has adopted Pelosi’s position of refusing to negotiate on Trump’s border wall before the government is reopened — a consensus that’s bolstered the Democrats’ political hand even as cracks have emerged between the White House and congressional Republicans. Many are crediting Pelosi.

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“She has demonstrated that she is a very formidable congressional counterbalance to the White House,” said Rep. Brian HigginsBrian HigginsDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Democratic senators unveil 'Medicare X' bill to expand coverage US labor unions say NAFTA replacement doesn't go far enough for workers MORE (D-N.Y.), an early Pelosi critic who supported her
Speaker’s bid only after winning some concessions. “It’s hard to get members to coalesce around you as a leader unless you articulate a clear and compelling narrative. She has done that, clearly.”

That dynamic was on full display Monday when a handful of moderate Democrats — including some conservative-leaning Blue Dogs seen as Trump’s closest allies across the aisle — unanimously refused an invitation to meet with the president on his border wall while the government remains shuttered. 

“Once you re-open the government, I’d be honored to come and have a serious discussion about smart, bipartisan solutions to border security,” Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersPro-business Dem group sees boost in fundraising Overnight Energy: Trump moves to speed up pipeline construction | House Dems urge Senate to reject Interior nominee | Dem offers plan for 'filling in the blanks' of Green New Deal Dem lawmaker offers tool for 'filling in the blanks' of Green New Deal MORE, a Southern California Democrat, wrote in a short letter to Trump refusing the invitation. “However, I am not interested in a photo op.” 

Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyLeft-center divide forces Dems to scrap budget vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure MORE (D), a Florida Blue Dog, also turned down Trump’s entreaty, citing “a scheduling conflict.” And at least three other Democrats also declined to attend Tuesday’s White House meeting. 

The across-the-board snub highlights the grip Pelosi, who’s led the Democrats since 2003, retains over her caucus even after the fractious post-midterm fight over her rise to the Speakership. It also suggests there’s no end in sight to a partial government shutdown that already ranks as the longest in the nation’s history.

“I’ve never been a member of Congress when the government’s open,” quipped freshman Rep. Max RoseMax RoseFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race McCarthy holds courtesy meeting with ex-Rep. Grimm Convicted Michael Grimm close to new House run: 'I'm 90 percent of the way there' MORE (D-N.Y.).

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But Rose, who opposed Pelosi’s bid for Speaker this month, also praised the strategy adopted by Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference MORE (D-N.Y.), who have refused to negotiate over Trump’s demand for new border wall construction while roughly 25 percent of the government remains shuttered.

“I’ve demonstrated from my first day here that I’m more than willing to stand up to my leadership — more than willing,” Rose said. “But we’re doing the right thing right now.”

“Everybody is ready to talk. Everybody is ready to negotiate,” Rose continued. “We just want to open up the government first.”

Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibTim Ryan doesn't back impeachment proceedings against Trump Tlaib rallies in support of Green New Deal at Detroit town hall Warren calls for House to begin impeachment proceedings MORE (D-Mich.), a liberal freshman who supported Pelosi for Speaker, delivered a similar message. 

“We all are unified in getting government back up and running, and then start this conversation” she said. “No one disagrees with that.”

Rose and Tlaib are hardly alone in their praise for Pelosi’s handling of the shutdown. 

Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George Perlmutter20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform On The Money: Wells Fargo CEO steps down | Trump vows to keep funding for Special Olympics | House panel approves marijuana banking bill | Controversial Fed pick gains support in Senate House panel approves marijuana banking bill MORE (D-Colo.), who had initially been a leader of the effort to oust Pelosi after November’s elections, responded with one word when asked about her negotiating strategy: “Strong.”

Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanTim Ryan doesn't back impeachment proceedings against Trump Cory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris 2020 Dems ratchet up anti-corporate talk in bid to woo unions MORE (D-Ohio), another Pelosi detractor who had challenged her leadership position in 2016, said the Speaker has done a good job keeping rank-and-file Democrats in the loop throughout the negotiations — a promise she’d made in taking the gavel and one Ryan said has helped maintain the Democrats’ united front in the shutdown fight.

“We’re holding tight, man,” Ryan said.

And Higgins credited Pelosi with lending the Democrats political capital in the fight.

“She was tough, she was clear, and I think took a principled position that the wall is immoral,” he said. “This is not what we are as a country.”

The comments arrived on day 25 of the partial shutdown, which has closed roughly a quarter of the federal government as both sides have dug in over Trump’s signature border wall. 

The president has insisted that the outstanding spending package include $5.7 billion for new wall construction; Democrats have countered with $1.3 billion for border security enhancements like new surveillance technology, more personnel and repairs to existing walls and fences — but no new barriers.

Some Democrats said that while Pelosi’s handling of the standoff is commendable, the nature of the debate has given her an easy hand to play.

“People are unified in understanding that the president should not be harming everyday people because he has a tantrum over wall funding. I mean, that’s easy for everyone in the Democratic Caucus to see,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), another initial Pelosi critic who, like Higgins, Perlmutter and Ryan, supported Pelosi in the end. “She’s our point person on that, so clearly, she’s sort of seen as the rallying person. But I think the issue is just so easy for members of the caucus that you’re not going to have people cracking or splitting off, like you’re seeing on the Republican [side].”

But others said it’s Pelosi’s negotiating skills — and her refusal to back down in the fight — that’s given the Democrats the edge in the public relations debate over who bears the blame of the historic shutdown.

“I am heartened by what I’ve seen in terms of her ability to get in there and fight,” said Higgins.

“There’s been a pretty good flow of information to the members,” added Ryan. “We’re pretty united.”