Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch

Call them the “I Told You So” Caucus. 

Democrats who argued during the Speaker race last fall that Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing White House, Democrats strike tentative deal to create Space Force in exchange for federal parental leave benefits: report Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests MORE was the right — and perhaps only — person who could lead the caucus in the tumultuous Trump era say they have been vindicated. 

The California Democrat, these people say, deftly negotiated a two-year budget deal with President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE that averted deep cuts to domestic programs beloved by Democrats. She steered her caucus through this week's historic Mueller hearings, helping to ensure that a tidal wave of new impeachment calls never materialized. 

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And her leadership team brokered a tentative truce between warring factions of her large and unruly caucus — the progressives and moderates — ensuring that Democrats head into the long August recess unified against President Trump. On Friday, she met, cleared the air and posed for a photo with freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezButtigieg campaign says 2000 people attended Iowa rally Trump keeps Obama immigration program, and Democrats blast him Democrat who opposed Trump, Clinton impeachment inquiries faces big test MORE (D-N.Y.), the progressive firebrand with whom Pelosi had recently clashed on prickly issues like immigration and race.   

“Those of us who have supported her and supported her in her Speaker’s run this time ... we don’t exactly go around saying ‘I told you so,’ but we could if we wanted to,” said Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeOvernight Energy: Dems unveil first bill toward goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 | Oversight panel asks EPA for plans on 'forever chemicals' | EPA finalizes rule easing chemical plant safety regulations Oversight Democrats ask EPA to turn over plans for regulating toxic 'forever chemicals' Mark Ruffalo's environmental drama 'Dark Waters' gets DC premiere MORE (D-Mich.), a Pelosi loyalist and one of the Democrats’ chief deputy whips. 

“Not only does she know how to count votes as well as anybody I know, but she's demonstrated why she should be Speaker right now,” he continued. “I mean, at this moment, there's some really talented people. But given what we're dealing with, both in terms of our own internal challenges and the external threat from Trump and this bizarrely complicit Republican Conference from both the House and the Senate, she's the toughest, smartest player in the mix.”

After the 2018 midterm elections that handed Democrats the majority, a bloc of insurgents led by Reps. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanGM among partners planning .3B battery plant in Ohio San Francisco 49ers suspend announcer after reference to quarterback's 'dark skin' More than 100 Democrats sign letter calling for Stephen Miller to resign MORE (D-Ohio) and Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceButtigieg picks up third congressional endorsement from New York lawmaker Democratic lawmaker introduces bill to tackle online terrorist activity NY attorney general to investigate alleged Long Island housing discrimination MORE (D-N.Y.) had threatened to derail Pelosi’s return to the Speaker’s office. But she picked off her opponents one by one and managed to put down the rebellion with help from allies who argued that Democrats would need a seasoned veteran leading them in the fight against the tough, unrelenting and often unpredictable Trump.

“I think the disenchantment in 2018, as we came up to our leadership elections, has dissipated,” Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonBlack lawmakers condemn Trump's 'lynching' remarks Maloney to serve as acting Oversight chairwoman after Cummings's death The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment MORE (D-Ga.), who has served under Pelosi for more than a decade. “Those feelings have yielded to a sense of appreciation for the great job that Nancy's doing — 79 years old and still a true champion.”

In the first seven months of her second stint as Speaker, Pelosi proved her mettle, besting Trump in two key negotiations this year. After a 35-day shutdown in December and January, Trump flinched in his standoff with Pelosi, agreeing to reopen the government without getting billions for his border wall that he had repeatedly demanded.

And just last week, Trump agreed to a $2.7 trillion deal that averts deep cuts to defense and domestic spending and avoids the need to lift the debt ceiling until after the 2020 elections. With a reputation as a master vote counter, Pelosi wrangled 219 votes on her side, demonstrating that Democrats could have passed the legislation on their own. House Republicans thought Trump’s deal was so bad that fewer than one-third — 65 out of 197 — voted yes despite the president’s tweets urging GOP support.

“A crap sandwich” is how one top House GOP aide described the Trump-Pelosi budget deal.

“I don't know who else can go in that environment and address the issues like she did. I’m just, I’m in awe,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), who represents a rural swing district in northern and eastern Arizona. “No sequester for the next few years, a two-year budget. I mean, I don't know if I could find any more happiness within a budget, other than I hate the fact that it costs so much.” 

Added Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksOn The Money: House passes monthlong stopgap | Broader spending talks stall | Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns | Progressives ramp up attacks on private equity Progressive Democrats ramp up attacks on private equity CNN: Biden likened Clinton impeachment to 'partisan lynching' in 1998 MORE (D-N.Y.): “Who's the one person that has been able to stand up to this president and the White House on issue after issue and has made him look like a fool? Nancy Pelosi.” 

Part of Pelosi’s strategy in the first seven months of the new Congress has been to protect vulnerable centrists like O’Halleran and freshman Reps. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerPro-Trump group targets Democrats with 'End the Witch Hunt' campaign Club for Growth extends advertising against House Dems over impeachment NRCC campaign prank leads to suspicious package investigation MORE (D-Va.), Max RoseMax RoseHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Democratic lawmaker introduces bill to tackle online terrorist activity Hillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing MORE (D-N.Y.) and Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamDemocrat says he expects to oppose articles of impeachment against Trump Conservative group unveils million ad campaign against Trump impeachment Club for Growth extends advertising against House Dems over impeachment MORE (D-S.C.) — the so-called majority-makers — whom Republicans will be targeting in 2020 in a bid to retake the House.

That’s why Pelosi has pushed back so aggressively against progressives who’ve been leading the charge on launching an impeachment inquiry into Trump; she knows it would be bad news for her frontline Democrats and for her party’s efforts to take back the Senate and White House.

The Speaker caught a break this week when special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s shaky, at times halting testimony before Congress seemed to sap momentum for the impeachment effort. Some Democrats lamented that Mueller did not “breathe life” into his 448-page report as they had hoped. And Mueller’s five hours of testimony provided no memorable, made-for-TV moment that could have helped sway public opinion in favor of impeachment. 

Just a handful of House Democrats signed on to an impeachment inquiry following Mueller’s appearance, giving Pelosi and her at-risk moderates some space as they head into the six-week summer recess.  

“Just going into impeachment for impeachment's sake is not the correct thing to do for us as Democrats. But more importantly, it's not the correct thing to do for Americans,” Meeks told The Hill.

“Nancy has repeatedly said, and what I couldn't agree with more, is we can’t allow impeachment to trump the work that we've done over the last 200 days and the commitment that we made in the last election, to make sure that everybody had affordable health care, that we will go to work to get an infrastructure bill, that we're going to try to root out corruption in Washington, D.C.”

More obstacles await Pelosi. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests Democrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward MORE (D-N.Y.) is heading to court to obtain underlying grand jury material for the Mueller report that covered possible obstruction of justice by Trump. Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDemocrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing Pelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers MORE (D-Md.), a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, said Nadler’s move effectively has launched an impeachment inquiry without a formal House vote. 

That same Friday, the final day before the August recess, Pelosi also made sure she handled some unfinished business with Ocasio-Cortez, the democratic socialist and social media sensation. Several weeks ago, Pelosi had clashed with Ocasio-Cortez and other liberal freshman members of “the squad” — Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump House moves ahead on long-stalled resolution supporting two states for Israelis and Palestinians MORE (D-Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump Al Green calls for including Trump's 'racism' in impeachment articles MORE (D-Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleySanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire Booker unveils legislation for federal bill to ban discrimination against natural hair House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE (D-Mass.) — over a bill to address the migrant crisis at the southern border.

It quickly turned personal, with Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff likening moderate Democrats to “segregationists” and Pelosi privately scolding rank-and-file lawmakers for attacking each other on social media. Ocasio-Cortez brought race into the squabble, saying the Speaker was unfairly singling out “newly elected women of color.”

But on Friday, Pelosi wanted to project unity, huddling with Ocasio-Cortez in her office overlooking the National Mall for 30 minutes. Pelosi then tweeted out a photo of the two powerful, female icons together.

“I think the Speaker respects the fact that we’re coming together as a party and that unity,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who on her first day in Congress had joined a climate change protest in Pelosi’s office that had infuriated the Speaker’s allies.

As she often does, Pelosi defiantly stated that diversity and differences of opinion in her 235-member caucus should be seen as something positive. 

“We’re not a lock-step, rubber-stamp representation of anything except representatives of our districts,” Pelosi told reporters. “In our caucus we have our differences, so respect that instead of making a big issue of it. ... In a family, you have differences, but you’re still family.”

Watching Pelosi bat away reporters’ questions, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceTrump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests Judiciary Democrat: 'This is a classic example of an impeachable offense' Pentagon chief says he's ordered review of foreign nationals exchange programs after Pensacola shooting MORE called her performance a “master class by a legislative leader."

“You can agree with Nancy Pelosi, you can disagree with her, in terms of policies, but that was a master class in terms of a woman who is charge of the cause, who is trying to deal with a lot of diverse elements, herding cats ... and showing real confidence and competence,” Wallace said.  

“She’s a heck of a politician."

Mike Lillis contributed.