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 PelosiPelosi says Trump sanctions package on Turkey 'falls very short' Graham throws support behind Trump's Turkey sanctions Feehery: Trump may be down, but he's not out yet 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 TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report 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-CortezObamas' first Netflix project nominated for Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Sanders wishes Ocasio-Cortez happy birthday Democrat launches primary challenge to Ocasio-Cortez 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 KildeeWorking Families Tax Relief Act would help millions join middle class Democrats see whistleblower report as smoking gun Whistleblower fuels impeachment talk 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) John Ryan2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the October showdown 2020 Presidential Candidates Democrats decry Trump's push to slash number of accepted refugees MORE (D-Ohio) and Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceMarijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch Democrat offers measure to prevent lawmakers from sleeping in their offices 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. JohnsonThe 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Hillary Clinton backs impeachment inquiry into Trump Pelosi announces launch of formal impeachment inquiry into Trump 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 MeeksHouse Democrat urges anti-Trump resistance within administration to come 'out of the shadows' Ten notable Democrats who do not favor impeachment Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington 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 SpanbergerHouse Dems introduce bill to fight social media disinformation Bipartisan lawmakers who visited Syrian border slam Trump's 'rash decision' Pelosi-backed group funding ads for vulnerable Democrats amid impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Va.), Max RoseMax RoseBottom Line The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster Dem lawmaker rips O'Rourke: 'I don't think losing is cool' MORE (D-N.Y.) and Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamDemocratic lawmaker fires back after NRCC mocks him for getting marriage counseling Here are the House Democrats who aren't backing Trump impeachment inquiry Here are the Democrats who aren't co-sponsoring an assault weapons ban 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 MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network 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 NadlerBarr to speak at Notre Dame law school on Friday The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Ignore the hype — this is not an impeachment inquiry 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 RaskinEx-Trump aide on Russia testifies for 10 hours as part of impeachment inquiry Oversight panel to subpoena Trump officials next week over deportation deferrals Democrats plow ahead as Trump seeks to hobble impeachment effort 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 TlaibTrump labels Tlaib 'a despicable human being' Tlaib says Democrats have discussed detaining White House officials who don't testify The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment MORE (D-Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarIlhan Omar raises .1 million in third quarter New California law bans school lunch debt shaming The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster MORE (D-Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPennsylvania candidate would be first autistic woman elected to a state legislature Pressley joins hundreds of activists calling for Kavanaugh impeachment: 'I believe in the power of us' The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment 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) WallaceBaier, Bream, Hemmer, Hume, Wallace among interim anchors to fill Shep Smith's 3 PM slot Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback 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.