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 PelosiRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Trump chooses high-profile but controversial legal team Trump: Impeachment timing intended to hurt Sanders 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 TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' 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-CortezAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia Here are the 10 senators who voted against Trump's North American trade deal Artist paints Michelle Obama, other women as battered in campaign against domestic violence 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 KildeePelosi digs in on impeachment rules fight Pelosi faces decision on articles of impeachment Trump shocks, earns GOP rebukes with Dingell remarks 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) RyanOffice of Technology Assessment: It's time for a second coming Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far GM among partners planning .3B battery plant in Ohio MORE (D-Ohio) and Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceHouse Dems demand answers regarding holding of Iranian-Americans at border Buttigieg picks up third congressional endorsement from New York lawmaker Democratic lawmaker introduces bill to tackle online terrorist activity 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. JohnsonDemocrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Democrat calls Gaetz the 'pot calling the kettle black' after Hunter Biden drug-use comments Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay 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 MeeksOcasio-Cortez defends decision not to pay dues to House Democratic campaign arm Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Facebook deepfake ban falls short | House passes bills to win 5G race | Feds sound alarm on cyberthreat from Iran | Ivanka Trump appearance at tech show sparks backlash House Democrats urge financial regulators to defend against Iranian cyberattacks 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 Democrats launch effort to register minority voters in key districts House passes bills to gain upper hand in race to 5G The biggest political upsets of the decade MORE (D-Va.), Max RoseMax RoseBloomberg's congressional endorsers grow to three The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Biden picks up endorsement of early O'Rourke backer Sean Maloney MORE (D-N.Y.) and Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamHouse Democrats launch effort to register minority voters in key districts The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi plans to send impeachment articles next week The lawmakers who bucked their parties on the war powers resolution 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 MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay 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 NadlerMcConnell locks in schedule for start of impeachment trial Pelosi: Trump's impeachment 'cannot be erased' House to vote Wednesday on sending articles of impeachment to Senate 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 RaskinThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial questions; civil Democratic debate House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate House to vote Wednesday on sending articles of impeachment to Senate 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 TlaibHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Michigan governor urges Zuckerberg to enforce community guidelines after hate speech, threats surface Ayanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia MORE (D-Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia With surge in anti-Semitism, political leaders need to be aggressive and reflective in response Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair endorses Sanders MORE (D-Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia Ayanna Pressley opens up about having alopecia for first time, reveals bald head in interview Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair endorses Sanders 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) WallaceFox's Chris Wallace asks if Trump legal team filled with people who have their own axe to grind Chris Wallace: Pelosi plan to force 'McConnell to bow to her will' was a 'total failure' The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment week 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.