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 PelosiRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide On The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? Military bases should not be renamed, we must move forward in the spirit of reconciliation 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 TrumpTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Trump to hold outdoor rally in New Hampshire on Saturday Eighty-eight years of debt pieties 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-CortezDemocratic strategist Andrew Feldman says Biden is moving left Hispanic Caucus asks Trump to rescind invitation to Mexican president Nadler wins Democratic primary 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 makes fans as Democrat who gets under Trump's skin House to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance Bipartisan bill aims to help smallest businesses weather the coronavirus crisis 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) RyanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' National Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus In the next COVID-19 bill, target innovation and entrepreneurship MORE (D-Ohio) and Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceNew York lawmaker spotted helping mother duck and ducklings cross busy street Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen Hillicon Valley: Tech giants poised to weather coronavirus damage | Record Facebook-FTC deal approved | Bipartisan 5G bill introduced 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. JohnsonHouse passes police reform bill that faces dead end in Senate House to pass sweeping police reform legislation OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower says California emissions probe was 'abuse of authority' | EPA won't defend policy blocking grantees from serving on boards | Minnesota sues Exxon, others over climate change 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 MeeksThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - As virus concerns grow, can it get worse for Trump? Black Caucus rallies behind Meeks for Foreign Affairs gavel The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bending the COVID-19 curve proves temporary for many states 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 SpanbergerTrade groups make lobbying push to be included in small business loan program Virginia GOP to pick House nominee after candidate misses filing deadline Gun control group rolls out House endorsements MORE (D-Va.), Max RoseMax RoseAlarm grows over Americans stranded in Yemen amid pandemic Moderate House Democrats introduce bill aimed at stopping China from exploiting coronavirus pandemic Republican Nicole Malliotakis wins New York primary to challenge Max Rose MORE (D-N.Y.) and Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamHarrison goes on the attack against Graham in new South Carolina Senate ad Club for Growth unleashes financial juggernaut for 2020 races Focus shifts to House after Senate passes major public lands bill 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 NadlerNadler wins Democratic primary Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks 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 start cracking down on masks for lawmakers Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won't wear masks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote 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 TlaibThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid Ocasio-Cortez pitches interns to work for her instead of McConnell MORE (D-Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid Black lives and the CBC: What happens to a dream deferred? MORE (D-Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressives zero in on another House chairman in primary Ocasio-Cortez pitches interns to work for her instead of McConnell 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) WallaceDC delegate: Congress took up police reform due to 'impatience in the streets' Activist: Stop vilifying protesters and try to understand why they are fighting Ex-CDC director: 'No doubt' coronavirus 'has the upper hand' 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.