Pelosi-Trump relationship takes turn for the terrible
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Trump’s relationship may be beyond repair, and the only thing that might break the tension could be the November election itself.
The partnership between Washington’s two top powerhouses has always been fraught. But their ongoing feud took a turn for the worse during Trump’s third State of the Union address when the president appeared to snub the Speaker as she tried to shake his hand and Pelosi tore up a copy of his speech before the cameras.
Even though Trump didn’t mention impeachment during his nearly 90-minute address, it was clearly the elephant in the room on the eve of the Senate vote to acquit him of two impeachment charges passed by the House.
“I have never seen a relationship between a sitting Speaker and a president this bad,” observed Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who arrived in Congress in 1997, in the middle of legendary battles between then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and President Clinton.
Shimkus, who is retiring this year, said Trump should have shook her hand but Pelosi should have shown more respect.
“It doesn’t speak to our higher angels,” Shimkus added. “Your enemy today is your ally tomorrow. I’ve subscribed to that for 24 years. In this case, your enemy today is your enemy tomorrow, and we hope we can get something done.”
Past Speakers and presidents of different parties have always clashed publicly, but behind the scenes there were intimate, personal relationships. In 1995, Gingrich and Clinton, two politicians from the South, shared a stage in Claremont, N.H., a meeting dubbed “the Historic Handshake.”
More recently, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), as he fended off attacks from Tea Party conservatives, golfed with former President Obama and once secretly met with him at the White House as they tried to build rapport for striking a “grand bargain” spending deal.
Pelosi and Trump are a long way from that.
Before Tuesday night’s memorable speech, the two septuagenarian leaders hadn’t seen each other since a contentious Oct. 16 meeting at the White House about Syria. That meeting took place only a few weeks after House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry.
Pelosi walked out after Trump called her a “third-rate” or “third grade” politician, depending on who you ask because the two sides couldn’t even agree on what insult they heard.
Trump at one point told Pelosi that “I hate ISIS more than you do,” while she told him that “all roads with you lead to Putin.”
She later told reporters at the Capitol that “we have to pray for his health” because Trump had a “very serious meltdown.”
A photo released by the White House of Pelosi standing at a table and pointing her finger at Trump in the meeting went viral.
But even that wasn’t the first time that one of them couldn’t stand being in the room with the other for long. Trump in May walked out of a scheduled meeting with Pelosi and other Democratic leaders about infrastructure after the Speaker had earlier in the day accused him of engaging in a “cover-up.”
And in December 2018, Pelosi and Trump clashed in an Oval Office meeting about funding the government that was carried live on the television networks. Trump tried to taunt Pelosi — who was still rounding up the votes for Speaker at the time — by noting that “Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now.”
“Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory,” Pelosi retorted.
The longest government shutdown in history commenced less than two weeks later.
Each encounter ultimately helped Pelosi score points with the Democratic base and her own caucus.
House Democrats gave Pelosi a standing ovation during a closed-door caucus meeting on Wednesday as she recounted how she decided to rip up Trump’s speech while sitting behind him during the address.
“I didn’t go in there to tear up the speech, and I didn’t even care that he didn’t shake my hand. In fact, who cares?” Pelosi said, according to sources in the room.
“About a quarter through it I thought, ‘You know — he’s selling a bill of goods like a snake oil salesman. We cannot let this stand,’ ” she said. “So, somewhere along the way realizing what was coming, I started to stack my papers in a way that were tear-able.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the tensions between Congress and presidents of opposing parties are hardly rare. But Trump’s provocative conduct, he said, has sparked a unique degree of personal hostility between the sides.
“There’s a lot of personal animosity that the president has generated,” Hoyer told reporters on Wednesday. “None of us had that personal animosity against George Bush.”
That’s not to say that House Democrats and the Trump administration have been unable to agree on anything. They reached a bipartisan budget deal over the summer and revised a trade pact with Mexico and Canada, in addition to funding the government, right around the time that the House voted to impeach Trump in December.
But all of those deals were notched between Pelosi and intermediaries like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer — not Trump.
“The president doesn’t like Nancy Pelosi, and Nancy Pelosi’s not wild about Donald Trump. That could be said of a number of different Congresses, probably, and presidents,” Hoyer said. “But we have a responsibility to work together. We have done that, and we’re prepared to do it.”