‘Liberated’ Pelosi bashes Trump — and woos Democratic base
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has dropped the gloves.
The House Speaker hammered President Trump on Thursday, just a day after he was acquitted on two impeachment charges, accusing her White House rival of demeaning the office, insulting the Congress and deceiving the same voters he’s seeking to win over in November.
In a scathing press conference in the Capitol, Pelosi bashed Trump for betraying the Constitution, denigrating immigrants and degrading American values — all in the same breath. And she was just getting started.
The Speaker also denounced the president for lacking class, after he questioned the faith of Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), and she likened Trump’s recent State of the Union address to a reality TV show — only more fictional.
“What happened … was a president using the Congress of the United States as a backdrop for a reality show, presenting a state of mind that had no contact with reality whatsoever,” Pelosi told reporters. “It was a manifesto of mistruths, of falsehoods — really dangerous to the well-being of the American people, if they believed what he said.”
Not to be outdone, Trump appeared at the White House moments later to celebrate his recent acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial. Amid showers of praise for the Republican lawmakers who’d helped him beat back the charges, Trump attacked Pelosi and several other Democrats — including Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), who led the impeachment push — as “horrible” people who put his family “through hell.”
“They stuck together and they’re vicious as hell,” Trump said.
The sharp back-and-forth came amid escalating tensions this week between the Speaker and the president, fueled by both the Democrats’ impeachment effort — which wrapped up Wednesday with the Senate acquittal votes — and the president’s State of the Union speech, delivered on the House floor the night before.
Trump, playing to his base, had used his annual speech to Congress to take full credit for the booming economy; bash Democrats as dangerous socialists; and award a conservative icon, Rush Limbaugh, with the Medal of Freedom.
Pelosi, playing to hers, stood behind the president at the conclusion of his speech and, as the TV cameras rolled, summarily ripped it in half.
The viral moment was widely condemned by Republicans as a breach of decorum. But for the Democrats it had the desirable effect of overshadowing — at least briefly — both the substance of Trump’s speech and the debacle that was simultaneously unfolding in the Democratic primary in Iowa, where technical glitches have marred the counting all week.
Days later, Pelosi’s allies were still praising the Speaker for confronting the mercurial president head on.
“She’s hitting him where it hurts,” Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) told The Hill on Thursday.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) went even further, saying Democratic voters are fed up with any effort to play nice with Trump, and are all but demanding that party leaders take the fight directly to the president in a bid to prevent his reelection in November.
“Our rank-and-file wants to see an assertive Democratic leadership with respect to this threat,” said Connolly, who represents a Virginia district just across the Potomac River from Washington. “The thing I hear the most when I go across the river in my district is, ‘Keep fighting.’ What I don’t hear is, ‘Stop the fighting,’ or, ‘Kiss and make up,’ or, ‘Can’t you find common ground?’ They’ve given up on that, because of his behavior.”
“What they want is somebody who’s going to take the fight to him and push back,” he added. “And I think Nancy’s hearing the same things.”
Pelosi’s strategy highlights the multi-faceted role she plays, particularly in the early stages of a presidential election year.
As the head of House Democrats, she’s fighting to protect vulnerable lawmakers and preserve the party’s majority next year. As a Speaker with broad national renown, she’s also the party standard-bearer: the most potent Democratic counter-weight to Trump — at least until party voters tap their presidential nominee later in the cycle.
“A lot of people follow what she says, and believe in what she says,” said Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.).
The thrust of Pelosi’s attacks on Trump’s State of the Union address revolved around the president’s economic claims. Moments before Pelosi addressed reporters in the Capitol on Thursday, staffers distributed a list of economic data points — compiled by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), a chairman of the Joint Economic Committee — that undermined Trump’s assertions that he’d “rescued” the nation’s economy from “the mess” created by his predecessor, President Obama.
Among the statistics crippling Trump’s claims: Average job growth, over the first 35 months of Trump’s presidency, has lagged behind that of Obama’s final 35 months in office; the stock market performed better under Obama’s first three years, versus Trump’s; and Obama cut deficit spending by nearly $1 trillion over his two terms, while the annual deficit has jumped by hundreds of billions of dollars under Trump, and is projected to top $1 trillion in 2020.
“He did not inherit a mess,” Pelosi said, “he inherited momentum.”
Pelosi also defended her decision to rip up Trump’s speech Tuesday night, saying he “shredded the truth” and she was only responding in kind.
“I shredded his state-of-his-mind address,” she said.
Trump has sought to paint a different picture of his achievements in office, using an appearance Thursday morning at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington to tout the economy, saying it’s “the strongest it has ever been.” Those comments, however, were eclipsed by Trump’s attacks on his rivals at the same venue.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said. “Nor do I like people who say I pray for you, when they know that that’s not so.”
The first reference was to Romney, the only Republican to vote Wednesday to convict Trump of the abuse of power charge, citing his “promise before God to apply impartial justice.” The second was a shot at Pelosi, who has said numerous times that she prays for Trump — a message she amplified Thursday.
“I don’t know if the president understands about prayer or people who do pray. But we do pray,” she said. “And I pray hard for him because he’s so off the track of our Constitution, our values, our country.”
While the attacks have devolved to become more and more personal, Pelosi downplayed the significance of the feud as the two sides aim for legislative agreements on issues like infrastructure and drug prices in the months to come.
“We’ve had a strained relationship for a while, [and] we were able to keep government open,” Pelosi said, citing a previous success.
Some other observers also cautioned against reading too much into the personal animosities on display this week. Connolly, for one, emphasized that Trump and Pelosi, as the political heavyweights of their respective parties, are merely doing their jobs by grappling for any advantage heading into the November elections.
“This isn’t just a sort-of personal rivalry between these two political figures,” Connolly said. “These are really tectonic plates that are colliding and creating seismic waves politically.”