Dem duo poses test for Trump, GOP

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiNational emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win Congress allows Violence Against Women Act to lapse High stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks MORE (D-Calif.) has emerged as the senior partner in her relationship with Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNational emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration Mandatory E-Verify: The other border wall MORE (N.Y.), and he appears happy to defer to her in the interest of maximizing their shared power.

With Pelosi in charge of the House, Schumer now has more power over his caucus and seems thrilled to have an enforcer on the other side of the Capitol.

ADVERTISEMENT

Going forward, it means that Pelosi, who calls President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE’s proposed border wall “immoral” and jokes that she might be willing to chip in $1 for the project, is poised to set the outside limit of what Democrats will accept in a new round of border security negotiations.

“Pelosi is very much the senior partner in the relationship, and I think Schumer has accepted that. He understood that institutionally she was in a superior position,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University who served three fellowships in former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidConstitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency Klobuchar: 'I don't remember' conversation with Reid over alleged staff mistreatment Dems wary of killing off filibuster MORE’s (D-Nev.) office.

“I don’t think it was painful for him. I don’t think ego got in the way,” Baker said of Schumer. “Considering senatorial ego, it was a particularly gracious display on Schumer’s part.” 

The new power dynamic became apparent immediately after the November midterm elections, when Schumer quickly walked back his offer to provide $1.6 billion in funding for border fencing after it became clear that Pelosi would not support it.

Schumer underscored his close allegiance with Pelosi by later insisting that she attend any negotiations he had with Trump, foiling the president’s effort to set up one-on-one talks.

Heading into the current stalemate over border security, Republicans saw Schumer as more willing to cut a deal on wall funding and dismissed Pelosi as preoccupied by her scramble to overcome internal defections and secure 218 votes to become Speaker.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Green New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire MORE (R-Ky.) invited Schumer to his office on Dec. 18 in hopes he would accept what he called a “reasonable” offer that could “thread the needle on border security.”

He later blamed Pelosi for holding back Schumer from striking a deal.

“I believe that incoming Speaker Pelosi has little latitude to make a deal, and that may be Sen. Schumer’s view as well. You can ask him, but my impression is that the incoming Speaker feels she doesn’t have the latitude to settle this,” McConnell told reporters at the time.

Republican senators predicted that once Pelosi was elected Speaker, it would be easier to cut a deal on Trump’s wall and that Schumer would be the go-between.

But it didn’t work out that way. Instead, Pelosi set the terms of what Democrats were willing to accept, and Schumer has stuck by her side.

Pelosi and Schumer issued at least four joint statements at the start of the shutdown, staged a joint televised response to Trump’s Jan. 8 prime-time address to the nation calling for the border wall, and held an event with furloughed federal workers on Jan. 9. They also hosted a press conference declaring victory Friday after Trump announced he would sign a bill temporarily reopening the government.

Schumer’s Senate allies say that relationship is going to stay the same between now and Feb. 15 as a special Senate-House conference committee tries to come up with a border security compromise before government funding runs out again.

“Whatever is done, they will both agree to it. Period,” said Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Utah tests Trump on Medicaid expansion | Dems roll out Medicare buy-in proposal | Medicare for all could get hearing next month | Doctors group faces political risks on guns MORE (D-Mich.), who described their teamwork as “excellent.”

She said there’s “not a chance” that Schumer might announce support for a proposal that doesn’t get the green light from Pelosi.

Jim Manley, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide, said Republicans misread the Schumer-Pelosi alliance.

“The idea that there were some White House aides that thought at least in the beginning they could drive a wedge between Pelosi and Schumer is just amazing to me and shows how little they understand how the Hill really works,” he said. “Their whole strategy of divide and conquer is doomed to failure.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Schumer has known Pelosi since former Rep. George MillerGeorge MillerDem duo poses test for Trump, GOP Lawmakers honor retiring Calif. Reps. Waxman, Miller Who will stop Wal-Mart from 'wreaking havoc' on the American Dream? MORE (D-Calif.) introduced them at a weekly dinner of House Democrats in 1987, when Pelosi was first elected to the lower chamber.

Schumer often tells the anecdote about the time when Miller, who was his housemate, brought Pelosi to the dinner and introduced her as the woman who was going to become the first female Speaker.

“Schumer, I think, has always been impressed with her political skills, so I don’t think it has taken any amount of time at all for him to have a full trust in her instincts about how to navigate the situation over the last couple months,” said Brian Fallon, a former senior aide to Schumer.

The two leaders now talk several times a day.

“They talk constantly. During the shutdown it was probably five or six times a day,” said a senior Democratic aide. “They both like to prepare a lot for meetings so typically they meet ahead of time. If there’s a White House meeting, the two of them will huddle in advance and work out who says what.”

And Schumer often tries to ingratiate himself with his counterpart by telling elaborate jokes.

“He’s always trying to tell her jokes that make her laugh,” the source said. “Sometimes there’s success, sometimes there’s not. They’re all really long stories, long convoluted stories. Sometimes they’re funny.”

The friendly banter, often over the phone, is a notable difference compared with Pelosi’s relationship with Schumer’s predecessor, Reid, who was famous on Capitol Hill for being terse and to the point. And he was no fan of talking at length on the phone.

Before key meetings, Pelosi and Schumer often hash out a game plan, dividing up key points for each to stress at pivotal moments.

Their teamwork played to perfection at an Oval Office meeting with Trump in early December, when the president, who is used to dominating a room, was kept off balance by alternating salvos.

Pelosi argued Republicans didn’t have enough votes to pass a spending bill with border wall funds through the House, and Schumer harped on Trump’s repeated threats to shut down the government.

Trump quickly grew frustrated and committed a major gaffe by declaring that he would have no problem forcing a shutdown, proclaiming, “I will take the mantle of shutting down.”

Senate Republican leaders were left in stunned disbelief after the meeting. They had prepared talking points blaming Democrats for the Schumer Shutdown 2.0 — a reference to a quickly aborted attempt to extract protections for “Dreamers” in January a year ago — but shelved them after Trump told Schumer and Pelosi “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

Efforts by Senate GOP moderates such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration MORE (Maine), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Congress must move forward on measure dealing with fentanyl GOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees MORE (Tenn.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSteel lobby's PR blitz can't paper over damaging effects of tariffs Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal Lawmakers divided over how to end shutdowns for good MORE (Ohio) to build a centrist bloc to force both sides to the negotiating table also had trouble attracting Democratic support.

Democrats insisted that a bipartisan letter urging compromise had to garner signatures from at least 20 fellow Democrats before they would agree to send it out.

One Senate GOP aide complained that centrist Democrats immediately reported developments back to Schumer and were hesitant to agree to anything before checking in with him.

Fallon, the former Schumer aide, said that in the January 2018 shutdown “Schumer staked out a pretty clear, resolute position” but “he had moderate members of his own caucus self-form a little rump group with people like Susan Collins and it moved the center of gravity from Schumer” toward Trump and the Republicans.

A bipartisan group of senators quickly rallied around a proposal to reopen the government without doing anything to help Dreamers, forcing Schumer to quickly back down, Fallon argued.

“That was an illustration of the difference between being the leader of your party in the Senate and Pelosi’s status as the Speaker,” Fallon said. “There’s no rump group over the last six weeks during this shutdown that was going to be able to negotiate out from under Pelosi. Pelosi is the last word across both chambers.”

Centrist Democrats such as Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Senate poised to confirm Trump’s attorney general pick MORE (W.Va.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTrump got in Dem’s face over abortion at private meeting: report Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union MORE (Del.) say they are open to reaching a compromise with Trump on the border wall.

“I’m not going to sit here and say, I refuse to spend a dollar on border security that includes any fencing, like the 700 miles of fencing we already have,” Coons told CNN on Monday.

But with Pelosi in charge of the House, his influence is diminished.

“I see people like Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTrump got in Dem’s face over abortion at private meeting: report Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union MORE going on television and acting like he doesn’t share Pelosi’s opinion. Well, guess what? Her opinion is what counts,” Fallon said. “She’s the only Democrat that matters in terms of expressing an opinion because that position is so powerful that she gets to call the shots like that.”