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Nancy Pelosi’s incredible comeback

Greg Nash

Nancy Pelosi’s return to power is a remarkable story. Earlier this year, Democratic members of the House openly speculated on Pelosi’s retirement and the identity of the new Speaker, if Democrats won control of the lower chamber. She might have lost her coveted position if the favored candidate to replace her, Joe Crowley of New York had won his primary campaign against unknown challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But after winning the majority by flipping 40 GOP seats, the former Democratic speaker was back in the driver’s seat. The new Democratic majority caucus nominated Pelosi with only 32 dissenting votes which was a much better performance than 2016 when 63 Democrats voted against her. Pelosi still needs a vote on the floor to become Speaker but she will find a way to rein in the dissident Democrats who oppose her ascension.

The comeback kid

What accounts for the Democratic leader’s incredible comeback? Let me count the ways.

{mosads}Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan masterminded a campaign which produced their party’s biggest victory in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1974. Pelosi and Lujan masterminded a disciplined effort focused on meat and potato issues including jobs and health care costs. This discipline overcame harsh GOP attacks against the Democratic candidates for their allegiance to Pelosi. Under Pelosi’s direction or not, the Democratic candidates survived and thrived.

Pelosi’s tactics to become Speaker for the second time are a window to the view of her legislative skills. Her father, Thomas D’Allesando, Jr. had been the mayor of Baltimore and she developed the transactional skills of a successful big city mayor.

Pelosi is not the visionary leader many Democrats want but she can wheel and deal with the best of them. Rep. Marcia Fudge from Ohio considered running against Pelosi for Speaker. But the Democratic leader was able to gain Fudge’s support with the promise of a subcommittee chairmanship. Rep.-elect Ocasio-Cortez, the new face of the progressives in the caucus was vocal about the need for a new party leader. But she became a supporter after Pelosi agreed to establish a special committee on climate change. Rep. Brian Higgins from western New York signed a letter calling for a new Democratic leader but he became a Pelosi supporter after she promised to prioritize infrastructure issues important to his constituents.

Pelosi also deserves credit for holding Democrats together in opposition to the Trump agenda. She was able to convince every single member of the Democratic Caucus to vote against the Trump tax plan and the president’s attempt to replace ObamaCare with his own remedy.

Pelosi vs. Trump

The Democratic leader will have her hands full. Pelosi will need to fight Trump and struggle against progressives in her own caucus at the same time. Progressives will press the new Speaker hard to impeach Trump and to pass a single-payer health care insurance bill like Medicare for All.

Pelosi and Trump will be at each other’s throats for the next two years but they do have one thing in common: Neither of them wants an impeachment vote. The new Speaker will use all the tools at her disposal to go after the president but she feels an impeachment vote would be futile. The debate would consume the lower house for months and suck the oxygen out of her agenda. Even if the House does vote to impeach the president, the Senate is unlikely to remove him from office. Senate Democrats need 67 votes to remove Trump and they only have 47 votes.

Pelosi’s biggest challenge and her greatest opportunity will be health care reform. The president’s success in rolling back aspects of ObamaCare and his failure to replace them helped Democrats win the House. Most of the winning Democratic congressional campaigns featured attacks on Republican incumbents for voting to eliminated pre -existing condition coverage.

Americans want action on health care and it’s up the Democratic leader to deliver. Progressive Democrats will push Pelosi on Medicare for All which is a non-starter in the GOP Senate. But the midterm Election Day Exit Poll indicates Americans want bold action. Four out of 10 voters identified health care as their key issue and seven-tenths of them said that the system needs major changes. But Pelosi could use single payer as a bargaining chip against the president and congressional Republicans to get a significant upgrade to a system that doesn’t come close to protecting vulnerable Americans.

Damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t

I have two words for the Trump vs. Pelosi confrontation in January, “cage match.” Donald Trump is tough but Nancy Pelosi is a wily politician who knows how to effectively navigate through the corridors of power. She made it clear that she believes in congressional oversight of the executive branch while the president has made it clear he will resist and retaliate against Democratic investigative efforts.

{mossecondads}Trump will go very hard at Pelosi because he seemingly likes to pick on women and also because she will be the face of the Democratic Party until it selects a presidential nominee. But Pelosi will give as good as she gets from the president. In contrast, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows he has to work with the Speaker. The McConnell went out of his way to describe her as a “professional.”

Pelosi is a political professional surrounded by a sea of ideological fever. Professional legislators like Pelosi want to make new laws to help Americans. But if Pelosi is able to cut deals with the president and with McConnell to get things done, the progressives in her caucus will howl at her for selling out. If the new Speaker doesn’t cooperate with the GOP, she won’t get anything done and Trump will relentlessly attack her and blame the Democratic leader for gridlock. Good luck, Madame Speaker. You’ll need it.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at, a social media network for politics.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Brad Bannon Brian Higgins Donald Trump Joe Crowley Marcia Fudge Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House White House

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