Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power

If you are betting on politics, here’s my advice — put your money on Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Sunday shows - Democrats' spending plan in the spotlight Pelosi won't say if she'll run for reelection in 2022 MORE (D-Calif.).

Historian Robert Caro famously crowned Lyndon Johnson the “Master of the Senate.”

After last week, it’s clear Pelosi is his equal in the House.

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In the darkest hours, as House Democrats publicly feuded over two big spending bills, it looked like the Biden presidency and congressional Democrats’ chances in the 2022 midterms were going down in flames.

Cue the doom and gloom music. Get ready to watch Republicans snickering as they celebrate stories of Democrats in disarray.

But like the movie hero Indiana Jones, Pelosi managed to escape her Temple of Doom.

She began by reminding her razor-thin majority of House Democrats — her party cannot afford to lose more than four votes on any measure — that winning passage of both bills is far more important than the timing of the votes.

That meant a promised Thursday vote was no longer a hill to die on.

And, in tandem with President BidenJoe BidenRand Paul calls for Fauci's firing over 'lack of judgment' Dems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Six big off-year elections you might be missing MORE, she kept control by reminding fellow Democrats of the larger political stakes. Both bills are part of Biden’s agenda, an agenda that is supported by both moderates and progressives. Polls show public support as well.

As Pelosi told The Atlantic recently, Biden’s agenda is being compared to President Franklin Roosevelt’s historic New Deal, but Roosevelt “had 319 Democrats in Congress” while she and Biden are hanging on by their fingertips.

That’s why historians will marvel at the death-defying moves she used to keep the Democrats alive.

Here’s the story you will see in the history books:

As Democrats struggled through their dark night of turbulence, expressions of dissent about the 81-year-old Pelosi steering the ship were kept to a minimum.

Even Senate Democrats treated her with respect.

She pressured Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinAngus King: Losing climate provisions in reconciliation bill weakens Biden's hands in Glasgow Independent senator: 'Talking filibuster' or 'alternative' an option Rep. Khanna expresses frustration about Sinema MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaDems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Sunday shows - Democrats' spending plan in the spotlight Independent senator: 'Talking filibuster' or 'alternative' an option MORE (D-Ariz.) to say clearly how big a price tag they will abide for a reconciliation bill.

“I would never ever think about telling Nancy how [to run] her operation,” Manchin said. “She knows what she is doing.”

Then Manchin went public with a price tag he could accept. That started the real negotiations. That was a win for Pelosi.

“Let me just tell you about negotiating,” Pelosi said in the middle of the storm. “At the end, that’s when you really must weigh in. You cannot tire. You cannot concede. This is the fun part.”

Moderates in Pelosi’s House majority wanted an immediate vote on the infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate.

Left-wing House Democrats insisted on twinning the infrastructure vote with the reconciliation vote on funding for popular social programs including Medicare expansion, tuition-free community college and a child tax credit.

With Pelosi straddling the warring factions, Democrats on either side had a free shot at her. Every television camera was rolling. Any Democrat was in position to score points by calling her out for changing strategy on the timing of the votes.

The two most recent Republican Speakers, John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (Ohio), and Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (Wis.), both suffered that fratricidal death when right-wing members undercut them in front of conservative media.

It barely happened to Pelosi. Yes, Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerModerates split over climate plans in Democrats' spending package Bleak midterm outlook shadows bitter Democratic battle Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan MORE (D-N.J.), the leader of the most moderate faction, complained about her having “breached her firm public commitment” to a vote on the traditional infrastructure bill. And Sinema jabbed at unnamed “Democratic leaders” who had made “conflicting promises.”

But, when it came to personalized criticism, there was little else.

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Even as loud, internal disagreements among Democrats continued, Pelosi got her House caucus together for a more modest but vital win. They agreed to a continuing resolution to keep the government funded, avoiding a crippling government shutdown.

In today’s hyper-polarized politics, a win on any of these items is significant. But Pelosi’s ability to keep all of them in play stands as a virtuoso exercise in political power.

Even a fierce ideological foe, former Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.), said last week that "you could argue she's been the strongest Speaker in history."

Keep in mind that it appears unlikely Pelosi will run for Speaker again if Democrats keep their House majority after the 2022 midterms. Back in 2018, she said she would only serve four more years at most in that role.

And Republicans constantly attack her. Last year’s Trump campaign sought to make her a punching bag in its efforts to target Democrats as out of touch. The then-president’s campaign produced an ad featuring footage of Pelosi showing off expensive ice cream in her home freezer.

A September Economist/YouGov poll found 50 percent of Americans disapprove of  Pelosi’s job performance with only 34 percent approving.

Still, Pelosi had a higher rating in the poll than Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyRepublican spin on Biden is off the mark Cheney reveals GOP's Banks claimed he was Jan. 6 panel's ranking member House votes to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress MORE (Calif.), who got just 22 percent approval. And she was well ahead of Congress’ meager 15 percent approval rating.

Most important to her historical legacy, she has never lost a floor vote as Speaker.

She is all about winning.

Last year, she became the first Speaker to successfully impeach a President of the United States — Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE — twice!

And though it seems like a lifetime ago, let’s not forget Pelosi’s instrumental role in passing the 2009 economic stimulus package that pulled the nation out of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression and the 2010 Affordable Care Act that remains the law of the land to this day.

“I just told the members of my leadership the reconciliation bill will be the culmination of my service in Congress,” she told reporters.

If and when both spending bills pass, Pelosi's next act is fighting against the odds to keep a Democratic majority in the House.

Pelosi's performance last week gave Democrats at least a fighting chance of showing that a slim Democratic majority can deliver for voters.

What a legacy.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.