The Pelosi administration

Since the 2018 midterm elections, when the Democrats took back the majority in the House, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi calls for investigation into reports of mistreatment of pregnant women in DHS custody Wisconsin highlights why states need a bipartisan plan that doesn't include Democrats federalizing elections Pelosi defends push for mail-in voting: GOP 'afraid' to let people vote MORE (D-Calif.) set the agenda of the government. First, with the impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders says he wouldn't 'drop dead' if Trump decided on universal healthcare Overnight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Hillicon Valley: State officials push for more election funds | Coronavirus surveillance concerns ramp up pressure for privacy bill | Senators warned not to use Zoom | Agencies ask FCC to revoke China Telecom's license MORE, and now, with the House passage of a bill to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. 

She deftly held her cards on impeachment during the Mueller investigation, but went all in after news broke that a whistleblower complaint against President Trump was filed by a White House official. The complaint made last summer alleged Trump tried to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSteyer endorses Biden for president Sanders 2020 press secretary: Democratic leadership interested in 'corporate status quo' or 'they're planning to replace Joe' Biden joins calls to release racial breakdowns of coronavirus cases, deaths MORE’s son. 

Not long after leading the effort that led to the president’s impeachment, Speaker Pelosi turned her sight to the coronavirus, and was the first out of the box setting policy markers for a response to the pandemic. 


Her exquisite timing and ability to command the agenda of government means that since the midterms, we have been living through the “Pelosi administration.”

The impeachment hearings in the House sucked the air out of the Trump administration, forcing it to play defense as the hearings dominated the news. All the temporary good news about the economy was buried by impeachment. The Speaker had the Administration on the wrong foot.

Now, under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, House passage of legislation that responds to the coronavirus pandemic once again has the Trump administration dancing to the wrong music. They were forced to negotiate over paid sick leave, expanded funding for Medicaid and make more money available for food security programs — hardly their preferred solutions. 

Pelosi took advantage of Trump’s disinterest in proposing and shepherding legislation to provide her own and thereby set the terms of the debate — just as she did with the rewrite of the NAFTA trade bill.

It is hard to think of a modern Speaker of the House who has wielded power as effectively as Pelosi. Former Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE (R-Wisc.), served mostly in the shadow of President Trump. Only Speakers who serve as leaders in opposition to the administration in power have an opportunity to be assertive; examples include Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE (R-Ohio), who served during President Obama’s tenure, and Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.) during President Clinton’s presidency. 


But neither BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows set to resign from Congress as he moves to White House The Pelosi administration MORE nor Gingrich came anywhere close to setting the agenda of government as Pelosi has done. Neither Boehner nor Gingrich could keep their troops in line, and both overreacted by instigating government shutdowns that backfired and undermined their bid for power.

In contrast, Pelosi has managed to hold her caucus together and use its discipline to challenge the president effectively. She has been able to play defense successfully within the Democratic caucus, which has permitted her to mount an aggressive offense against Trump. 

The Pelosi administration is an anomaly. House Speakers are generally not successful at setting the agenda of government. She has taken advantage of her caucus’ discipline and Trump’s inability to set the pace, and spearhead the agenda herself.

Yet, while Pelosi may enjoy the power she wields, she would gladly return to the shadows that Speakers normally inhabit, should Biden win the Democratic nomination, and perhaps the White House come November. 

Alan Draper is the Michael W. Ranger and Virginia R. Ranger Professor of Government at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.