GOP turns Pelosi's words into weapon for tax law

Republicans are putting House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) front and center in their messaging as they seek to use their tax-cut law against Democrats in the midterm elections.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE, Vice President Pence and GOP lawmakers have repeatedly invoked Pelosi's criticisms of the law, particularly her comments that the $1,000 bonuses companies announced following the tax law are “crumbs.”

Tying Pelosi to other Democrats is a time-tested strategy for the GOP, which has for years used the California liberal to attack Democratic candidates and paint the party as elitist.

But Democrats say they aren't worried about Pelosi's prominence in the tax debate, betting that popular opinion will ultimately be on their side.

“I think the No. 1 way to know that you’re effective at what you do is to get attacked,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

Hammill said that Republicans making attacks on Pelosi their top talking point have “already lost,” saying that Republicans would be talking about Pelosi instead of what the GOP sees as the tax law’s benefits. 

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Republicans have been eager to use Pelosi’s “crumbs” remark to paint Democrats as out of touch with regular Americans.

During congressional Republicans’ retreat on Thursday, Trump compared Pelosi’s comments to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPompeo: 'We've not been successful' in changing US-Russia relations Michael Moore ties Obama to Trump's win in Michigan in 2016 The Memo: Could Kavanaugh furor spark another ‘year of the woman’? MORE’s remark that about half of Trump supporters could be put into a "basket of deplorables.”

"We got hit with these corporations giving tremendous bonuses to everybody that Nancy Pelosi called crumbs," Trump said. "That could be like deplorable, does that make sense? Deplorable and crumbs? Those two words, they seem to have a resemblance. I hope it has the same meaning."

One day earlier, Pence also ripped Pelosi at the retreat. 

“If you’re going to say that $1,000 is crumbs, you live in a different world than I’m living in,” the vice president said.

Republicans have also highlighted Pelosi's remark that the passage of the tax bill would be "Armageddon." They have used the term mockingly when touting announcements from businesses who say they are investing, raising wages and giving bonuses because of the new law.

Outside groups have also taken aim at Pelosi. 

The American Action Network, which is closely aligned with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act GOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign MORE (R-Wis.), ran an ad before and after the State of the Union that blasted the Democratic leader. Job Creators Network President Alfredo Ortiz said his group is planning to launch a “hands off my crumbs” campaign to push back on Democrats’ interest in undoing parts of the tax law.

“This is a political faux pas,” Ortiz said.

The attacks on Pelosi come as polls show growing support for the tax law, though it still falls short of majority approval. Supporters of the law believe it will become more popular as taxpayers start to see bigger paychecks this month, making Pelosi’s remarks even more of a liability for Democrats.

The GOP hopes that by touting the measure and the strong economy, they can improve their chances in a midterm environment that has looked rough for Republicans. The president’s party typically loses seats in the midterms, and Trump’s approval rating is low.

“You want to remind every voter that his Democratic congress member voted 'no' and his Republican congress member voted 'yes,' ” said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist. “And Nancy Pelosi has volunteered to be the face of hostility to your pay raise.”

Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversHouse Dem campaign chief presses GOP on banning use of hacked materials Trump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security Hillicon Valley: Ex-Trump campaign adviser gets 14 days in jail | Tesla stocks fall after Elon Musk smokes weed on video | Dem, GOP talks over hacked info break down | Russian extradited over massive financial hack | Whole Foods workers trying to unionize MORE (R-Ohio), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters Thursday that Republicans are confident that attacking Pelosi will be an effective strategy in the midterms.

“Her ‘crumbs’ comment is something that I think we can use pretty effectively, and most workers that have now seen 50 to 100 bucks extra in their paychecks don’t think that’s crumbs” he said.

Stivers added that Pelosi has near-universal name identification, saying that attacks on her helped Republicans keep a House seat in Georgia’s high-profile 6th District special election.

Data from a Harvard-Harris survey conducted in January found that 50 percent of respondents viewed Pelosi unfavorably, while just 29 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of her. Fifty-five percent of independents had an unfavorable opinion of the California Democrat.

Some Democrats have been uneasy about Pelosi’s role as the face of House Democrats, with Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her 11 Dems float anti-Pelosi leadership plan: reports Pelosi: I’m here as long as Trump is here MORE (D-Ohio) receiving almost one-third of votes among House Democrats in the race for minority leader last fall. Following the Georgia election, a small group of House Democrats discussed ousting Pelosi, though the effort didn’t gain traction.

But Pelosi’s team and other Democrats dispute the fact that the minority leader was key to their loss in Georgia, noting that the district had been reliably Republican in the past.

“If they want to spend $25 million on every single deep-red Republican seat in order to keep it, please be my guest,” Hammill said. 

Democrats argue that Pelosi’s “crumbs” comments have been taken out of context. Pelosi repeated the term on Friday at a Chicago event hosted by Not One Penny, a group opposed to the Republican tax cuts, to argue that the middle class is getting much less of a benefit from the law than the rich.

“They try to sell this as a piece of cake, instead of the crumbs that it is to people while it gives a banquet to the wealthiest,” Pelosi said.

Democrats argue that Republicans are focused on attacking Pelosi because they don’t want to defend an unpopular president with unpopular policies.

“If you don’t think that you can defend something on the merits, then you go for the fluff,” said Democratic strategist Jon Selib. “I think that, at its base, Republicans are terrified of defending huge tax cuts for corporations and wealthy people.” 

To liberals, Pelosi is an asset in their campaign against the tax law. Pelosi has been attending Not One Penny events across the country, where she argues that Republicans are using the tax cuts’ increase in the debt to help justify cuts to social safety net programs.

“In the battle for public opinion, we can win, but we have to fight,” Not One Penny spokesman Tim Hogan said. “If we don’t fight, we will lose.”