In the rematch between Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Pelosi is quite simply kicking some McConnell butt.
To be honest, I have always thought of Pelosi as the most accomplished lawmaker of the 111th Congress, the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency in which Democrats pushed through a historic health care overhaul, Wall Street reform, credit card reform and several transformative civil rights bills like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and repealing the military’s ban on lesbians and gays serving openly in the military. The second most successful lawmaker that Congress in my book, was McConnell, who held his caucus together with extraordinary discipline to block other potential advancements once Democrats lost their supermajority in the upper chamber. In fact, if Pelosi hadn’t held the Democratic caucus together with equal discipline on a difficult health care vote in the spring of 2010, McConnell’s Republicans almost certainly would have blocked the Affordable Care Act from becoming law.
The 116th Congress stood to be a rematch, but this time McConnell had the benefit of a GOP majority in the upper chamber and a Republican president, albeit Donald Trump. But what we have learned so far is that McConnell is no match for Pelosi, even when he has the upper hand. In fact, it’s probably fair at this point to observe that McConnell is an abysmal legislator. What he is good at is exploiting weaknesses in the system to achieve ends that were never meant to be achieved. In other words, he’s good at cheating and making that look skillful—and that’s exactly what he’s done with judicial appointments. By stealing a Supreme Court seat from President Obama and then gutting the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, McConnell has cheated the system during Trump’s presidency to inject the courts with extreme conservative dogma for decades to come. He’s currently planning another nuclear overhaul to streamline GOP appointments to lower courts. While that’s lamentable and incredibly problematic, there’s absolutely nothing Pelosi could have done or do to stop it.
When it comes to legislating, however, McConnell’s one big singular success was pushing through a tax law that proved so unpopular with American voters it became a millstone around the necks of Republicans in the midterms. But that was back when Republicans still had unilateral control of the federal government.
Since Democrats assumed control of the lower chamber, Pelosi has delivered one drubbing after the next to McConnell, despite the fact that Senate Republicans gained several seats last November. Sure, the intemperate and self-obsessed Trump has been a drag on McConnell, but only because Pelosi has held so unwaveringly steady that it has forced a deepening rift between Trump and the GOP Senate that McConnell has proven incapable in navigating.
The main fight, of course, has been over Trump’s biggest campaign promise and pet project, the border wall. Trump thinks he’s a dog with a bone here; what he doesn’t realize is that Pelosi’s actually wielding that bone like a cudgel to club him repeatedly. And the more Pelosi clubs Trump, the more she drives a wedge between him and the GOP Senate and the more powerless McConnell becomes.
Just think about McConnell’s string of humiliations since Democrats scored historic gains in last year’s midterms. Last December, McConnell thought he had a deal to keep the government funded, but after his caucus approved the funding bill, Trump torpedoed it while demanding more wall funding. That teed up Pelosi, who held so steady and in command of her caucus during Trump’s grinding shutdown, that McConnell’s caucus began to crack under the pressure.
As House Democrats repeatedly passed bills to reopen the government, McConnell continually sought to protect Trump by refusing to take up any of the funding bills. As Republican approval ratings plummeted along with Trump’s, GOP senators began sniping at each other. “This is your fault,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin finally fired at McConnell at one tense caucus luncheon.
It was perhaps the truest observation Johnson’s ever made. McConnell had placed protecting Trump from pressure over his obligation to keep the government funded. In other words, party over country. What he got in return was more of the humiliation he deserved. The final deal to fund the government and end Trump’s cataclysmic shutdown contained even less border wall funding ($1.375 billion) than the $1.6 billion floated in December to avert the shutdown and far below the $5.7 billion Trump had been demanding. It represented such an unmitigated defeat for Trump that even he realized what a loser he was. When he threatened to tank the deal yet again, McConnell was forced into the trap he had set for himself by shielding Trump in first place. He coddled Trump once again, not only assuring Trump that Democrats were the real losers, but also agreeing to flip-flop and declare his support for the national emergency declaration he had been warning against both publicly and privately in exchange for Trump’s signature to end the shutdown.
That set up McConnell’s latest defeat this week, when fully a dozen Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to reject Trump’s “sham emergency declaration,” as Pelosi put it. When McConnell had whipped his caucus to gauge support for Trump’s executive power grab, he found almost none, even though 41 useless GOP senators still voted in lock step with Trump.
At a party lunch in early March, Mr. McConnell canvassed his conference and found virtually no support for the president’s position…
But the vote was a twofer for Pelosi—not only was it an embarrassment for Trump to suffer a rebuke from 12 senators in his own ranks, it also forced other GOP senators to make a choice between declaring their fealty to Trump or to the U.S. Constitution. The Republican senators who chose Trump over the Constitution and also face tough 2020 reelection bids—such as Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina—are going to have to answer for those votes. They may have avoided a primary by sticking with Trump, but Pelosi has robbed them of selling voters on the idea that they can serve as a check on Trump. And she already plans to do it all over again.
INBOX: @SpeakerPelosi confirms House will vote March 26 after Congress returns from recess to vote on overriding Trump's veto of the resolution terminating his national emergency declaration. pic.twitter.com/8yyUDsV0hM
— Ramsey Touchberry (@ramsberry1) March 15, 2019
By the time Pelosi is done with McConnell and the 41 GOP senators who sold their oaths of office down the river, they will have nowhere left to hide. Pelosi isn’t simply confounding Trump, she is creating openings in the 2020 Senate map that just might prove definitive.
Polling also demonstrates Pelosi’s dominance over McConnell. Even though both lawmakers started out with around mid-20s approvals on Election Day last year, Pelosi’s ratings have gone up 10 points while McConnell’s have gone down by about the same. He now sits at just a 16 percent favorability rating, according to Civiqs polling.
That’s because Pelosi, who actually knows how to legislate, is unmasking McConnell as an unscrupulous fraud who has spent the most meaningful years of his career placing party over country. Once McConnell had the power to really do what he wanted to do, he used that power to destroy the foundations of the Senate for partisan gain. Let’s hope that Machiavellian pursuit dooms Republicans in 2020.