Somewhere, Dorothy Parker is smiling.
In one withering remark on Tuesday, once (and now increasingly likely future) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave Donald Trump the most important civics lesson of his presidency.
“Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.” Pelosi said, deftly shutting down some mansplaining from Trump, who, seconds earlier, patronizingly suggested that the California Democrat was “in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now.”
In just a few words, Pelosi tartly reminded Trump that, in a divided Washington, government by bullying and Twitter fiat straight up won’t work.
First up, let’s not kid ourselves: The Oval Office cage match between Pelosi, Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and what we can only reasonably assume was some sort of PenceBot, was not an exercise in serious policy-making. That went out the window the moment it was opened to cameras.
When that happened, it was all about optics. And Schumer and Pelosi chewed the scenery, while Trump blustered, and the PenceBot, who sat stock still and silent, likely blinked his eyes with some Morse code message pleading for deliverance.
For Democrats, the meeting was an unalloyed win, delivering the message they won’t be cowed into submission like the extraordinarily compliant and supine Republican Congress Trump has had on his side.
Not to be left out, Schumer cast shade of his own, zinging Trump as the president tried to brag about GOP gains in the Senate during the November midterms.
“When the president brags he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble,” Schumer said, as the PenceBot silently raged.
For Trump, the extraordinary 17-minute back and forth between the two Democratic leaders was designed to signal to his base that he’s still serious about delivering on his 2016 campaign promise to build an unbreachable wall along America’s southern border that we now know U.S. taxpayers alone are going to pay for.
Trump made the further Bizarro-World claim that he’d be “proud” to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t deliver every cent of the $5 billion he wants allocated, as he bravely battles through history’s most epic case of Edifice Complex.
Democrats aren’t moving off the $1.3 billion they proposed, apparently cementing the grinchy likelihood of a partial, pre-Christmas shutdown of the federal government.
Trump went on to bluster that he’d be “proud to shut down the government for border security. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”
It wasn’t long before official Washington echoed with the sound of Republican members of Congress slapping their foreheads in disbelief. Shutdowns over policy issues, as they well know, never end well for those who provoke one.
“Everybody wants to blame it on the other party, always. That’s what you typically do. That’s out the window now,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who must be counting the days until his retirement.
Back on Capitol Hill, Pelosi reportedly told Democratic colleagues that the session with Trump was like being in “a tinkle contest with a skunk.” And in a jibe that must have sent Trump into paroxysms of rage, Pelosi took a shot at his manhood, The Washington Post reported, citing a Democratic aide in the room.
Referring to the wall, Pelosi reportedly said that “It’s like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”
Yes, Trump needs Democratic support in the Senate to get the 60 votes to get the wall funded. But he needs the support of Republicans as well, some of whom have been pressing for more comprehensive immigration reforms.
Tuesday’s White House meeting was a reminder that if Trump couldn’t get what he wanted on immigration when he had control of both sides of Capitol Hill, trying to get things done with a Democratic majority in the House; the Mueller probe careening to its apparent end, and 2020 beckoning, will be an order of magnitude more difficult.
For a president used to getting his way, Civics Class will be in session in 2019.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at email@example.com.