Pelosi Wins SOTU War

Ken AshfordCongress, Democrats, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Donald Trump blinked.

There’s simply no other way to interpret this tweet sent at 11:12 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday night:

That concession came after a day in which Trump tried to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand, sending her a letter in which he insisted he planned to deliver his State of the Union speech from the House floor — and dared her to say “no.”Which, of course, she promptly did.

That stunned the White House, according to CNN’s reporting. Wrote CNN’s White House team:

“White House officials had believed Pelosi wanted only to postpone Trump’s State of the Union for political reasons after she sent a letter to him last week asking him to delay the address until after the partial government shutdown ended.”

In short: Trump and his senior aides thought Pelosi would cave, that she wouldn’t endanger the tradition of the State of the Union simply because she disagreed with his demands for $5.7 billion for a border wall — a demand that sits at the heart of the government shutdown. They thought that Pelosi, an institutionalist, would break when faced with the prospect of a president demanding time to give the country its annual report card.

And on that, they were wrong. Because Pelosi had long ago concluded that the only way to effectively combat Trump is to play the game in the most unorthodox manner possible. Traditional political calculations — and deference — must go out the window, Democrats have long argued privately, when dealing with a president like Trump. The only thing he responds to is raw power plays, and so you need to make clear that you will go well beyond what have been considered the conventional limits of what politicians will — and won’t — do.

This fight over the SOTU is about much more than just when and where Trump gives his speech. This is the first major skirmish in the era of divided government in Trump’s Washington. The fight was widely — and rightly — regarded as a test case for how Democrats could/should deal with Trump for the next two years. Should they fight to a point and then concede in the interest of the body politic? Or should they fight and fight and fight — refusing to concede no matter what rhetorical attacks he leveled at them?

Pelosi chose the latter option. And she won.