Pelosi’s big sec­ond chance

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY KAREN TUMULTY

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is ab­so­lutely right: Nancy Pelosi should be the next speaker of the House.

But not for the rea­sons the pres­i­dent gave in his tweet, a sur­pris­ing one given how he and his party have de­mo­nized Pelosi through­out the 2018 cam­paign.

Be­ing speaker is not a “great honor.” It is a job. Pelosi should get it — at least for the next two years — be­cause she is good at it. In the four years she held the gavel, many schol­ars of Congress say, she con­sol­i­dated and wielded the power of that of­fice more ef­fec­tively than any­one in modern his­tory.

At her news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day, Pelosi bris­tled at Trump’s state­ment that she “de­serves” the speak­er­ship. “It’s not about what you have done,” she said. “It’s what you can do.”

None of this is to ar­gue that the House Democrats do not need fresher, younger lead­er­ship. Pelosi is 78, and her top lieu­tenants, Mi­nor­ity Leader Steny Hoyer of Mary­land and As­sis­tant Mi­nor­ity Leader James Cly­burn of South Carolina, are 79 and 78, re­spec­tively. Pelosi surely un­der­stands that she needs to look for new tal­ent as she fills out her ranks.

But her ex­pe­ri­ence is es­pe­cially im­por­tant now be­cause there is so lit­tle in the army she would be lead­ing. Only three of the in­com­ing Demo­cratic com­mit­tee chair­men have ever held that po­si­tion be­fore. More than half of the in­com­ing Demo­cratic cau­cus has never been in the ma­jor­ity.

Pelosi’s leg­isla­tive skill was on dis­play most vividly in the first year of the Obama pres­i­dency, when she and her 81-vote ma­jor­ity passed ev­ery item on his agenda — most breath­tak­ingly, dur­ing the high-wire act that pro­duced the Af­ford­able Care Act.

She can count votes, and she can turn them. Her long­time ad­viser, for­mer Rep. Ge­orge Miller, D-Calif., once told me that when he watched Pelosi work the House floor for votes, he could hear the theme mu­sic from “Jaws” play­ing in his head.

No less an ad­ver­sary than for­mer speaker Newt Gin­grich said of her: “Nancy Pelosi is a very smart, very tough per­son who has earned her po­si­tion by just brute hard work, by ap­ply­ing her in­tel­li­gence and by build­ing a net­work that has sus­tained her for a long time.”

What may serve her best now is the sea­son­ing she got in two years as speaker un­der a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent, Ge­orge W. Bush.

Though Repub­li­cans love to car­i­ca­ture Pelosi as a dippy lib­eral, she proved that she is, at her core, a po­lit­i­cal prag­ma­tist. One of her first acts was to dis­ap­point the fer­vent Demo­cratic base with an an­nounce­ment in 2006 that Democrats would “ab­so­lutely not” cut off fund­ing for the Iraq War: “As long as our troops are in harm’s way, Democrats will be there to sup­port them.”

As she heads into 2020 with a small and frag­ile ma­jor­ity, Pelosi un­der­stands, and is equipped to deal with, ten­sions within her party. She can bal­ance the pas­sions of the hard left with the cau­tion needed to pro­tect more mod­er­ate mem­bers.

Count on Pelosi to put the brakes on pre­ma­ture calls for Trump’s im­peach­ment and on more rad­i­cal pro­pos­als such as abol­ish­ing Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. At the same time, she can muster the votes to bring the Repub­li­cans’ leg­isla­tive agenda to a halt.

The speaker-in-wait­ing has in­di­cated she is not in this for the long haul. She has re­cently be­gun de­scrib­ing her­self as a “tran­si­tional fig­ure.”

But right now, her party needs Pelosi. The ques­tion is whether Democrats are smart enough to rec­og­nize that.

Karen Tumulty writes for The Wash­ing­ton Post.

YURI GRIPAS Bloomberg

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks Tues­day dur­ing an elec­tion night event in Wash­ing­ton.

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