The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Pelosi puts an ignorant, irrational president in his place

Democratic leaders plan to meet President Trump in the Oval Office on April 30. Here's a look back at their confrontational meeting in December 2018. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

For all those Americans who have pined for moments when someone would say to President Trump, “That’s just false, Mr. President” or “Excuse me, but you’ve been fact-checked on that repeatedly,” Tuesday brought moral vindication. If you’ve found yourself defending the concept of objective truth or furious that the conservative movement has entered some postmodernist moment when facts are whatever you say they are, soon-to-be-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) delivered in a face-to-face confrontation over funding for Trump’s border wall. (As an aside, I’m at a loss to understand how any Democrat could oppose literally the only elected Democrat who has publicly called out the president to his face, scoring a direct hit.)

She ferociously held her ground in an Oval Office showdown, daring him to make good on his boast that he had the votes in the House for his wall. Pelosi declared that “there are no votes in the House, a majority of votes, for a wall — no matter where you start.” Trump insisted that he’d have the votes if he wanted them. " Well, then go do it. Go do it," she said confidently. Wham!

When Trump insisted that the Democrats' package was not “good border security,” she replied: “It’s actually what the border security asked for.”

When Trump kept insisting that only a wall would provide security or that the Army would go ahead and build the wall anyway, she put her foot down. “What the president is representing in terms of his cards over there are not factual. We have to have to an evidence-based conversation about what does work, what money has been spent, and how effective it is,” she said. “This isn’t about — this is about the security of our country. We take an oath to protect and defend, and we don’t want to have that mischaracterized by anyone.” Ouch.

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) did his part as well, prodding Trump into accepting responsibility for the wall and ridiculing his triumphalism over winning deep-red Senate seats.

Nevertheless, it was Pelosi who did what the media has not done — interject, fact-check to his face and refuse to allow him to operate in a parallel reality. It’s not just that Trump has blurred the difference between facts and lies, but that so few have stood up to him in the moment for all the public to see. Perhaps Pelosi will start a trend.

She managed to get under Trump’s skin. Eli Stokols of the Los Angeles Times later reported, "It sort of spiraled out of control, and when the President left the Oval Office after Pelosi and Schumer left, a number of people saw him, he stormed out of the Oval, walked into an anteroom just off the Oval Office, and had in his hand a folder of briefing papers, and he just scattered them out of frustration, threw them across the room and expressed frustration to the people who were present.”

Pelosi came out triumphant. As my Post colleague Colby Itkowitz wrote, “Pelosi emerged from the meeting not some wilted flower, but a symbol of a woman who doesn’t have time for male posturing. ... Pelosi kept her composure throughout the charade, continually trying to bring the conversation back to a place where actual dialogue could occur.”

Pelosi could give a graduate school course in handling an ignorant, irrational blowhard. It all starts with holding him accountable for his falsehoods.

Read more by Jennifer Rubin:

A boneheaded play by the GOP

What Senate Republicans must do

Trump has already lost the shutdown fight

Have Democrats turned the corner with Latino voters?

Centrists are alive and kicking