Opinion writer

On Wednesday, her last day as minority leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) commented on her meeting with the president and the game plan for Thursday, the first day of the new Congress. “We will bring to the floor legislation which will open up government. It will be based on actions taken by the Republican Senate,” Pelosi, the incoming House speaker, said. “Bills that have passed on the floor of the Senate by over 90 votes and, or, in committee unanimously, led by Senator Mitch McConnell.” She added, “It will also present, in a separate bill, the bill that Mr. McConnell did for the Continuing Resolution for the Homeland Security bill until February 8, using his exact date. We have given the Republicans a chance to take ‘yes’ for an answer.” She reiterated, “We have taken their proposals unamended by any House bipartisan amendments, but just staying true to what the Senate has already done.”

For McConnell and Senate Republicans, the problem could not be more plain. What is their rationale for refusing to pass the House version of the Senate’s own bill and, instead, perpetuate an unpopular shutdown drummed up to get an unpopular wall? McConnell will once more, in all probability, reiterate the lowly status to which the Senate has sunk under his leadership. If President Trump won’t sign it — or says he won’t — the Senate, apparently now a subcommittee of the White House, won’t even put it to a vote. There could hardly be a more emphatic statement of the Senate’s irrelevance and irresponsibility.

If he doesn’t pass his own bill batted back into his court by Pelosi, McConnell will be in quite a pickle. (“We have given the Republicans a chance to take ‘yes’ for an answer,” she pointed out after Democratic leaders met with the president.) McConnell’s members will get antsy, yet he cannot very well make a counteroffer for fear that Trump will undercut him (as the president did with the original continuing resolution). McConnell really is at the beck and call of Trump, who doesn’t seem to know what he wants or how to get it.

A cagier Senate leader would pass Pelosi’s bill, send it to the president for a likely veto and see whether his members override the veto. If they do, Trump and McConnell can blame squishy Republicans and the Democrats. Unfortunately, McConnell isn’t likely to put Trump or his own members on the spot.

The transfer of power in about two hours should inspire confidence among Americans — and fear among Trump cronies and sycophants. Pelosi remains the only female speaker, is the first speaker since Sam Rayburn to reclaim the gavel after losing it and, therefore, claims the title of the most formidable Democrat currently on the stage and ranks among the top tier of speakers from either party. She has reached higher than any other female politician. Moreover, she will now preside over a House with the power of the purse, of oversight and of impeachment.

It is her day insofar as she will have the ears and eyes of the press, if not the entire country, riveted on her as she tells the country, in effect, “Help has arrived!” She need only control her own members (those freshmen are about to learn how much power the speaker really has) to shift the onus of the shutdown to the Senate and White House. The same is true of efforts to shore up the Affordable Care Act and to pass ethics reform.

As Pelosi plunks down bill after bill in front of McConnell and Trump, she’ll be able to say, “We’re doing our job — why aren’t they?” McConnell and Trump better come up with something better than the president’s gusher of lies (sorry, getting taxpayers to pay for a wall he said Mexico would fund is not “keeping a campaign promise”), exaggerations (there aren’t 30 to 35 million illegal immigrants in the United States, as he claims) and insults. For the first time, he’s going to face a consummate politician capable of running circles around him. 2019 should be a fascinating year in politics.

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