The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Pelosi knows the magic word for beating Trump: ‘No’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Jan. 9 attacked President Trump for the "collateral damage" on government workers from the government shutdown. (Video: Reuters)

President Trump has always been able to bully, boast, deflect, pay off and lie to get his way. (It also helped to have a ton of his father’s money and ways to avoid paying taxes.) Now someone has sufficient power and is immune to his bullying, unimpressed by his boasting, tenacious enough not to let him off the hook and indifferent to his fortune. She’s smarter, tougher and far better at negotiating. This in a nutshell is why Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is running circles around Trump, who literally felt he had to flee when he couldn’t get her to capitulate.

The Post reports:

Talks between President Trump and congressional Democrats aimed at ending the partial government shutdown collapsed in acrimony and disarray Wednesday, with the president walking out of the White House meeting and calling it “a total waste of time” after Democrats rejected his demand for border wall funding.
Furious Democrats accused Trump of slamming his hand on the table before he exited, and they said he ignored their pleas to reopen the federal government as they continue to negotiate over his border wall demands. With the shutdown nearing the three-week mark, some 800,000 workers are about to miss their first paycheck.

At the White House, Pelosi seemed almost incredulous. “If you don’t understand financial insecurity, then you would have a policy that takes pride in saying, ‘I’m going to keep government shut down for months or years unless you totally agree to my position,' ” she told the media. She continued, “So I said to him, ‘Mr. President, the evidence of what’s happening there does not support the crisis you describe and therefore the solution you suggest. Because we have a better idea of how to keep our country safe and it isn’t a wall.’” Facts! Defiance! No wonder Trump stormed out. (Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York pointed out that the Democrats offered to negotiate anything if Trump opened the government. He added, “This was really, really unfortunate and in my judgment, somewhat unbecoming of a presidency.”)

Back at the Capitol, Pelosi was needling Trump again. “We’ve been having conversations with him. But you cannot come to a conclusion if the president of the United States says ‘My way or the highway, there’s nothing to negotiate and, by the way, I am willing to hold the American, our federal workers hostage to my view,'” she said. “How pathetic is his argument, if he doesn’t even have confidence that he can prevail in the negotiation if he has to shut down government to strengthen his hand.”

Asked how this compared to past negotiations, she replied, “It wasn’t even a high-stakes negotiation. It was a petulant president of the United States. A person who would say, ‘I’ll keep government shut down for weeks, months or years unless I get my way.’ ” She explained, “That’s just not the way democracy works, and so it’s very sad. And the sad part of it is, that when you are having a negotiation, you can’t negotiate unless you stipulate to fact and the president is presenting notions that really do not relate to fact, evidence, data or truth.” Facts! Democracy! Harrumph, says the White House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) addressed the continuing government shutdown on Jan. 9. (Video: Reuters)

The toddler temperament only gets the president so far. On Wednesday, he only lost eight Republicans (one more than in a vote last week to reopen the government) on a House measure to fund the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service. It’s not clear Republican solidarity will last or whether we will see additional defections on the Senate side.

Granted, Trump does not think too many steps ahead, but as he goes about (metaphorically) throwing himself on the carpet and kicking and punching the floor, he’s made hash out of an already weak hand in any subsequent move to declare a national emergency. By saying the emergency only comes to a head when Congress won’t give in, he undermines the notion that events on the ground are so dire that unilateral action is needed. (Why not a year ago? Three weeks ago?) "My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable,” he will decide it becomes an emergency. Only then will he "go about it in a different manner,” he said. As my colleague Aaron Blake wrote, the notion that the border situation constitutes an emergency “was dubious to begin with — given that the level of illegal immigration is way down from its peak in the early 2000s and also given that Trump and his administration have repeatedly misstated basic facts to support their case. But Trump has now admitted that his decision relies not on whether it’s actually an emergency, but on whether such a declaration is needed politically and legally to build the wall.” It is almost as bad as saying out loud that the Muslim ban was, well, designed to keep out Muslims.

Democrats and Republicans had differing characterizations of a Jan. 9 White House meeting with top lawmakers and President Trump. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

Moreover, by switching arguments from (nonexistent) terrorism to a humanitarian disaster, Trump has eviscerated the argument for a wall, which is irrelevant to asylum seekers who present themselves at the border (i.e., they don’t try to dash across illegally).

In short, Pelosi has managed to flummox Trump, prompt him to display childish behavior in public and mess up any legal strategy for his going around Congress. You wonder when Trump will get tired of losing — to a woman, no less.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: All the reasons there is no ‘emergency’

Sister Norma Pimentel: Welcome to the border, Mr. President

Donna F. Edwards: Beware when you hear Trump wave a flag for African Americans

Janet Murguía: End the telenovela. It’s time for a real solution for ‘dreamers’ and the border.

Dana Milbank: Trump’s wall isn’t evil. It’s medieval.

The Post’s View: Democrats can use their leverage on the wall for a truly moral purpose