Opinion writer

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) knows she has power and knows how to wield it. She can read the polls showing President Trump’s approval plummeting, and support also diving for using the shutdown to get his wall. She isn’t giving an inch, at least in a way Trump finds meaningful.

Trump tried to bully his way into the State of the Union address, writing to Pelosi that he’d be prepared to deliver it next week. “It would be so very sad for our country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!” Actually, most of the country might prefer him to give it in writing. We know the one person who’d be disappointed — infuriated, even — would be Trump.

Pelosi holds the cards here. She promptly returned fire. Recounting her prior letter telling him the State of the Union address should not be held during a shutdown, she wrote back to Trump, “I said we should work together to find a mutually agreeable date when government has re-opened and I hope that we can still do that. " Her letter continued, “I am writing to inform you that the House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President’s State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened.”

At an encounter with the media Tuesday, Pelosi repeated that message in simple, deliberate terms. The Democrats will not talk until the shutdown ends. If they allow him to take hostages this time, he’ll do it over and over again, as she said:

The State of the Union is just a metaphor for the overall state of play in Washington. Trump blusters, Pelosi calls his bluffs. Trump insists his wall is popular, Pelosi knows it hasn’t got 60 votes in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Democrats are offering Trump a narrow escape route. The Post reports, “House Democrats are prepared to support increased spending on border security, but not a wall, if President Trump agrees to reopen the government first, lawmakers and aides said Wednesday."

“The proposal, which Democrats are drafting into a formal letter to Trump, will include border security improvements such as retrofitting ports of entry, new sensors and drones, more immigration judges and border patrol agents, and additional technology, among other measures,” the report said. This presumably would be higher than the $1.3 billion previously offered. It’s a fig leaf, to be sure, but Trump has staked his reputation on the wall and only the wall.

We will soon learn if the Republicans in the Senate — who face protests in their offices — have had enough. If so, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will first put Trump’s measure on the floor and then the House measure to reopen the government and then, perhaps, the newest proposal or some variation. As we have said multiple times, McConnell needs to do his job without a note from the principal. Otherwise, both the president and the GOP’s Senate majority go down the tubes.