House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi isn't apologizing to Democrats and liberal activists for cutting a deal with President Trump on spending and the debt limit. She's looking to prove she can win.
Some liberal groups and immigration activists have loudly criticized Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) for cutting a deal with Trump and GOP leaders without a securing a plan to extend legal protections to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. But Pelosi said the deal reached Wednesday to pair $15.25 billion in disaster aid with a three-month extension of the debt limit and current spending levels was a critical step in securing unexpected power for Democrats.
"I make no apology for doing that with the person who is going to sign the bill," Pelosi said in a Friday interview. "It gives you great leverage."
Pelosi said that she does not think Democratic voters believe that she and Schumer should avoid finding common ground with Trump. She said Republicans made a mistake when they refused to work with President Barack Obama. That made it difficult for Congress to pass legislation that would otherwise have carried bipartisan support, such as a comprehensive immigration bill — and Pelosi said she isn't going to repeat that headache.
Besides, Pelosi said, Democrats got exactly what they wanted out of their talk with Trump. Republican leaders wanted a longer extension of the debt limit to avoid a messy vote on debt and spending in December when Republicans will almost certainly need Democrats to provide the votes necessary to avoid default and a government shutdown.
The bill that passed by a vote of 316 to 90 in the House, with 183 Democrats voting yes, ensures that Democrats will have a chance to ask for major concessions on spending increases and immigration in December.
Pelosi said the deal with Trump proved that he recognized the power that a unified Democratic Party brings to the table.
"If they had the votes, we wouldn't have been having the meeting," Pelosi said. "The clarity of that situation I think the president was fully aware of."
Pelosi said she and Schumer went into the White House meeting with the message that they were prepared to deliver votes, but only if the debt-limit deadline was tied directly to the deadline on spending.
"It wasn't a threat; it was a prediction," Pelosi said. "We're not voting for this unless its three months and we all support the debt ceiling."
Now Pelosi has Trump's ear, and she pointed to his tweet to reassure beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program , or DACA, as proof that she is looking out for the same people who have criticized her.
Pelosi said she had planned to call White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to tell him that the immigrants protected under DACA were scared when Trump rescinded Obama's order that protected them from deportation. But Trump called Pelosi first and she got to tell him herself.
"I said: 'Mr. President, I'm so glad you called, because this is the challenge we have. I know you didn't mean to instill fear, but it is happening,' " Pelosi said. "He said, 'Well, what can I do?' And I said, 'Do what you always do.' "
Pelosi hung up and went into a meeting Thursday with members where she told them about the call. While they were in the meeting, Trump tweeted that there would be "no action" against DACA recipients during the six months before the program is phased out.
"I'm glad I didn't leave this to the end of my presentation," Pelosi said. "Because how could I say at the end of the presentation, 'Oh, I asked him to do that.' "