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Pelosi got the better of Trump, again

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Once again, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is large and in charge. Once again, President Trump is frantic and rattled. Once again, a tough and powerful woman is driving an insecure man out of his mind.

I don't think Pelosi's strategy of resisting a formal impeachment inquiry can last forever, but I have to admit it's working. She looks like a responsible public servant trying her best to serve the public interest. He looks panicked, desperate, out of control and concerned only — as usual — with self-interest.

No one can possibly take at face value Trump's little stunt Wednesday in which he stormed out of a White House meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership, ostensibly because Pelosi had earlier said he was engaged in "a cover-up." For one thing, Democrats have been saying that for months. For another, Trump undoubtedly has been trying to cover up improper activity. There were the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal payoffs, there was the false explanation he dictated aboard Air Force One about the Trump Tower meeting ... I could go on.

While the president was pitching his scripted fit, aides were already readying the Rose Garden for the brief and bizarre temper tantrum in which Trump said he will refuse to work with Democrats as long as they are investigating him.

I wish him luck getting a budget passed, the debt ceiling raised or his U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement approved. None of that can possibly happen without the help of Pelosi and the Democratic majority in the House. If Trump was serious about what he said — always a dangerous assumption — he was pledging to refuse to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities.

Maybe Pelosi is right. Maybe Trump is trying to goad the House into impeaching him so that he can rouse his political base with claims of victimhood.

"The White House is just crying out for impeachment," Pelosi told reporters Thursday. "That was what disappointed him yesterday because he didn't see this rush to impeachment."

I still have my doubts about that. I know Trump is confident that the GOP-controlled Senate, in the end, will never vote to remove him from office. But I have a hard time believing such a supremely narcissistic man wants to go down in history as one of only three presidents to be impeached by the House.

But that's what he might get. At some point, I believe, Pelosi may have no choice.

For now, she can tell restive members of her caucus that her go-slow policy — leaving it to her committee chairmen to investigate Trump's misdeeds and challenge his stonewalling — is bearing fruit. Already, two federal judges have issued strong rulings against Trump's lame legal "theory" that Congress has no legitimate reason to do its constitutional duty. 

This means that Trump's accountants and bankers will likely have to turn over records that may include his tax returns. There is no telling how the president will react. Truth is to Trump like sunlight is to a vampire. For whatever reason, he acts as if thorough scrutiny of his finances is some kind of mortal threat.

Asked about impeachment, Pelosi insisted that the House is "not at that place." But she downplayed the fact that many Democrats in the House, if not most, agree with renegade Republican Justin Amash of Michigan: Based on what we already know from the redacted Mueller report, Trump has committed impeachable offenses.

Much of the Democratic base agrees. We have a year and a half to go before the election, and I have trouble imagining how Pelosi and the House leadership can hold out that long.

Maybe a while longer, though. There's something about Pelosi that seems to flummox Trump and throw him off his stride. Maybe it's the fact that she's a strong woman. Maybe it's her competence, her ability to get things done. Maybe he's just afraid of her.

Whatever the reason, it was Pelosi who looked and sounded presidential this week — and Trump who looked and sounded like a man who fears he's being cornered. I question Pelosi's view about the politics of impeachment, but she has earned more time to do things her way.

"I pray for the president of the United States," Pelosi said. "I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country."

Amen to that.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor of The Washington Post and won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2009.

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