Saturday, May 25, 2019

Pelosi's head game


HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi reacted recently to the stonewalling of the Trump White House with a statement that was slyly provocative, almost genially subversive. Speaking May 22 at an annual Center for American Progress conference in Washington, Pelosi related what happened at what was supposed to be a frank discussion about infrastructure with President* Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“In an orchestrated — almost to an 'oh, poor baby' point of view — he came into the room and said that I said that he was engaged in a cover-up and he couldn't possibly engage in a conversation on infrastructure as long as we are investigating him,” Pelosi told the audience.

That “cover-up” statement is about as close as Pelosi will get to a full-on shrieking call for impeachment. The statement didn’t exactly breathe rhetorical fire, but it didn’t have to. Trump’s reaction to it — a flurry of tweets, a mandatory chorus of denials from various Trump deputies who didn’t dare cross the boss — said everything. In the Trump Tower of the president’s mind, Joe Biden is happily living in one wing of the penthouse. Nancy Pelosi is happily living in the other.

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The Speaker of the House has been a gradualist on the idea of pursuing impeachment against Trump. More and more of the Democratic caucus are deciding otherwise, sometimes angrily so. They believe that the constitutional leverage is entirely theirs in clashes with the executive branch. And they rightly raise the inescapable question: If the actions of this president don’t warrant impeachment inquiry, the threat and threshold of impeachment — as a deterrent and a recourse — may be irrelevant, if not worthless, now and in the future.

Pelosi may be on to something: Trump is just enough of a fight fan to appreciate the rope-a-dope pugilistically engineered by the legendary Muhammad Ali. When Pelosi says Trump is daring Dems to impeach him, she’s saying she thinks Trump is getting the Democrats into playing his victim game: Trump the aggrieved.

Pelosi’s plan so far has been to let things play out organically without jumping to a full-blown impeachment inquiry. She’s making Trump wait. She’s letting Trump punch himself out on Twitter, with bluster, in public. She’s getting Trump ensnared in a head game, locking the presidential asterisk in a functional limbo, unsure whether House Democrats will move to impeach him or not, and unable to really make a move without the certainty of which way the Democrats will go. At the mercy of as many events as he’s in control of.

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NO QUESTION, Pelosi’s playing a high-wire game. She runs the risk of alienating her own caucus (and undercutting the House’s singular oversight responsibility) by not holding an impeachment inquiry. More and more House Dems are bringing pressure on her to call the question of how to formally hold Trump accountable using the constitutional machinery distilled in what Trump fearfully calls “the I word.”

But Pelosi has capably played on Trump’s vanity and his tragically outsized insecurities, and worked the minder of the Oval Office into a deep funk that’s more and more apparent every time their paths cross. She’s got his number, big time. And he knows it.

In one scene in the 2012 Daniel Espinosa film Safe House, the exasperated, outplayed CIA-agent protagonist Ryan Reynolds tells his turncoat antagonist (played by Denzel Washington) why he refuses to be, well, exasperated and outplayed.

Reynolds says, “I’m not gonna let you get into my head.”

Washington tells him, “I already am in your head.”

Guess which character’s Nancy Pelosi. Guess which character is Donald Trump.

Image credits: Pelosi: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press. Ali: Source tk.

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