The revenge of 'Chuck and Nancy'

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  • Nancy Pelosi is a California Democrat has been in Congress for three decades
  • She's been the target of political attacks from the right and -- more recently -- the left

(CNN)From way before he took office, Republicans have twisted themselves into knots trying, without success, to tie down President Donald Trump's volatile Twitter feed.

Then Nancy Pelosi had a go.
Instead of asking him to keep quiet, the House minority leader on Thursday urged Trump to speak out -- and reassure DACA recipients endangered by his decision to end the program. The language of Trump's subsequent tweet is less important than his ready acquiescence. For the second day running, Pelosi got what she wanted from the President.
    The California Democrat has been in Congress for three decades, spending half of that time as party's top House official. To Republicans, she is a useful bogeyman, the wealthy San Francisco liberal forever plotting to raise your taxes. More recently, her own party's ascendent left has taken aim.
    At a CNN town hall in February, Pelosi fueled their frustration when she responded unconvincingly to a student who asked if Democrats should stake out more progressive economic positions.
    "I thank you for your question, but I have to say, we're capitalist -- and that's just the way it is," she informed the inquisitor. "However, we do think that capitalism is not necessarily meeting the needs with the income inequality that we have in our country."
    For a party out of power in Washington and decimated on the state level, now grappling for a winning message anywhere, Pelosi's words -- and apparent discomfort with the premise of the question -- were a major letdown. Months later, when Democrat Jon Ossoff lost his special election run-off in Georgia's sixth congressional district, after Republicans there relentlessly tied him to Pelosi, a coup began to brew on Capitol Hill.
    Nothing came of it. If anything, Republicans seemed more enthused at the prospect of Pelosi's defenestration than most rank-and-file Democrats. Conservative columnist Matt Lewis, a CNN commentator, authored a piece in The Daily Beast headlined, "Wake Up, Democrats. Ossoff Didn't Lose This Race -- Pelosi Did."
    Trump jumped on the bandwagon a day later, tweeting, "I certainly hope the Democrats do not force Nancy P out. That would be very bad for the Republican Party - and please let Cryin' Chuck stay!"
    Concern-trolling? Sure, but only up to a point. Pelosi might well be a drag on Democrats in 2018. She is known and disliked by Republicans -- an easy weight to strap on a rising Democratic candidate.
    But Pelosi remains a sharp and strategic legislator. When she and her Senate counterpart, New York's Chuck Schumer, emerged from a meeting in the Oval Office on Wednesday with a deal to effectively undercut the entire Republican legislative agenda heading into 2018, most of the focus immediately jumped to Trump and his troubled relations with GOP leaders.
    But the President's curious tactics, and perishing thirst for some deal, any deal, shouldn't obscure the quietly efficient work of his partisan opponents. Though they couldn't have done it on their own -- Republicans are now fuming at Trump and burbling threats to replace Ryan as House speaker -- the Democratic leadership have played a series of weak hands remarkably well.
    Schumer, who agreed to lead his caucus with the expectation he would spend most of his time sending legislation to President Hillary Clinton's desk, has been a magnet for hosannas over the past few months, mostly for keeping Democrats in lockstep opposition to the Trump agenda. Lambasted repeatedly by the President, an old acquaintance, as "Cryin' Chuck" after he welled up during remarks opposing the initial travel ban, Schumer has grown into the role -- a delicate one considering his dual responsibilities to satisfy the party base and keep endangered red state Democrats in their jobs.
    Then, in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Schumer pressed a rare advantage -- and some flesh.
    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Trump in the White House on Wednesday. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    As Pelosi put it a day later, "He could speak New York to the President." Unlike most of the Republicans surrounding him in the White House or Ryan and McConnell, Schumer possesses an elemental knowledge of the President. And while suggestions that this agreement -- important but narrow -- signals a sea change in the broader Republican dynamic seem painfully blinkered, there are lessons to take.
    The first is a note of caution. Though this deal was well-received in most Democratic quarters, Pelosi and Schumer should be wary of overstepping -- critics on the left are unlikely to cotton to their consorting with Trump on any sort of significant legislation.
    That aside, prevailing takeaway states that, when the simple math of the Congress might have relegated them to near obscurity, "Chuck and Nancy" have, with a bump from a flailing president, shown their steel. And given Trump's continued struggles in the dealmaking department, especially with Republicans, don't be surprised if they're stifling smiles again come December.