Paul Begala: The relatively powerless Schumer and Pelosi got what they wanted from a man whose party is in control. How?
Democratic unity and common sense paid off, he writes -- plus Trump really, really hates McConnell and Ryan
Editor’s Note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He was a consultant to Priorities USA Action, the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
I never again want to hear someone ask why the Democrats chose Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer as their leaders. The two just made a deal with the guy who wrote “The Art of the Deal” and made it the Art of the Steal. Poor President Donald Trump was lucky he got out of the room with his hair.
On Wednesday, Trump threw his support to a deal that gave the Democratic leaders everything they wanted: disaster relief funding and a 90-day extension of both the day-to-day funding of the government and the debt ceiling.
That means when the dual deadline for the budget and debt arrives in mid-December, Democrats will have enormous leverage. They will be in a position to trade support for the budget and the debt ceiling for any number of Democratic priorities, from health care to protection of Dreamers who are suddenly facing deportation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan were left fuming, the rug having been yanked out from under them by the leader of their own party.
How did this happen? How did the relatively powerless Schumer and Pelosi get everything they wanted in a negotiation with a man whose party controls the House, the Senate and the White House? Four factors:
1. Democratic unity: Unity is a force multiplier, and congressional Democrats are as united as I have ever seen them. Despite having numerous Democrats up for re-election in states Trump won (like West Virginia, which Trump carried by a mind-boggling 42%), not one Senate Democrat has broken ranks on critical votes, especially standing in unison against the GOP’s health care bill, which would have gutted Medicaid.
Schumer and Pelosi maximize what little leverage they have by holding their fractious party together – no easy task. Most legislation requires 60 votes in the Senate; the GOP has just 52 seats. And in the House, the renegade right-wingers in the Freedom Caucus have already threatened to oppose a debt ceiling hike if it is paired with disaster relief.
That makes Ryan’s job of getting 218 votes more difficult. And Pelosi, with 193 other Democrats behind her, may be needed to ride to the rescue. She will do so – at a price. Because of Democratic unity, Schumer and Pelosi were able to play a weak hand expertly.
2. Experience matters: Pelosi is in her 30th year as a member of the House; Schumer is in his 36th year in Washington, having served in the House before being elected to the Senate. That’s 66 years of lawmaking experience, spanning six presidencies. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has 229 days of governmental experience. Turns out running the government of the United States of America is a little more complicated than reading off a cue card on a reality show.
3. Trump really, really Hates McConnell and Ryan. I know many liberals carry signs that say “Love Trumps Hate,” but with Donald Trump, hate seems to drive everything. He is a man propelled by a superhuman sense of grievance. Why, we will never know – he was born wealthy and lived an entitled life. But the grievance pours from him nearly every time he opens his mouth.
His political base loathes the GOP leadership, seeing them as part of the corrupt Washington establishment, and looks to Trump as a wrecking ball. When McConnell was unable to pass Trump’s health care bill, he gently suggested the new President had unrealistically high expectations, which ignited an explosion of presidential pique.
And do you think President Trump has forgiven or forgotten that Speaker Ryan said he would not defend Donald Trump after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Mr. Trump boasted of assaulting women? Fat chance.
4. It helps to have common sense on your side. My beloved hometown of Houston is still under water. Hurricane Irma is taking dead aim at Florida. The entire government’s funding runs out on September 30, and unless Congress and the President raise the debt ceiling, the United States of America is going to default in just a few weeks. So why not take a breath, fund the flood relief, and use the 90 days you’ve bought yourself to hash out a sensible deal?
Speaker Ryan had called the Democrats’ plan “ridiculous.” Because of the skill and experience of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, what was ridiculous yesterday will be the law of the land. That is what I call one artful deal.