House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leaving Democratic leadership after Republicans won the majority. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is remaining at the helm of a chamber Democrats still control.
But both said President Joe Biden should run for a second term in 2024 after what they described as an “excellent” first two years in office.
The Democratic congressional leaders’ comments came in their first joint sit-down interview with CNN’s Jamie Gangel over lunch at Hunan Dynasty, a Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill in Washington, where the two have shared meals for years.
Pelosi said Biden, who at 80 is already the nation’s oldest president, has “done an excellent job” in the White House.
“I hope that he does seek reelection. He’s a person with great vision for our country. He’s been involved for a long time so he has great knowledge of the issues, and the challenges we face,” she said.
Pelosi also said Biden is “the most empathetic president. He connects with people.”
“The vision, the knowledge, the strategic thinking is all here,” she said, pointing to her head. “The empathy is from the heart. And I think he’s a great president.”
Asked if Biden should run again, Schumer said: “Yeah. He’s done an excellent, excellent job. And if he runs, I’m going to support him all the way.”
The interview took place less than three weeks before Pelosi steps down as speaker after Republicans won a slim majority in November’s midterm elections. The California Democrat plans to remain in the House, representing her San Francisco district, but is leaving her caucus’s leadership ranks.
Schumer and Pelosi reminisced in the interview about past battles with Donald Trump – and both predicted the former president will lose his third bid for the White House.
“The American people have gotten wise to him. Took a little while, but they did,” Schumer said.
The New York Democrat said Americans watched as pro-Trump rioters attacked the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and said voters’ understanding of the “danger to democracy” is partly responsible for Democrats’ stronger-than-expected showing in this year’s midterms.
“I don’t think we should talk about him while we’re eating,” Pelosi said of Trump.
The comments by the Democratic duo come amid the possibility of a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024. Trump has already announced his 2024 candidacy, though he is likely to face a competitive GOP primary; Biden has not made a formal announcement but has long maintained he will seek reelection, saying he will officially decide early next year.
A new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS found little appetite for a rematch between the 2020 rivals. About 6 in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they want their party to nominate someone other than Trump in 2024 (62%), while a similar 59% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they’d like to see someone other than Biden at the top of their ticket in the next presidential election.
In the interview, Pelosi and Schumer detailed their actions on January 6, 2021, as Trump-supporting insurrectionists attacked the Capitol.
Schumer said he asked acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to put him on the phone with Trump – but Rosen would not do so.
“He wouldn’t put him on,” Schumer said.
Asked if Trump would not take their call, Schumer said, “Right. Correct.”
Those calls came three days after a high-stakes Oval Office meeting at which Trump considered replacing Rosen as acting attorney general with loyalist Jeffrey Clark so that Clark could use his powers to attempt to overturn the 2020 election. In that meeting, Trump was told that if he followed through on that plan, top Justice Department officials, including Rosen, would resign.
Pelosi contrasted Trump with the Republicans she’d worked with as House Democratic leader, including former speaker John Boehner. She described Trump as insane.
“I think there’s a need for an intervention by his family or something. I don’t think he’s on the level now,” Pelosi said.
In the interview, the two described a close relationship of more than three decades – “almost like brother and sister,” Schumer said.
That relationship involves regular dinners and talking on the phone four times a day – too many, Pelosi joked – all because Schumer has a flip phone.
“If he had a regular smartphone, we could reduce the number of conversations because I could just text him,” she said.
The two discussed a heated Oval Office meeting with Trump in December 2018, during which Trump said in front of news cameras that he would shut down the government over lawmakers’ refusal to fund his US-Mexico border wall.
“Chuck was masterful,” Pelosi said of the meeting, in which Schumer prompted Trump to make the declaration that he would shut the government down.
“She set him up so I could go in for the kill,” Schumer said.
Schumer said Pelosi was able to successfully navigate Trump’s presidency because she treated the Republican like a child.
“I tell people Nancy instinctively knew how to handle Trump because her first 35-40 years of life she raised five children,” he said.
Schumer said despite Pelosi’s departure from House Democratic leadership, the two will continue to speak regularly.
“I will be certainly calling,” he said, “and seek her advice and a feeling of what’s going on in the House and what we can get done.”