Last Friday (Jan. 25), when Trump announced that he would temporarily end the government shutdown without funding for his wall (for now), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered the right response: no gloating, no victory lap, no expressions of, “we won, you lost!”
Trump likes to define his actions in terms of winning and losing, and his remarks on Friday, despite his loss of the moment, were calculated to reiterate his demand for a wall.
“I’m proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government.”
For a moment, it sounded like he got what he wanted, except he didn’t. He was faced with the grim choice of a true crisis of his own making happening on his watch or yielding to the check from the third branch of government to reopen the government, albeit temporarily. But not without repeating one final claim.
“So, let me be very clear. … If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.…”
Still defiant. Still threatening.
Contrast Trump’s statement with that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s a short time later.
“It is very clear that we all understand the importance of securing our borders and we have some very good ideas on how to do that. And that will be part of the discussion as we go forward. House Democrats look forward to working in a bipartisan, bicameral way to pass all of the bills to open government, as we proceed into the conference discussion.”
She calmly restates “the importance of securing our borders,” adding, that “we have some good ideas…”
In words designed to underline unity, Pelosi continues, “And that will be part of the discussion as we go forward.”
Again, she strikes the right note of inclusiveness, “as we go forward.” That includes both Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress.
“…sometimes it comes to the principles of the leaders of the House and Senate to weigh in, and I think that we will have a very productive time in a short period of time to come to some conclusion.”
Again, her choice of words emphasizes an inclusive, positive approach: “principles”; “leaders of the House and Senate”; “very productive.”
And she doesn’t forget the people most directly affected.
“But grateful and inspired by the courage and determination of America’s workers. …but nonetheless, they have to pay the bills…”
During the Q&A, one member of the press tried to give Pelosi an opening to celebrate.
“The president has wanted this border wall funding for a long time. And it wasn’t until Democrats won the House, that he really went to the mat for it. How much of all of this is about the new power dynamic and his desire to show you who’s really in charge?”
Pelosi wasn’t going for the bait.
“The point is, today we have come to a way to go forward, to debate the best ways to protect our border. I don’t see this as any power play.”
The reporter continues to press: “I’m referring to the past 36 days and the fact that he held out over wall funding.”
Again, Pelosi is quite aware that this moment is not about winning or losing. It’s about process not personalities.
“If you’re saying that the president held out over wall funding to show who was in charge,” Pelosi says, “I think that’s quite a bad statement to make about any leader in our country.
“… what I do say is, let’s go forward, get this done. [Senator Schumer] mentioned lessons learned and hope that the people know that we cannot hold our public employees’ hostage because we have a disagreement. … I don’t want to make any characterizations of the president’s motivation. You’ll have to ask him.”
Another reporter, again, attempts to stir the pot between Trump and Pelosi.
“…did the president underestimate you, politically, and can you assure the public that there won’t be another impasse in three weeks?”
“I can’t assure the public on anything that the president will do. But I do have to say, I’m optimistic. I see every challenge or every crisis as an opportunity. An opportunity to do the right thing for the American people and at the same time, make people aware of what the decisions are that we have here and hopefully that will make everybody come together in a way that is unifying for our country. I can’t characterize the president’s evaluation of me.”
Listen to the difference in attitude when a reporter asks a question of Senator Schumer.
“Do you think the president underestimated the Speaker…?”
“No one should ever underestimate the Speaker, as Donald Trump has learned.”
Schumer is suggesting a “we won/he lost” self-righteousness. Wrong tact.
In a follow-up, a reporter presses the Speaker on Trump’s insistence of money for a wall.
“Are you no longer ruling out any money for the wall?”
She answers directly before returning to her theme of principles and unity.
“Have I not been clear on a wall? I’ve been very clear on the wall. … Let me just go to the previous question… In our caucus, the beauty of it is the mix. And I always say, when people say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so good at organizing your caucus.’ No, I don’t unify our caucus. Our values unify us. I’m sure it’s the same in the Senate. And the fact is that our diversity is our strength. … differences of opinion. That’s our strength. But our unity is our power, and that is what maybe the president underestimated.”
No matter what work we’re engaged in, our credibility is predicated on being straight-forward and genuine. Nancy Pelosi proves her leadership not by celebrating a “win,” but in demonstrating a respectful and sincere attitude in moving forward.
The real lesson of the week is that those who remain calm, resolute and fair-minded do not have to adopt the tactics of an opponent in order to succeed.
But there’s a larger lesson for Washington.
What matters most is not who won and who lost the battle of the shutdown. It’s not about Democrat, Republican, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Black, White or Brown. What matters most is that we are all one: Americans. And that is our greatest strength.