They’re back. She’s back.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became the first House leader in more than six decades to return to the speakership on Thursday as Democrats took back House control for the first time in eight years, setting themselves up as a major check on President Trump and fundamentally changing the dynamics of Washington.
Pelosi, the first and only woman ever to serve as House speaker, immediately emerges as the most powerful Democrat in government — the center of the shield against President Trump and congressional Republicans.
There won’t be any downtime to savor the victory. Pelosi is already in the heart of the fight over the ongoing government shutdown triggered by President Trump’s demand for billions to build his border wall with Mexico — money she and other Democrats have flatly proclaimed he won’t get.
The shutdown, in its 13th day, shows no signs of abating. Trump won’t reopen the government without wall funding. Democrats say that’s a nonstarter.
House Democrats plan to pass a package of bills later on Thursday aimed at reopening the government in their first major action of the Congress. The bills would fund most of the government through September while kicking the fight over Department of Homeland Security funding forward another month. That’s the exact plan the GOP-controlled Senate unanimously passed in late December before Trump reversed and demanded wall funding once again, but Senate GOP leaders have indicated they won’t pass the bill again and Trump has said he’d veto it if it got to his desk.
The shutdown fight offers Pelosi and Democrats a unifying issue to begin the Congress, but it’s unclear how easy it’ll be to keep the party together over the next two years.
Pelosi won back her gavel by promising to only serve two more terms as Democratic leader, a compromise that helped win over enough of the roughly 20 Democrats who were fighting hard to push her out of leadership. But there are more than five dozen new freshmen Democrats, many of them from swing districts where she isn’t popular. Even after Pelosi agreed to the rule changes, 15 Democrats voted against her or voted present, including 10 freshmen.
On the other side, she’ll have to deal with renewed agitation from progressives like freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), who have already complained loudly about some House rules and demanded a strong voice in the party.
Pelosi has proven more than able to corral the competing factions of her party in past years. But that pressure might only grow when Robert Mueller releases his report. Dozens of Democrats have already voted to impeach Trump, and if the report’s details are troubling enough, that could create additional tensions between safe-district Democrats who see impeachment as a moral imperative and swing-district members who have very different political considerations.