Pelosi's Ascent to Kick Off New Era of Confrontation With Trump

(Bloomberg) -- Nancy Pelosi is all but certain to become House speaker on Thursday as the new Congress is sworn in and Democrats claim control of the chamber, setting up two years of confrontation and possible compromise with President Donald Trump.

The California Democrat will take the gavel amid a standoff with Trump over his demand to fund a border wall that spiraled into a partial government shutdown in its 13th day, with no resolution in sight.

Pelosi’s election will restore her to the position she held from 2007 to 2011. She is the only woman to have served as speaker. To win, she needs a majority of all present and voting members of the House, which Democrats control 235-199, with one seat in North Carolina not yet decided.

In a speech after the vote, Pelosi will call on House members to be “pioneers of the future” to build the economy, ease income disparity, address climate change, and reduce health-care costs, according to excerpts released by her office.

“We have heard from too many families who wonder if they have a place in the economy of tomorrow,” Pelosi will say, according to the excerpts. “We must remove all doubt that they do, and assure them that we will have an economy that works for you.”

As the country’s highest ranking elected Democrat, Pelosi, 78, will lead an emboldened and diverse Democratic caucus, with a net gain of 40 seats and new members ranging from rising progressive stars to moderates who captured traditionally conservative districts. Pelosi quelled a rebellion by some Democrats seeking new leaders by making a series of policy promises, committee appointments and a pledge to limit herself to no more than two terms in leadership.

Republicans will nominate Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California for speaker, and members can write in other names. The House will also vote on rules for the chamber, which some progressive members say they’ll oppose.

Spending Bills

After those actions, House Democrats will move quickly to vote on spending bills to reopen the federal departments and agencies that have been closed since Dec. 22, without providing funds for Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. The plan is to pass two separate bills, one reopening eight departments through September, and another temporarily reopening the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8.

This would allow negotiations over Trump’s request for $5 billion for a border wall to continue while the rest of the government would continue operating.

Pelosi and incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and other House and Senate leaders met with Trump at the White House Wednesday to discuss the impasse. Afterward, McCarthy said Democrats “stuck to their script” and didn’t appear willing to negotiate, but Pelosi said their plan is based on bills passed previously by the Republican-controlled Senate or GOP-led committees.

“We have given the Republicans a chance to take yes for an answer,” Pelosi told reporters. “Our question to the president and to the Republicans is: why don’t you accept what you have already done to open up government and that enables us to have 30 days to negotiate border security?”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor Wednesday evening that the Democratic plan was a “total non-starter” adding, “One partisan vote in the House tomorrow is not going to solve anything.”

The shutdown is the first test of how the Democratic House majority will deal with the president, whose controversial actions and statements helped secure Democratic victories in the 2018 elections. House Democrats will try to work with Republicans to pass legislation while also energizing their growing voter base leading up to the 2020 election when Trump will be on the ballot.

‘Make a Deal?’

Trump appealed to Pelosi’s dealmaking skills in a New Year’s Day tweet about the border wall. Pelosi has called the wall “immoral” and ineffective.

“Border Security and the Wall ‘thing’ and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker!” Trump said on Twitter. “Let’s make a deal?”

One of Pelosi’s challenges will be to sell any compromise with Trump and Republicans -- on this or other issues -- to her most progressive members. Bipartisan compromise on any legislation will be necessary to make laws, with Republicans in control of the Senate and White House.

An early skirmish with Democratic progressives broke out over a provision among the House rules that will get a vote Thursday. California’s Ro Khanna and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said they’ll make the unusual move of opposing the rules package because it includes a “pay as you go” measure designed to limit legislation that would add to deficits.

Early Warning

While this restriction can be waived -- the 2016 GOP tax cut got an exemption -- progressive lawmakers say it would hamstring ambitious policies such as expanding Medicare and providing universal education.

Pelosi is expected to secure approval for the rules package, but it serves as an early warning that an emboldened left wing is willing to use even procedural votes to hold its ground on policy priorities. Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the incoming Democratic Rules chairman, said he was dismayed that any Democrats would oppose the party’s own measure for how the House will be run, but he said the internal opposition won’t be enough to sink the bill.

McGovern said the rules package will help the Democratic majority accomplish one of its top goals for the new Congress: “to restore professionalism and integrity to the way the House is run.”

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