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We’re less than a month into the new Congress, but one thing has already become clear: Don’t mess with Nancy.
Over the past week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been flexing her muscle all over Washington. The latest, and perhaps most glaring, example came on Wednesday, when Ms. Pelosi requested that President Trump delay — or skip altogether — his State of the Union address.
“The date of the State of the Union is not a sacred date. It’s not constitutionally required; it’s not any president’s birthday; it’s not anything,” she told reporters this morning. “It is a date that we agreed to — it could have been the week later.”
Her comments clearly got under the president’s skin. Late Thursday afternoon, he revoked her military transport for a secret trip to Afghanistan — a visit to a war zone that Mr. Trump derided as a “public relations event.” He suggested Ms. Pelosi, third in line for the presidency, fly commercial. To Afghanistan.
Ms. Pelosi’s aides and supporters quickly pointed out that her plans included thanking the troops and meeting with the commanders of the war that Mr. Trump is trying to end. Mr. Trump, in fact, made his first visit to a warzone during this same shutdown.
Now, none of the fighting over flights gets the country any closer to ending a government shutdown that’s crippling the finances of 800,000 federal workers and starting to have economic impacts far bigger than even the White House anticipated.
But it is some awfully crafty politics by Ms. Pelosi.
A 78-year-old, wealthy San Francisco liberal, Ms. Pelosi is nobody’s idea of an everyman politician. Forget fast food — Ms. Pelosi eats dark chocolate ice cream for breakfast. Her campaign superpower involves twisting the arms of rich donors. She doesn’t really use Twitter, never mind Instagram.
And yet, right now, she might just be the most powerful politician in the country.
Dozens of Democrats spent months campaigning against supporting Ms. Pelosi as speaker. (Worth noting: G.O.P. attacks on her far outpaced mentions of any other congressional leader in campaign ads for the last three cycles.) In the end, after a weekslong campaign by Ms. Pelosi put down any hint of rebellion, only 15 members cast ballots against her.
Now, she’s getting her revenge, wielding one of the most powerful tools in her disposal: committee assignments.
Ms. Pelosi kept Representative Kathleen Rice’s name off the list of suggested members for the Judiciary Committee, a powerful spot that will be at the center of investigations into Mr. Trump — and any possible impeachment. Ms. Rice was one of Ms. Pelosi’s most outspoken critics.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, who pushed against Ms. Pelosi but ultimately voted for her for speaker, got a perch on the influential Financial Services Committee, a particularly plum assignment for a freshman member.
It’s yet another savvy move by Ms. Pelosi to help keep a restive progressive caucus on her side — a unity that’ll be crucially important for the battles with Mr. Trump that are sure to come.
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Wait, can they do that?
Divided government, a special counsel investigation, the longest government shutdown in history, the biggest Democratic primary field in decades, secretive meetings with Russia — at this point in the Trump administration, we’ve written “unprecedented” so much that it’s become a cliché. To help explain the constant craziness, we’re inaugurating a new feature today. This is, “Wait, can they do that?”
Our first topic: Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking President Trump to scrap or delay his State of the Union address.
Can she do that? Well, yes, actually.
The Constitution mandates some kind of update from our chief executive, saying the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
But notice what it doesn’t mention: Cable commentary, invited guests and a walk down the red carpet— er, the aisle of the House floor.
After George Washington gave the first address on Jan. 8, 1790, in New York, the practiced continued for about a decade. In 1801, eager to simplify what he thought was a monarchal tradition, Thomas Jefferson mailed in copies to both houses of Congress that were read by the chamber’s clerks.
It went that way for more than a century, until Woodrow Wilson revived the in-person address in 1913 (though presidents continued to occasionally submit their speeches in writing; Jimmy Carter was the last to do it, in 1981). The fact that it has become a prime-time spectacle over the last 50 years is mostly a product of modern media — and political ego.
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Fleg’s Book Club
In the latest — and perhaps most unusual — dose of the 2020 tea leaves, Beto O’Rourke published a nearly 2,000-word blog post on Medium chronicling his travels along U.S. Route 54.
While all of Washington is consumed with the crippling government shutdown, Mr. O’Rourke is spending his days jogging, meeting with students, eating a blackberry cobbler and ruminating on the “funk” he’s been “in and out of” lately. (Perhaps he should talk to some unpaid T.S.A. agents about their “funks.” But I digress.)
I reached out to our in-house Beto expert, political reporter Matt Flegenheimer, to try and figure out what is up with that guy. Like good New York Times employees, we Slacked about it.
What to read tonight
• An internal investigation has found that the Trump administration likely separated thousands more children from their parents at the Southern border than was previously believed.
• It’s clear that climate change poses environmental risks beyond anything seen in the modern age. But we’re only starting to come to grips with the potential economic effects. Here are four big questions experts are thinking about.
• In 2014, Tommy Tomlinson weighed 460 pounds. His brutally honest tale of trying to regain control of his weight — and his life — makes for moving reading.
A new story from The Wall Street Journal on President Trump’s former lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen is loaded with juicy nuggets: Mr. Cohen trying (and failing) to rig early polls in Mr. Trump’s favor, paying the tech firm he hired with a Walmart bag full of cash and trying to cover some of the costs with a boxing glove.
But the craziest piece of it all? Mr. Cohen asked the same firm to create a Twitter account called @WomenForCohen, purportedly written by female fans, which described him as a “sex symbol,” lavished him with praise, and promoted the job he was doing helping the Trump campaign.
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