Sunday, December 22, 2019

Prime Minister Pelosi

Advising Democrats not to cheer too hard over the impeachment votes, via USA Today.

Apparently Trump held Congress and our national security hostage in the National Defense Authorization bill over his right to extort stuff from Ukraine—
Senior Trump administration officials in recent days threatened a presidential veto that could have led to a government shutdown if House Democrats refused to drop language requiring prompt release of  [a $250-million appropriation of] future military aid for Ukraine, according to five administration and congressional officials.
The language was ultimately left out of mammoth year-end spending legislation that passed the House and Senate this week ahead of a Saturday shutdown deadline.
That's just totally normal, right?

Other than that, I really think this is the week Nancy Pelosi became prime minister (as I began expecting a couple years ago), conducting an impeachment of a president, presenting him with three huge bills to sign—the $1.4 trillion appropriations bills and the revised NAFTA treaty—and commemorating the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium (the President, though he had no public events over the weekend other than the Army-Navy football game, sent Defense Secretary Mike Esper to represent him).

I mean it's almost like fulfilling a long dream of mine, that somebody would one day figure out a way to make our system more parliamentary. It's enabled by Trump's emperor-like character of being unable to work for any goal and unable to have any specific goal beyond being adored, and McConnell's overwhelming negativity which makes him unable to initiate anything other than a blocking move, but it takes somebody with a lot of nerve and skill to see the opportunity these obstacles present.

Not that she's now running the country with her Green Lantern powers, because that's very far from being the case, but it's amazing how many Democratic priorities the bills push, from allocating $25 million to Centers for Disease Control for the study of gun violence as a health issue for the first time in 20 years through full funding for the threatened 2020 Census, $425 million for election security, and a big increase in federal education spending including Head Start. Paid parental leave for federal workers and a decent pay raise matching the one for the military are also good news.

Trump's demand for $5 billion in Wall money has been rejected, though the president still has something like $1.4 billion to play with under certain geographical restrictions. His stupid Space Force will exist, but it looks more like a superfluous but harmless umbrella for sensible existing programs on Earth than the militarization of space, or a unit of Space Raiders looking for pirate space stations, or whatever the Boy-in-Chief might have been imagining.

Naturally, it's reminded the conservatives that they're against deficits (Ted Cruz calls the spending plan "a pile of trash" and Senator Rick Scott complains "it’s time to stop the madness. How many more trillions of dollars do we need to spend before we wake up to the danger of our national debt?"), which proves, to my mind, that Pelosi and not the deficit-creating tax-hating president is really in control.

Particular praise for the recrafted North American Free Trade Act, now to be known as the United States Mens' Christian Association, no make that the United States Mexico Canada something that starts with A (actually it's Agreement), as an essential part of Trump's program of erasing George H.W. Bush's and Bill Clinton's names from history. Nomenclature aside, it's got real support from trade unions in particular and Democrats in general for its rules on respect for workers' rights in Mexico and for rejecting abusive protection for pharmaceutical companies. The most interesting, though, is the way it was negotiated, with Rep. Neal, the House Ways and Means chairman, acting as a kind of shadow cabinet member and the US Trade Representative representing the presidency as a kind of external interest group parallel to the AFL-CIO:
The outcome is the result of months of frenzied yet secretive negotiations that took place without Pelosi or Trump ever speaking directly, though the new trade rules could be presented as top political accomplishments for both leaders. To circumvent the frayed relationship between the president and the House speaker, Democrats worked directly with U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, a globalization skeptic who agreed to make numerous adjustments to gain their support....
with Neal, she engaged forcefully on the issue. She appointed a nine-member group in June that spent months meeting with Lighthizer in various locations around the Capitol, exchanging proposals and working through impasse after impasse. Last month, Pelosi took over the talks and with Neal launched intense negotiations with Lighthizer and with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, whose support Pelosi was determined to obtain.
This is an example of what I mean by acting like a prime minister, and it applies to her (simultaneous) management of the impeachment as well: she treats the House itself, rather than the relation between the House and the White House, as the center of the legislative process, and her committee chairs as ministers in their areas of expertise, while the presidency, like the royal court in democratizing England in the late 18th and early 19th century, is just one of the stakeholders outside, though of course it has to be conciliated (except in the impeachment process, where it wouldn't cooperate and she had to do without it).

Republican Speakers Boehner and Ryan could have tried to dominate the legislative process in the same way during the last 10 years, but they didn't know where to start or what they wanted to do and lacked both the imagination to figure it out and the drive to implement it. I have this idea that, if you look back at it, Pelosi, in her first round under two different presidents from 2007 to 2010, with the backing of Senate Majority Leader Reid using his committees the way she uses hers, was doing this already (these days the Senate, wholly tied to Trump under the passive stone wall of McConnell, is a legislatively useless vestigial organ like the House of Lords)—and that regardless of the legislative packages themselves, her role in the history of how government works, effectively democratizing it, will be seen as very consequential indeed.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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