House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argue during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP Photo

White House effort to divide Pelosi and Schumer fails spectacularly

The first hint of the White House’s strategy emerged a couple of weeks ago. During Donald Trump’s holiday trip to Iraq, a reporter asked about the prospect of negotiations to end the government shutdown, which, at the time, had begun five days earlier. The president made an unsubtle attempt to pit House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) against one another.

“Here’s the problem we have: We have a problem with the Democrats because Nancy Pelosi is calling the shots, not Chuck. And Chuck wants to have this done. I really believe that. He wants to have this done. But she’s calling the shots, and she’s calling them because she wants the votes.

“And probably, if they do something, she’s not going to get the votes, and she’s not going to be Speaker of the House. And that would be not so good for her. Because she’s got – you know, she’s in a very tight contest. I know her contest very well; I know it maybe better than she does. I know exactly where she is. And she’s in a very, very tight contest. There are those that say she doesn’t have the votes yet. Let’s see what happens. I say she does.

“But if Chuck does this, it could very well have negative implications on her becoming Speaker of the House. So they all know you need it; they all know you need this border security. They all know you need the wall – or whatever you want to call it – in order to secure our border, which these people know more about than anybody. And they can tell you, you need a wall. But the one who is calling the shots is Nancy Pelosi.”

To the extent that reality matters, none of this was true. In the president’s vision, Senate Democrats would gladly give him billions of taxpayer dollars for a border wall, but that rascally Nancy Pelosi won’t cooperate – because if she did, House Democrats would turn on her and she would be Speaker. It was a fantasy: the Democratic leaders have endorsed increased support for border security, but neither of them is prepared to endorse funding for a border wall.

And yet, the White House kept trying to divide them. A few days after the president’s comments in Iraq, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters, “This all comes down to Mrs. Pelosi’s speakership. I think left to his own devices, that Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats probably would cut a deal, but they’re protecting Mrs. Pelosi.”

If members of Team Trump thought they’d drive a wedge between the Democratic leaders, they clearly thought wrong.

The Washington Post  reported overnight on the degree to which Pelosi and Schumer are “working in tandem.”

No two principals in the shutdown fight have presented a more united front than “Chuck and Nancy,” as Trump has dubbed them. The two leaders have refused to make any key strategic moves in the shutdown fight without consulting each other and have become so simpatico that their staffs regularly joke that the two finish each other’s sentences. […]

The two have talked several times a day since the shutdown battle began, aides say, mostly from their cellphones and so frequently that they are often relaying updates to their staff, not the other way around. Schumer, who is famous for having memorized the cellphone numbers for every member of the Senate Democratic caucus, has also committed Pelosi’s digits to memory.

If the White House plan depended on dividing Pelosi and Schumer, it’s clearly time for a new plan.