Jennifer Rubin: Pelosi takes away Trump’s TV

A portion of a letter sent to President Donald Trump from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 in Washington. Pelosi has asked President Trump to postpone his State of the Union address to the nation, set for Jan. 29, until the government reopens. (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow)

To say House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has mastered the art of dealing with President Donald Trump would be a gross understatement. She fact-checked him in the Oval Office on live TV and passed spending bills to reopen the government, thereby reinforcing Trump’s responsibility for the shutdown. To top it off, she’s taking away the president’s TV. More precisely, in response to Trump’s nearly monthlong temper tantrum, she has told him he won’t get his prime-time State of the Union address on Jan. 29.

In a letter to Trump, she writes, "During the 19th Century and up until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, these annual State of the Union messages were delivered to Congress in writing. And since the start of modern budgeting in Fiscal Year 1977, a State of the Union address has never been delivered during a government shutdown."

She then explains that both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, which are charged with security, “have not been funded for 26 days now - with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.” Given all that, we couldn’t possibly have the speech, she says.

She concludes: "I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th." (I vote for delivering it in writing.)

You wonder why in the world Democrats ever considered replacing her. She knows she has power, she willingly and skillfully deploys it, and, as she has said, as a mother of five children, she knows how to handle a toddler's meltdown. She also knows what Trump craves most - attention and TV cameras. (Remember, he couldn't stand it when she had the limelight on Jan. 3, so he felt compelled to enter the White House briefing room - but take no questions.)

Ultimately, Pelosi’s power rests on the unity of her members and the Democratic base - and the president’s dwindling power and popularity. According to the latest Pew Research Center poll, “the majority of Americans (58 percent) continue to oppose substantially expanding the border wall, while 40% favor the proposal. ... Overwhelming shares of both liberal Democrats (97 percent) and conservative and moderate Democrats (89 percent) oppose expanding the border wall.” Trump’s failed Oval Office speech shows he’s unable to move public opinion. His handling of the shutdown has earned him harshly negative ratings:

"Overall, just 36% of the public approves of how Trump is handling negotiations over the government shutdown, including 23% who say they strongly approve. About six-in-ten (61%) disapprove of Trump’s approach to the negotiations, including 53% who say they strongly disapprove. ...

"Public views of Democratic leaders' handling of the shutdown talks are somewhat more positive than views of Trump or GOP leaders. Still, more disapprove (53%) than approve (43%).

"In evaluations of how each is handling shutdown talks, Trump elicits stronger opinions than Democratic and Republican congressional leaders. Overall, 75% of adults characterize their opinion of Trump's handling of the shutdown negotiations as either strongly disapproving (53%) or strongly approving (23%). By comparison, only about half of Americans offer strong evaluations of how congressional leadership in both parties are handling the negotiations."

Meanwhile, Trump's overall approval rating is a puny 37 percent. "Trump's support among Republicans and Republican leaners remains high (80 percent approve), while nearly all Democrats and Democratic leaners (96 percent) disapprove of his job performance. The partisan gap in Trump's job approval is wider than for any president in more than six decades."

In short, Pelosi has the full support of her party and a sizable majority of the country behind her. Unlike Trump, many don't view the wall as a dire issue, but 58 percent do see the shutdown as a "very serious" matter.

We don’t know how this will end, but should the shutdown create a serious safety hazard or take a big chunk out of the economy, there is little doubt who’s going to get the blame. And Pelosi knows it.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.