Pelosi: Trump's gripe about investigations an "all-out threat," or something

The only explanation for this is sheer desperation. Nancy Pelosi accused Donald Trump of leveling an “all-out threat” to Congress while griping about the House Democrats’ plans to launch a number of investigations into the Trump administration. But what exactly was the “threat”?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was visibly appalled at much of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, but there was one particular line that seemed to be bugging her the next morning: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”

“It was a threat. It was an all-out threat,” the California Democrat told reporters Wednesday morning.

“The president should not bring threats to the floor of the House,” Pelosi said. “He said he wasn’t going to cooperate unless we didn’t exercise our constitutional responsibility to oversight.”

The New York Times called Pelosi “defiant” for this pose:

A defiant Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared on Wednesday that House Democrats would not be cowed by President Trump’s “all-out threat” during his State of the Union address to drop their investigations of his administration, as fellow Democrats pushed ahead with a bevy of sensitive inquiries. …

“We will not be bullied by the president of the United States,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “The days of the House operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump administration are over.”

Advisers around the president have been preparing for the congressional onslaught for months, and they know there is little hope of dissuading Democrats, who won control of the House by promising to be a check on Mr. Trump. That, and the long history of congressional oversight of the executive branch, made Mr. Trump’s comments on Tuesday night all the more surprising to lawmakers.

What was the big threat? It turns out to be the anodyne observation that it’s tough to negotiate with someone who’s trying to cut your throat. Here’s what Trump said, via PBS, in the broader context of his State of the Union speech:

An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!

We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad.

This new era of cooperation can start with finally confirming the more than 300 highly qualified nominees who are still stuck in the Senate — some after years of waiting. The Senate has failed to act on these nominations, which is unfair to the nominees and to our country. Now is the time for bipartisan action.

This was part of Trump’s pitch for comity and cooperation, which is certainly open to criticism on other grounds. It’s hardly a threat, however, to note that investigations clearly aimed at impeachment make cooperation difficult, if not impossible. If that’s a “threat,” then every political commentator who’s made the same common-sense observation over the last three months qualifies as threatening as well. The only “threat” contained in this statement is that the White House won’t cooperate with House Democrats, which isn’t a threat at all considering that the year started off with that as the status quo. Or has Pelosi suddenly decided to negotiate on border-wall funding?

It’s pretty clear from her initial reaction, and Adam Schiff’s, that neither took this as an “all-out threat” during the speech. Both of them smirked at Trump’s comment, probably figuring it was an empty posture. Which, after all, it is. In our system of government, the majority in one chamber has significant leverage against the president of another party. We just saw that with the government shutdown, and we’ll see it over and over again over the next two years. For someone who just won an election, Pelosi has a strange compulsion to cast herself as a perpetual victim.

Don’t expect much comity and cooperation from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue after last night’s speech, I wrote at The Week. Trump only paid lip service to the concepts anyway:

The Comity and Unity Tour got off to a bad start right from the beginning. Trump came to the podium to deliver his speech while ignoring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In fact, Trump didn’t even wait for Pelosi to follow protocol and introduce him to the joint session of Congress. Nevertheless, the speech started with themes of unity in crisis and of American greatness. Trump asked Congress to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution,” and to decide between “greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.”

And then Trump made clear that the terms of greatness and progress would be set by his vision. In the very next breath, Trump hailed “an unprecedented economic boom” as the result of policies he championed over fierce Democratic opposition. The GOP tax cut got through Congress via the reconciliation process in order to avoid having to cooperate or compromise with Democrats. Trump also bragged about killing off the ObamaCare individual mandate penalty, part of the same reconciliation package, that undermined Democrats’ signature legislative accomplishment from their previous majority in 2009-10. Trump’s statement that his administration “cut more regulations in a short time than any other administration during its entire tenure” may well be true, but it was an effort made without any hint of cooperative effort and completed over the strenuous objections of Democrats. Trump followed that up by demanding that Senate Democrats offer cooperation by allowing over 300 of his appointees to be confirmed. …

It certainly didn’t set a tone of “comity” or “unity,” even if it did underscore the point Trump has repeatedly made on Twitter and in press conferences over the last two years. But comity and unity are not the point of most State of the Union addresses. They are wildly overglorified stump speeches and grand opportunities for score-settling by presidents who feel slighted or frustrated. Barack Obama infamously used the platform to tee off on the captive Supreme Court justices for their Citizens United decision, an example which sounded a lot more like a threat to the constitutional order than Trump’s complaint about partisan investigations. George Bush and Bill Clinton didn’t mind scolding the opposition for obstructing their agendas, either.

No president values comity over accomplishment, or compromise over abject victory over his opposition. They may have paid lip service to it in years past, and Trump at least checked that box off too. However, voters don’t award compromise and cooperation at the ballot box these days. They have grown so frustrated with Washington, D.C., that they gravitate towards strongmen who claim they can deliver everything without giving up anything, the very problem that both sides have created on the immigration standoff. It therefore shouldn’t surprise us when presidents use this platform to define “comity” and “cooperation” with “doing exactly what I want and when I want it.”

Maybe we could just settle for all sides speaking plainly for a change. Or at least a reduction in victimhood posturing.