2020-03-15 05:57:27 UTC
For the second time in her career, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was tasked with bailing
out a Republican president in a moment of national crisis and, with a tanking
stock market in the background, came through with a bill.
Twelve years ago, Pelosi worked with President George W. Bush and his
lieutenants to craft the 2008 emergency bank bailout. Late Friday night, shed
nailed down a deal with the Trump administration on legislation to respond to
the spiraling coronavirus outbreak.
But unlike the first timewhen the speaker and the man in the White House had a
relatively decent working relationshipPelosi this time was collaborating with a
president whod spent weeks trashing her as, among other things, incompetent.
The name-calling, ultimately, proved to be a minor hurdle, if one at all; as
Trump was largely sidelined during negotiations. Over the course of Thursday and
Friday, Pelosi spoke instead with Trumps Secretary of the Treasury, Steven
Mnuchin, nearly 30 separate times as they hammered out a deal.
Through it all, the speaker did not speak with the president once. Asked at a
late-night Friday press conference if they had talked, Pelosi looked almost
shocked that anyone might think so. There was no need for that, she said.
Bush was a participant in TARP discussions, though he strategically kept some
distance as he and his aides felt that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson would be
more palatable a negotiating partner for lawmakers on the Hill. It was Paulson
who famously leaned so heavily on Pelosi to help get the bank bailout through
the House that he even got down on one knee to beg her to push the bill through
The parallels between then and now arent perfect. But they arent far apart
either. For lawmakers who were there during the autumn of 2008 the most
important difference is the most obvious: Trump.
The crisis atmosphere seems similar. The inability of the president to provide
any real leadership is different, said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) shortly after
a midnight vote on Saturday to approve the coronavirus legislation. I disagreed
vigorously with the Bush administration, but at least the president led and
worked with his team on this. We're here at this hour, in large measure, because
Donald Trump's provided no leadership, just obstruction.
I never thought I would say this, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who voted for
the bailout at the time, but Bush was capable of acting.
While Trump made broad requests for the type of legislative response he wanted,
he didnt provide much in the way of specific details, so Democratsled by
Pelosisimply plowed ahead. The first relief effort from Congress, a bill passed
last week to inject $8 billion into the U.S. public health system, blew past the
administration's initial ask of just over $2 billionwith the enthusiastic
buy-in of Republicans in both the House and Senate.
The foundation of the deal passed on Saturday was laid out by congressional
Democrats earlier in the week, who offered a list of legislative priorities to
deal with the outbreak, including expanding paid sick leave, unemployment
insurance, food assistance, and COVID-19 testing.
With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposing no legislative
plans, House Democrats plan became the only game in town. And instead of coming
up with a bill of their own, the Trump administration chose to negotiate, as
public demand grew for a response to the escalating crisis.
Through those negotiations, the deal that was approved by an overwhelming,
bipartisan margin of 363 to 40 was brought down from the benchmarks many
Democrats wanted to see. Progressives, on Saturday, were perplexed and angered
that the bill exempted companies with more than 500 employees from having to
provide paid sick leave. But Pelosis office argued that most employees at these
large companies already had paid sick leave. And beyond that concession, Pelosi
did not stray far from her core objectives.
If this GOP presidents own role was a major departure from 2008, so was his
relationship to his own party. Unlike in 2008, when an ascendant faction of
conservatives tanked the deal that Bush and Paulson had negotiated with
Democrats, a House Republican conference fully in Trumps grasp simply needed
his public blessing before getting in line. After that came in the form of a
Friday night tweet, all but the most conservative members of the party ended up
voting yes on the legislationand many staunch conservatives did vote for the
bill, out of fealty to Trump and out of pressure to do something.
The House GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), told reporters on Friday night
that the first bill proposed by Democrats was never going to get anywhere. But
he did give credit to Pelosi, and the administration, for working together. And
he wasnt the only one in the GOP ranks to offer the speaker praise. Rep. Peter
King (R-N.Y.), a longtime GOP lawmaker who is retiring, said hed spoken with
Pelosi several times over the last several days.
Basically, she believes in the institution, said King. She can be a tough,
rough political partisan, but when it comes to national interest, shes good.
Pelosi had absolutely done a good job on the response package, said Kingalong
with McCarthy and Mnuchin, who the congressman specifically mentioned.
That the deal came through at all was remarkable, given that the week began with
low expectations for any kind of major bipartisan movement. But pressure mounted
quickly during a momentous, fast-moving week during which normal societal
functions like school and pro sports came to a halt, and Trump declared a
national state of emergency and a restriction on Europeans traveling to the U.S.
Lawmakers who were in office during the 2008 financial crisis seemed to disagree
on the stakes and circumstances of legislative action then versus now.
Lets think back, said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chair of the House
Appropriations Committee and a 30-year veteran of Congress. How many people
were without food? How many people were in hospital? How many people were sick?
This was a different situation here, you have people dying.
But Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), the chair of the House Budget Committee, felt the
financial crisis posed more existential questions for Congress to respond to.
This issue seemed to be more of an auto-pilot thing, said Yarmuth on Saturday.
There werent that many options I think [Pelosis] role in 2008 was more
significant than now.
That may change soon: as the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak grows
more severe, another round of legislation that focuses on mitigating its effect
on the economy is considered inevitable by all parties. On Friday night, Pelosi
said she would be getting to work on such a plan with the administration, as the
Senate considers the relief package the House just passed.
That round is set to be thornier, and not only because lawmakers will demand a
more drawn-out deliberative process than this one, in which the House voted on a
bill within minutes of its public release and without any assessment of its
impact on the federal balance sheet.
The looming policy questions of a genuine economic stimulus package will also be
tricky to resolve. Some Republicans have clamored for broader economic relief
measures like a payroll tax cut or targeted help to industries like air
travelthat have largely been non-starters for Democrats. And many lawmakers are
anxious about the optics of entertaining a package that looks like a bailout of
the wealthy and corporate interests, which is how the 2008 deal is remembered.
Whether or not the relative bipartisan bonhomieand the mutual animosity between
Pelosi and Trumpthat was displayed in this round of talks carries over to the
next remains to be seen. But within her own ranks, Pelosis reputation as a
consummate dealmaker in times of crisis has only grown.
She knows what we need to do, she knows when we gotta give to get them there,
said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), a Pelosi ally. She knows that we need to not
have a political fight if we can avoid it, but that we're not going to be