Nancy Pelosi will become President in 2019

Nancy Pelosi: "On par with the President"

"I learned a long time ago not to bet against Nancy Pelosi," John Lawrence told DW. He and other observers are convinced that the conflict between US President Donald Trump and the Speaker of the House of Representatives will determine the political landscape in the USA over the next two years.

Lawrence should know. He was a senior member of Congress for nearly four decades, and eight years as Nancy Pelosi's chief of staff. And although the 78-year-old Democrat and 72-year-old Trump are almost the same age, their political experiences couldn't be further apart.

Pelosi and Trump: "She has a far better understanding of the political system"

"She has a far better understanding of the political system than Donald Trump," says Lawrence. "I didn't work with him, but when you are so close to the political scene, you can see that Trump is fundamentally wrong about the distribution of power in the American system." Despite not getting the most votes in the presidential election, Trump believes he has "far more power than other presidents in modern American history."

A historical figure

Trump's reign resembles an "imperial presidency," that is, a shift in competences from legislating to being president, adds Lawrence. His claim to power has already collided with the new reality of the divided government after the mid-term elections last year: House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi first postponed the president's speech on the state of the nation and then forced Trump to find a temporary solution in the government shutdown. Pelosi has made it clear to the president that she is well aware of the power the constitution gives her. In terms of protocol, it is number three in the state after the president and his deputy. And she is not afraid to use this position against the president.

State of the Union address in 2018 to the US Congress

"She is spokeswoman for the house - that is, chairwoman of an independent constitutional body, and with this authority she can also control the president's access to the Capitol," says Thomas Mann, who researches Congress for the Brookings Institution. He describes Pelosi, whom he has known for 25 years, as "smart, politically clever and persistent". And she is at the head of a united party.

First mother, then politician

Pelosi made history when she became the first woman to lead the House of Representatives in 2007. In 2019 she succeeded in another coup: she regained office - the last time such a constellation existed more than 50 years ago.

Pelosi's political career seems predestined. She comes from a politically active family in Baltimore. Her father and brother were both mayors there. Nevertheless, her political ascent was complicated and protracted.

Pelosi moved to California with her husband, had five children, and didn't become a full-time politician until she was in her forties, when all the kids were out. In 1987, she initially ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in an electoral district traditionally chosen by the Democrats. She won and has not lost that seat since. At the same time, she rose to higher and higher positions in Congress.

One of her most significant achievements as Speaker of the House of Representatives was working with Republican President George W. Bush during the financial crisis in 2008. Together, Mann and Lawrence emphasize in unison they would have saved the US economy from collapse.

Non-partisan against the economic crisis: Nancy Pelosi and George W. Bush (archive image)

Ready for political battle

The two experts also attribute a crucial role to the Democrat in the passage of the "Affordable Care Act", President Barack Obama's historic health insurance. In order to enforce the law known as "Obamacare", Pelosi was prepared to clash with advisers to the Obama White House, says Lawrence.

"I remember exactly when we were sitting in the Oval Office with President Obama talking about health insurance," he says. Some of the President's staff complained that the law had become too complicated. The proposal must be processed again and simplified so that health insurance has a chance at all. "Some have said we should drop our tents, accept a scaled-down version of the law, and fight for a major national health insurance at some point in the future."

Assertive, even against one's own ranks: Pelosi prevails on "Obama Care" (archive image)

But Pelosi made it clear to the president and his staff that she would not accept it. The House of Representatives is ready to introduce a comprehensive bill, even if that would mean a tough fight in the chamber and put some MPs politically in danger. After that, there were no more attempts to water down the bill any further. Congress finally passed the full version of "Obamacare".

"Trump will learn now"

The discussion with Obama in the Oval Office shows that Pelosi sees herself as head of parliament in a role that is equal to the government - on par with the president, as the experts Lawrence and Mann put it.

Republicans presided over both houses of Congress for the first two years of the Trump presidency. Obviously, Trump did not learn during this time that Congress is a constitutional body on an equal footing with government, says Lawrence. "But he will learn that now". Nancy Pelosi is "an extremely talented opponent, and the House of Representatives is under the control of a party that will not simply submit to the will of the president".

In view of a capricious President, Lawrence and Mann do not want to decide whether Trump or Pelosi will leave the field as the winner at the end of this major conflict. Thomas Mann nevertheless dares to look ahead: "If Trump is ready to risk his party, his re-election and the country, he will prevail. If not, she will."