WASHINGTON, Dec 18 — Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell are once-in-a-generation Washington lawmakers at the apex of their powers — and to a significant degree they are shaping the fate of US President Donald Trump.
Both in their late seventies and born 23 months apart, the two rivals are masters of the American political game, an odd couple rising to paramount positions in Congress on the strength of political savvy, grit and determination.
Speaker of the House Pelosi is calm, cool under pressure and tough as nails, the top Democrat in Congress and Trump’s chief nemesis who has guided her chamber — often with rival Republicans kicking and screaming — through the divisive impeachment inquiry investigating presidential wrongdoing.
This icon of American female power is virtually certain to keep her party together enough to get impeachment over the line this week in a bid to hold Trump accountable and build on her already substantial legacy.
On the opposite end of the US Capitol, the perpetually unruffled Senate majority leader with the soft Kentucky drawl has emerged as the chief Trump loyalist.
For years McConnell has used his procedural wizardry to tie Democrats in knots and ram through his party’s agenda — or block the priorities of his rivals.
All signs suggest the backroom commandant will order his Republican Party footsoldiers to hold the line in a likely Senate impeachment trial and help Trump avoid punishment.
“I’m not an impartial juror,” McConnell told reporters yesterday. “This is a political process, there’s not anything judicial about it.”
Clash of titans
Pelosi was first elected to Congress in 1987 and has been a thorn in Trump’s side since his inauguration, but particularly after she reclaimed the speaker’s gavel last January.
McConnell entered the Senate in 1984 and remains a potent force, employing a cold-blooded political calculation that has helped him thrive.
Pelosi shepherded president Barack Obama’s landmark health care initiative through Congress in 2010, but when McConnell took control of the Senate in 2015, the Democratic legislative priorities were grounded.
“McConnell is a master at navigating the legislative process, and the manner in which he is willing to use legislative procedure to achieve his outcomes is quite remarkable,” Jennifer Lawless, professor of political science at the University of Virginia, told AFP.
McConnell has chalked up his longevity to the “fighting spirit” instilled in him by his parents as he faced the battles of his youth, namely polio and school bullies.
The impeachment stakes are relatively low for McConnell as his chief mission is to keep the White House happy, according to Lawless.
“It’s almost unheard of that 20 Republicans would defect,” she said, referring to the number of Republicans in the 100-member Senate who would need to vote with Democrats to convict Trump in the trial.
In this clash of congressional titans, it’s different for Pelosi.
“It’s much more important for Pelosi to solidify her legacy and have it pass the House,” Lawless said of impeachment.
The leading Democrat was reluctant to launch the inquiry — fearing a backlash after the two-year investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.
But she concluded that Trump violated his oath to the US Constitution through “clear, irrefutable” impeachable conduct tied to his pressure on Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals, and that he must be held accountable.
Politics as 3-D chess
Drawn to politics since childhood — her father and one of her brothers were mayors of her hometown Baltimore — she entered Congress representing San Francisco.
As a political moderate in the liberal California bastion, she has attributed her own success in part to her ability “to take a punch.”
“Madam Speaker” has earned cultlike status among Democrats for daring to go toe-to-toe with the president.
And she employs a certain “political savviness” that helps her control a historically diverse Democratic caucus, Lawless said.
When it comes to Washington’s three-dimensional chess, “I think Pelosi’s the best,” declared Senate Democrat Sherrod Brown.
Late president Lyndon Johnson, himself a onetime Senate majority leader, “was the most effective legislative leader of the 20th century, and Pelosi is every bit as good.”
When it comes to current leader McConnell, Brown scoffs.
“McConnell is good at violating the norms of the Senate and getting his way, but whether that’s called good leadership or not is another question.”
During today’s historic vote, Pelosi will be judged on her ability to “bring along” red-district Democrats skeptical of impeachment, Lawless said.
Could her drive to impeach Trump ultimately cost Democrats in presidential and legislative elections in 2020?
Observers will learn in November whether Pelosi’s instincts were correct. — AFP