Whatever the fate of Mr. Trump in the months ahead, Nancy Pelosi’s stature in Washington and the US will continue to rise.
By Vinod Saighal
The 78-year old Nancy Patricia Pelosi is an American politician serving as speaker of the United States House of Representatives since January 2019. There were many who were wondering whether she would become the speaker again. First elected to Congress in 1987, she is the only woman to have served as speaker and is the highest-ranking elected woman in United States history.
To recapitulate, the Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives. The office was established in 1789 by Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. The Speaker is the political and parliamentary leader of the House of Representatives, and is simultaneously the House’s presiding officer, de facto leader of the body’s majority party, and the institution’s administrative head.
Nancy Pelosi gained the world’s attention when with extended arms she clapped back on Tuesday, 5 February during the State of the Union Address given by the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump. Her reaction indicates that Trump might have lost his ability to intimidate people. It has been commented upon in practically every media channel around the States followed by the photograph appearing around the world. What does it indicate? It indicates that Nancy Pelosi is not going to let Donald Trump off the hook during his remaining term. Her stature has risen among other reasons by the President’s many troubles mainly relating to the Mueller investigations as they come closer to him personally. The day of reckoning might not be far off.
The Speaker of the House has served notice that she would be closely watching Mr. Trump’s policy decisions hereafter. He, in turn, cannot ignore her capacity to incarcerate him as she will be the one who decides whether the President is to be impeached or not. In addition to the Mueller investigation the long shut down over the building of the wall on the Mexican border has alienated many people in Washington including some of the Republicans in the Senate who felt anxious at the extreme step. There have been so many other indications of Mr. Trump’s erratic behaviour. These include his sudden announcement that he would be pulling out remaining American troops from Syria and Afghanistan and that he could go in for another shut down were the Democrats not to agree to go ahead with the $5 billion needed to fund the wall. He even threatened to use his executive power to simply go ahead and build the wall, something that many in the Senate felt very uncomfortable with.
In fact, no one knows for sure as to what the President will do on many other pressing issues in the international arena, especially North Korea and China (although the notice served to China has bi-partisan support). There are several domestic contentious issues as well. This is where Mrs. Pelosi comes in, especially when she realises that his Republican backing in the Senate can no longer be counted upon by him as was the case earlier. While holding him to ransom would be too strong a term to use, the fact is that being the wielder of the Damocles sword hanging over his head she can take several other measures short of the extreme step to keep him on a tight leash. It is on the cards that as his term nears its end and his troubles threaten to engulf him, she could gradually emerge as the most important leader in Washington. This article goes on to explore the ways in which Nancy Pelosi could use her sudden accretion of power.
On the impeachment aspect she could start mobilizing evidence from various quarters, commence hearing on his personal finances, avoidance of taxes and the involvement of the family in the affairs of state to the extent that the secret clearance given to his daughter and son-in-law were withdrawn. Actually the list of all that could be uncovered about the mercurial president could become endless. While the hearing would be in progress and the Republicans begin to realize that the end could be approaching many of them would be amenable to backing the Speaker short of impeachment. That could turn out to be her moment in American history to assume the role of a responsible elder statesman seeing as well her age and almost unmatched experience on Capitol Hill. Together with bipartisan support she could bring in legislation required to set right many of the problems confronting the nation that had not been possible due to lack of the legislative strength required to enact them. Controlling the runaway US debt would be another aspect that would require to be dealt with. The President would hardly be in a position to use his executive veto knowing what could follow.
Coming to international affairs there could again be consensus with a Republic Senate caucus that had decided to interact with the Speaker on the damage to US interests. Most important would be the damage to US allies that had remained the bedrock of US power since World War II and whose prolonged alienation could result in irreparable damage. The unilateral concessions that appeared to have been made with the North Korean leader would likely be discussed with the President before his subsequent meeting with the latter. In sum Mr. Trump would be reined in without undue humiliation of his office; that would not be in the interest of the United States. Mrs. Pelosi would be the first person to realise that.
China, especially the plight of the Tibetans in Tibet and the Dalai Lama, have remained close to her heart. She has held the Tibetan leader in the highest esteem and made several visits earlier to New Delhi and Dharamsala, the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration to meet him. She could use her new power linked to President Trump’s economic sanctions on China to demand humane changes to China’s policy on Tibet. Among these could be demands to: (a) generally ease the harsh restrictions on the Tibetan people, their language, culture, religion and freedom to travel; (b) the restoration of the Tibetan monasteries to the Dalai Lama, i.e., non-interference in appointment of the heads and religious practice; (c) seeing his age permitting the Dalai Lama to travel to his place of birth as has been his expressed desire without preconditions and with full security and respect due to his position as the religious head. In turn he would undertake not to make any speeches that could offend his hosts and (d) Journalists and visitors to Tibet should be given visas, removing the many unnecessary restrictions.
Whatever the fate of Mr. Trump in the months ahead, Nancy Pelosi’s stature in Washington and the US will continue to rise. Seeing the President’s support base she is unlikely to try and change all his policies. At best she could moderate them so that the Republicans are kept on board. Most importantly, while not being the arbiter, her backing for the next president of the of the United States would be important for all aspirants for the office, especially the many Democrats who have thrown their hats in the ring, not forgetting the several women contenders this time around.
(The writer, a retired Major-General of the Indian Army, is a commentator on international affairs)