House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a list in hand as she worked the floor on Wednesday, buttonholing her members to secure an even bigger vote count for her hard-fought, massive budget deal.
By Thursday, Pelosi shepherded enough Democrats to back her grand fiscal bargain with President Donald Trump that she didn’t need a single GOP vote — a decisive victory for Democrats and a stark rebound for the speaker after a chaotic month that laid bare painful divisions within the caucus.
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Separately, Pelosi navigated her caucus through one of the most high-profile moments of the majority — former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before two congressional panels — while averting what some Democrats feared could be a stampede toward impeachment.
The successes on both fronts had House Democrats marching in lockstep as they departed the Capitol on Thursday for a six-week recess, some literally throwing their hands up with joy as they exited the chamber. It’s an outcome that some lawmakers didn’t expect after seeing the open sparring between moderate and progressive Democrats — overshadowed only by Pelosi’s own feud with the freshman “squad” — just weeks earlier.
“It’s not always pretty, it’s not neat. It’s often loud,” said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.). “But I think she’s done a good job at harnessing our energy, our ideas and getting decent products off the floor.”
Pelosi demonstrated that, once again, she is a survivor: No dam-breaking toward impeachment. No more Twitter wars or quarrels with the four progressive congresswomen. And no displays of infighting to overtake their agenda.
“I know that you all have fun saying we have divisions,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday evening. “We don’t have divisions. We have differences of opinion.”
House Democrats will leave Friday for their longest stretch away from Washington this year on a high point for the caucus, fresh off a bipartisan budget victory that earned Pelosi praise and reenergized many in the caucus after this month’s rough patch.
“A whole lot [of credit] goes to the speaker. This negotiation on this budget was her doing,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said. “And I can’t think of one single person who does not feel that this is a much better deal than they ever thought she would get to.”
Pelosi and her leadership team also carefully maneuvered tricky policy fights that threatened to stir up tensions and derail the fragile detente Democrats reached last week. Legislation that was expected to cause an outcry — like a bill to condemn boycotts against Israel over the objections of progressives — was passed with little fanfare.
Democratic leaders avoided two other potential landmines — a resolution to reaffirm support for a two-state solution in Israel and a contentious border bill — by pulling the legislation all together rather than publicly expose ideological disputes among its members.
Democrats say their final days in session this week have felt far away from the policy brawls and Twitter spats that gripped the caucus earlier this month.
“That feels so long ago,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“One minute, we can be upset with our colleagues. The next minute, we’re rallying around because we’re worried for their safety,” Bass said, referring to the caucus’ quick efforts to unite behind Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who faced racist tweets from Trump last week.
It hasn’t been without challenges. Some liberal Democrats are privately frustrated that Democratic leaders narrowed the scope of a sweeping border policy bill, partly to appease vulnerable members, and then ended up forgoing a vote altogether.
Progressives also are fuming that dozens of moderate Democrats bucked the party on a separate immigration vote Wednesday that delivers the GOP yet another messaging win.
Moderates, too, were increasingly anxious in the aftermath of a contentious moment last week when lawmakers were forced to vote on whether Pelosi should be allowed to break chamber rules and call Trump “racist” on the floor.
Publicly, though, Democrats are universally eager to tout this month’s list of legislative wins: a $15-an-hour minimum wage bill, the most progressive defense policy bill in decades and a measure to permanently extend a 9/11 victims fund.
On Thursday morning, Pelosi and nearly a dozen Democrats stood on the steps of the Capitol for a press event in celebration of their 200thday in the majority — a final victory lap ahead of the recess.
“The American people elected a House majority that would be for the majority,” Pelosi declared from the East steps, ticking off legislation from a bill to bail out pensions to tackling the gender pay gap.
Pelosi and her deputies have officially outlasted the impeachment movement through the August recess. As of Thursday evening, just five more House Democrats have come out in favor of seeking to oust Trump — a trickle, not a flood. The push to impeach could likely lose momentum during the summer recess, and Democrats have been wary of attempting to remove the president as the 2020 presidential election season approaches.
Pelosi’s unwillingness to budge on impeachment, some members and aides say, will help endangered Democrats avoid Mueller fallout from trailing them back to their districts.
“The speaker’s been productive with this, she’s tried to have a common sense look at this,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.), who sits in a purple district and has been vocally opposed to impeachment.
And Pelosi herself will meet privately with Ocasio-Cortez on Friday morning in an attempt to move past tensions that have spilled over into the public between two of House’s best-known faces.
But first, Pelosi reveled in her huge budget win — pulling her deputy, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, aside outside the House chamber Thursday evening as they were about to secure enough Democratic votes to pass the spending deal.
“The budget agreement, not fighting about that, not having the president change his mind yet again, was a huge relief for Republicans as well as Democrats,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “I think there’s a sense of exhaling and knowing it’s OK to inhale again.”
John Bresnahan contributed to this story.