‘Deadly serious’: Pelosi goes to war with GOP over Jan. 6

Nancy Pelosi has some unfinished business with Donald Trump.

The volatile former president and Pelosi foe is long gone from the White House but still haunts Capitol Hill. And as much as some in her party might want to move on from Trump, the speaker has made overseeing an investigation of the deadliest attack on the Capitol in two centuries into a core mission this year — putting her squarely in the path of the former president who Democrats say played a central role in the insurrection.

Her GOP opponents are warning that Pelosi’s close involvement in the select committee on Jan. 6 exposes its efforts to politicization and failure. But the California Democrat and her allies insist it’s the best way to prevent a repeat of the deadly day when thousands of rioters stormed the Capitol bent on overturning a democratic election and threatened to kill members of Congress.

“They wanted to kill her. They were hunting her,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said. “I don’t think this is a political calculation at all. You’re talking about the greatest assault on our democracy in over 100 years.”

Pelosi huddled with the panel’s seven Democrats and sole GOP member, Rep. Liz Cheney, in her office on Thursday afternoon. A devout Catholic, she led the group in prayer before stressing the “solemnity” of their work ahead.

“The facts will take us where we go, not anything else,” Pelosi told the group, according to a source in the room.

Members of Pelosi’s inner circle insist that she doesn’t consider the select panel as legacy-defining work during what could be her final turn with the gavel. Instead, her confidants say, Pelosi feels like she was left with no choice after GOP leaders mobilized to block an independent probe and a separate Senate-led investigation was dismissed as too narrow, with virtually no discussion of Trump’s role.

But the most popular parlor game in Washington is guessing when Pelosi might finally exit the Hill after a storied two-decade tenure atop the Democratic caucus. And no matter when Pelosi and her two longtime lieutenants — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — step down, their responses to the deadly insurrection and its aftermath will shape their legacies.

“The answer of ‘we did no investigation’ is just not a legacy that anybody — forget about the speaker, but anybody, including Republicans — should be willing to live with,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.). “It’s an overused word, but this is existential.”

Democrats close to Pelosi say although the speaker no longer engages in daily verbal combat with Trump, she still sees him and his loyal band of insurgent followers as a once-in-a-generation threat to American democracy.

And with Trump sidelined, Pelosi has been able to shift her focus away from countering his administration’s policies to shielding Congress from what she sees as his dangerous brand of politics, a clash with implications for the institution that will long survive her tenure.

“This is deadly serious,” Pelosi said Thursday, raising her voice and growing unusually animated as she explained her determination to move ahead with the select panel despite Republican protests. “This is about our Constitution. It’s about our country. It’s about an assault on the Capitol.”

Long before the riot at the Capitol, Pelosi has considered solemn duty to the institution as part of her leadership post. She has a long history working on national security, including years as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and played a pivotal role in establishing the independent commission to study the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Then came Jan. 6, when Pelosi and other party leaders were whisked from the floor just minutes before rioters broke into the House chamber. Back in her office, staffers cowered under tables as rioters angrily chanted Pelosi’s name outside a locked door.

“This is a serious moment,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who served with Pelosi during 9/11, the last event considered such a major threat to Congress' safety. “She has to get to the bottom of this so it’ll never happen again.”

Pelosi stunned much of Washington this week by ridding the Jan. 6 select panel of a pair of vociferous Trump allies — Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — drawing fierce criticism from Republicans, who slammed it as the latest example of her overreach as speaker.

The move left Trump’s chief antagonist in his own party, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), as the sole GOP member of the investigation, although Pelosi hinted Thursday she might add more Republican representation.

Pelosi’s play this week infuriated McCarthy, the first House GOP leader during her nearly 20 years in power with whom she has almost zero relationship. Pelosi had a friendly rapport with former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and was cordial with former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

But when McCarthy comes up, she barely cares to hide the disdain in her voice.

“I’m not talking about him,” Pelosi told reporters when asked about McCarthy Thursday. “Let’s not waste each other’s time.”

The feeling appears to be mutual. When Pelosi called McCarthy to inform him of her decision to block Jordan and Banks from serving on the panel, she was met with “a wall of screaming,” according to a source familiar with the conversation.

A second source confirmed the call was tense but said both McCarthy and Pelosi had “raised voices.”

For both parties, this week was a reminder that Congress is still in the throes of a painful reckoning over Donald Trump’s hold on the GOP, as the former president’s influence only grows across the campus since his election loss. The resulting gulf between the two parties, and their leaders, has only expanded.

And it was yet another sign that Pelosi — who has already shepherded her party through two Trump impeachments — won't hesitate to wage brutal combat with her political opponents, despite her party’s slimmest margins in decades.

McCarthy and his GOP members generally see Pelosi’s decision to veto two of their members as undermining the seriousness of the select panel. They argue that the speaker’s unprecedented step to pluck Trump’s biggest defenders off the GOP roster shows that the investigation's mandate is chiefly to fight the former president.

“She was going to go forward no matter what,” said Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who leads the GOP’s campaign arm. “I think that takes away any credibility from this partisan charade.”

And the sight of a mostly Democratic select committee had some of the most vulnerable members in Pelosi’s caucus whispering about the potential fallout ahead of a brutal midterm election.

But Democrats close to Pelosi dismissed those concerns, saying the 2022 election will be won or lost on the state of the economy and not anything else. Those Democrats say it was McCarthy’s decision to reject the Sept. 11-style probe that doomed cross-aisle cooperation from the start.

Several Democratic committees have already launched investigations into the Jan. 6 riots, hauling in witnesses such as the Capitol police watchdog and the FBI director. Those probes have already revealed glaring gaps in campus security, with big implications for Capitol law enforcement, perimeter fencing and management going forward.

But Pelosi and many Democrats insist a full investigation — a separate committee with its own resources — would uncover new details about exactly where order broke down and how Trump and his GOP allies fueled the violence at the Capitol. Democrats on the panel are already considering witnesses such as McCarthy himself.

“I think she wants to show a clear contrast between a serious leader, a serious party that is serious about governing, and this unseriousness on the other side,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.).

Ally Mutnick contributed.

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Inside Pelosi’s push to impeach Trump: This time it’s personal

As Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to huddle in a secure bunker during the Capitol riots, several of her young aides spent hours sheltered under a conference table in the speaker’s suite as armed rioters pounded the door with menacing taunts of “Where’s Nancy?”

When Pelosi was reunited with her staff hours after the deadly siege at the Capitol, the speaker didn’t even have to ask — she could see the terror reflected in their eyes.

Now as the House prepares to impeach President Donald Trump this week for inciting the insurrection that shook the core of U.S. democracy and left five dead, the undertaking for Pelosi isn’t simply a matter of politics.

“It's really hard to address this subject without getting emotional about it,” Pelosi told Democrats on a private call Monday afternoon. “We're very passionate about how we protect and defend our country and how offended we were about this assault perpetrated by the commander in chief.”

The speaker views the invasion of the Capitol as more than just an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election by a pro-Trump mob. For Pelosi, it was also an attack on the people she calls her family — the lawmakers, support staffers and aides who are the lifeblood of the Capitol — and the building that she considers sacred and has called a second home since birth, when her father was a congressman.

Democrats are now moving to impeach Trump for an unprecedented second time in the remaining days of his presidency, charging him with high crimes and misdemeanors for goading the rioters at the Capitol last week, who killed at least one police officer in their hunt for members of Congress, including Pelosi.

A week ago, another impeachment would have seemed out of the realm of possibility, with the Democratic Party just days away from controlling all three levers of power in Washington, D.C., and finally bidding farewell to Trump.

But after those several terrifying hours on Wednesday, Trump’s own supporters made the Capitol one of the least safe places in Washington, D.C., and Pelosi and her entire Democratic Caucus cannot forget it.

“I think Nancy also looks at this and says, how do you — when the president has put your people at risk of harm or death — not respond to that in the strongest way possible?” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said in an interview.

The emotional toll will have a lasting effect on Pelosi and her caucus. About two dozen Democrats were locked inside the chamber on Wednesday, some frantically calling their families in case they needed to say goodbye, as members of an armed mob eventually forced their way in. Many more lawmakers barricaded themselves inside their offices, where they worked with staff to push desks and couches in front of the doors.

“We are a family. Those were the words used on the caucus call, over and over again,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), who was among those members in the chamber. She recalled when Pelosi and other Democrats gathered by phone for the first time since the attack on an emotional caucus call. “She talked about her staff, how she was so concerned for her staff and other people’s staff.”

Pelosi was one of multiple Democrats on that 3.5-hour call Friday to encourage members and their staff to seek counseling for the trauma they experienced that day. Support staff, too, should have access to the same mental health services, Pelosi said, noting how they too are an integral part of the Capitol nucleus.

“Some of the maintenance people call me ‘Momma,’” Pelosi said on the call, according to multiple Democrats.

Pelosi has repeatedly urged both lawmakers and staff to seek out mental health support after living through the horrific assault on the Capitol, including on another long call with her caucus on Monday.

For Pelosi and many others, the images of Wednesday’s violence are haunting — rioters in tactical gear storming through the Capitol, ransacking offices, including her own, before turning on police, attempting to crush one in a doorway and dragging another from the building and beating him with a flag pole. Hours earlier, Trump had instructed his supporters to march to the Capitol, vowing the election was rigged and he would never concede.

As she steers her caucus through the emotional wreckage of the attack, Pelosi has also, once again, become the lead voice on impeaching a president who has also been one of her biggest antagonists for four years. Unlike the long on-ramp to her support for impeachment in 2019, this time Pelosi embraced the move within a matter of hours.

“One of the things that people don’t appreciate about her is she has a really heartfelt, deep reverence for our Capitol, democracy and the presidency,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a close ally of the speaker.

The rest of Pelosi’s caucus has quickly come to the same conclusion as her, with very few exceptions. Democrats announced Monday they will vote Wednesday to impeach Trump after securing enough votes to do so, unless Vice President Mike Pence takes unilateral action before then to declare the president unfit for office.

It’s a remarkable display of caucus unity for Pelosi, who fought her way back to the speakership two years ago after a group of Democratic objectors tried to end her long leadership tenure. And many in her caucus were already predicting a tense atmosphere within the caucus over the next two years, which they saw as inevitable when a big-tent party has such a razor-thin majority.

Instead, nearly every single House Democrat — including freshmen who were sworn in just days ago — quickly lined up in favor of impeachment.

Even some of the caucus’ most pro-impeachment Democrats were shocked by the speed of their caucus and their leadership’s support.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — who was pulled from the chamber just as rioters breached the Capitol on Wednesday — began talking about impeachment almost immediately after she reached a secure location. She was in the same room as Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and a handful of others.

As they sat together for hours, Omar approached House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to tell him she would draft an article of impeachment for Trump’s role inciting the riots. He encouraged her to do what she needed to, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.

Across the Capitol complex, a group of House Judiciary members — Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Ted Lieu of California — were also barricaded inside an office together as they first floated the idea of drafting more impeachment articles.

As those Democrats quickly began circulating their draft, Pelosi, too, was on her phone nonstop. Since the attack, she has spoken to nearly every member of her caucus, fielding texts and calls late into the night — not unlike the Democrats’ first path to impeachment in 2019.

Twenty-four hours after the Capitol attack began, Pelosi took to the podium to deliver a decisive warning — Trump was a seditious threat to the country and if Pence didn’t take immediate action to remove him, Democrats would.

Speaking in a building nearly empty but for the staff working to repair the damage, Pelosi described Trump’s role in “the gleeful desecration of the U.S. Capitol” and the targeting of members of Congress as “horrors that will forever stain our nation's history.”

Two years ago, Pelosi spent months carefully managing every step her caucus took toward impeaching Trump. She listened carefully to the moderate freshmen who helped Democrats win back the House, and only vowed to move ahead when a sizable group of them — all with a background in national security — announced their decision to vote yes.

Democrats across the caucus, including those national security-focused members, say the decision to impeach was simpler after what they lived through Wednesday.

"I genuinely believe people were barricaded in their offices making decisions like this,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) said in an interview on her decision to support impeachment. "There’s nothing more clarifying than when your life is in danger."

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Pelosi reelected speaker despite narrow majority

Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker of the House for the 117th Congress, clinching the gavel for the fourth — and potentially last — time as she prepares to steer the sharply divided chamber through the final turbulent days of the Trump era.

Pelosi won 216 votes to secure the speakership with five Democrats breaking ranks to support someone else or vote present. All Republicans voted for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

“As we are sworn in today, we accept a responsibility as daunting and demanding as any that previous generations of leadership have faced. We begin the new Congress during a time of extraordinary difficulty,” Pelosi said in a speech after accepting the gavel. “Our most urgent priority will continue to be defeating the coronavirus. And defeat it, we will.”

If this is in fact Pelosi’s last term as speaker — as she has signaled — it would cap a remarkable House career spanning more than three decades, including leading the Democratic Caucus for nearly 20 years and becoming the first, and still the only, woman to ever wield the speaker’s gavel.

Now Pelosi must lead one of the slimmest House majorities in decades — Democrats hold just 222 seats in the House to Republicans’ 211, with two vacancies — through the final days of President Donald Trump’s tenure before preparing to usher in a new era under President-elect Joe Biden.

“We have the most capable speaker in modern times,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said in an interview amid the multihour vote. “She is clearly the most capable and competent speaker — to bring a large group of people with diverse backgrounds and political ideology together, and function as one.”

In some ways, this was the most challenging speaker’s bid for Pelosi yet as she had to meticulously lock down every vote, with nearly zero room for error due to razor-thin party margins, rebellious Democrats and the potential for last-minute absences due to the coronavirus.

With Republicans flipping a dozen seats in November, Pelosi could only afford a handful of defectors within her caucus this time around, not the 15 Democrats who didn’t back her bid in 2019. Pelosi is the sixth speaker in history to win with fewer than 218 votes.

“We are just an extremely slim amount of votes away from risking the speakership to the Republican Party,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who in the past has been vocal about the need for transition to new leadership but voted for Pelosi Sunday. "It's bigger than any one of us."

The day also wasn’t without some coronavirus-related drama. In a sign of just how delicate the vote count was, and with a recognition of the surging pandemic, House officials constructed a special plexiglass box in the chamber Sunday so that members who tested negative for the coronavirus but were quarantining after exposure — two Democrats and one Republican — could still cast their vote.

The move sparked outrage and head-scratching among lawmakers and House officials, some of whom openly questioned whether the speaker’s vote mattered more than the safety of lawmakers and staff.

“To build a structure like that, in the dark of night, to only protect the votes that Speaker Pelosi needs to get reelected speaker, is shameful,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee.

The mechanics of the floor vote also looked far different than two years ago, when Pelosi returned to the speaker’s chair for a historic second time after losing the majority in 2010. While each member still stood one by one to cast their vote, only a few dozen lawmakers from each party were supposed to be on the floor at one time.

On the Democratic side, lawmakers mostly sat several seats away from each other, though many Republicans flouted health guidelines and sat shoulder to shoulder in the chamber.

Several members did use their moment in the spotlight to deliver personal accolades to the speaker: Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), for instance, described Pelosi as "the finest speaker in the history of the United States.” And Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) followed his vote for Pelosi with an “of course.”

But overall the tone of the day was less celebratory than in 2019, as the public health crisis and other tragedies remained top of mind for members of both parties.

Several members were spotted wearing pins honoring Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, who died Tuesday due to coronavirus complications.

And Pelosi initially missed that her name was called to voice her vote because she had been turned around in her seat talking to Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who is mourning the death of his 25-year-old son, announced earlier this week. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) offered Raskin his condolences before voting for McCarthy, which led some in the chamber to clap.

The vote on Sunday caps off an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying blitz over the last several weeks by Pelosi, 80, and her allies to secure full support within the caucus, including from some longtime outspoken critics of the speaker. Senior Democrats were painstakingly managing attendance up until the final hours — even reaching out to offices multiple times to confirm lawmakers would be present.

In the end, Democrats had only one absence — 84-year-old Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who is battling pancreatic cancer. Two Republicans weren’t present to vote — Reps.-elect David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), who both tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days.

Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, who also tested positive for the coronavirus recently, was cleared from quarantine at midnight and traveled to Washington to cast her vote.

Pelosi successfully flipped several of the Democratic defectors who didn’t support her 2019 effort, including Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.).

But not every returning Democrat ended up voting for Pelosi, despite stark warnings from senior party members that they should do so.

Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) became the first defection of the day, casting his vote for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). He was followed by Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who picked House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries for speaker. Both Golden and Lamb weren’t expected to support Pelosi.

Three other Democrats who didn’t support Pelosi in 2019 — Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey — all voted “present.”

Pelosi’s fourth term as speaker comes two years after a group of Democratic rebels tried to block her path to the gavel, only backing down after she agreed to a four-year term limit atop the House.

But in many ways since then Pelosi has only consolidated more power, positioning herself as the leading adversary to Trump during a chaotic 116th Congress that started under the longest government shutdown in history, eventually led to the impeachment of the president before being quickly consumed by the coronavirus that effectively shut down the nation for the last nine months.

Pelosi did not face a challenger this time but has been repeatedly questioned about whether this in fact would be her last term.

“What I said then is whether it passes or not, I will abide by those limits that are there,” Pelosi told reporters in November about the deal she cut with Democratic rebels in 2018. “I don’t want to undermine any leverage I may have, but I made the statement.”

With the speaker’s vote over, the House will focus on the final gasps of Trump’s term, including potential chaos on Wednesday when Republicans make one last, doomed attempt to overturn Biden’s victory results as Congress meets to certify the election results.

The effort has zero chance of success but will ensure a long day, possibly bleeding into the next, filled with drama. Republicans spent most of Sunday openly warring with each other over Trump’s attempts to subvert the election.

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Hakeem Jeffries again running to be No. 5 House Dem

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries on Monday formally declared his bid to remain chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, a position he’s expected to easily keep that would cement his role in the top tier of leadership in the new Congress.

The New York Democrat is expected to run unopposed and has wide support across the caucus. As the No. 5 House Democrat, Jeffries would remain a powerful voice in the party as members look to execute the agenda of President-elect Joe Biden — while securing a position that would allow him to quickly ascend the leadership ranks when Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top two lieutenants — all in their 80s — ultimately step aside.

“From day one, House Democrats must act decisively to crush the virus, provide transformational relief to everyday Americans and revive the economy. At the same time, we must use our majority to address racial injustice, confront the climate crisis, defend the Dreamers, expand access to high-quality, affordable health care, fix our crumbling infrastructure and end the era of voter suppression,” Jeffries wrote in a letter to members Monday.

If elected again as caucus chairman, Jeffries and the rest of the Democratic leadership will be quickly forced to reckon with the raw ideological tensions that have surfaced since the party’s unexpected string of losses in Tuesday’s election. Democrats will retain control of the House, but have lost a net five seats — losses that are expected to grow as more races are called, prompting some tense discussions in the caucus between its centrist and left factions.

Jeffries’ profile has grown in recent years, appearing on the national stage as one of the Democrats’ impeachment managers in their case against President Donald Trump, as well as his role in the policing reform bill in the wake of George Floyd’s killing this summer.

Jeffries has also led the caucus during the many months since Democrats moved nearly all their meetings and interactions online, hosting a total of 60 caucus-wide calls since the start of the pandemic.

The New York Democrat is also a prolific fundraiser, pulling in $8.5 million in the most recent cycle.

Jeffries’ reelection as caucus chair could help position him to run for higher leadership positions in the future. Jeffries is often floated as a potential successor to Pelosi, which would make him the first Black speaker. Pelosi had once committed that this upcoming Congress would be her final term as speaker, though she has declined to answer questions about her future in recent weeks.

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With impeachment in rear view, Pelosi looks to next attack on Trump

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is looking to make a sharp pivot ¨from the heated politics of impeachment and lash President Donald Trump in another key area: the economy.

In a series of private meetings this week, Pelosi has all but explicitly told her members that with the election just nine months away, it’s time for Democrats to shift the spotlight away from the Ukraine scandal and other controversies ensnaring Trump.

To further underscore that point, Pelosi hosted a special speaker’s meeting on Tuesday with a top Obama economics adviser to explain to Democrats why the economy isn’t actually as strong as Trump claims and how they can message that to voters.

For moderate Democrats in competitive districts— including those where Trump dominated in 2016 — the shift away from impeachment less than a week after the Senate acquitted the president is a welcome reprieve.

“I’m glad that we’re shifting and pivoting to something else. Every time I poll in my area, it’s always the same thing: education, health care and the economy,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who is facing a fierce primary challenger from the left in his sprawling south Texas district.

The centrist Democrat said he sees Pelosi’s shift to the economy as a signal that talk of impeachment and investigations are over in the House, at least for now. A series of ongoing court cases, though, could renew the push among some Democrats to investigate Trump, including the bid to interview former White House counsel Don McGahn. But Democrats risk appearing as sore losers in light of the president’s acquittal.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) delivers remarks during a rally for the passage of the USMCA trade agreement, on September 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. Several agricultural groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association and the National Corn Growers Association held the rally to urge Congress to ratify the trade deal. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)

“That is what I understand,” Cuellar said, jokingly tapping a wall outside the House chamber, as if to knock on wood. “That is what I’m hoping.”

Democrats, including Pelosi, argue that they’ve been talking about the economy nonstop since taking back control of the House — and have passed a new major trade agreement and a slew of other bills, most of which are languishing in the Republican Senate.

But after the Senate cleared Trump, Democrats are privately hoping their message can break through and damage a president who is heading into his reelection campaign more emboldened than ever.

“Impeachment didn’t move the needle ... so continuing to focus on that target, you’re not going to convince anyone at this point,” said Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, who represents a Trump-district.

Kind said Trump’s real problem is in states that are key to his reelection, like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where some haven’t benefited from the president’s economic good fortune.

“You still see record farm bankruptcies taking place in Wisconsin, a manufacturing recession, stagnant wage growth and no paid family or medical leave policy,” Kind said. “These are major problems holding us back economically.”

Democrats have already begun to aggressively go after Trump’s track record on the economy, teeing up the same line of attack that they attribute to recapturing the House in 2018. But they can’t decide exactly how to message it.

Some Democrats are eager to go all in on hammering Trump, saying he’s lying about the claims he makes about the state of the economy when he came into office, the reality behind the rising wages and jobs numbers and the impact the Republican tax law has had on the middle class.

But other Democrats want to take a more nuanced approach and even claim some of the credit for what they see as good economic news, like January’s strong job numbers, slowly ticking-up wage growth and the years-long stock surge.

“Look, I think everyone will acknowledge, the stock market is up and unemployment is down, but that doesn’t tell the full picture,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who heads the caucus’ messaging committee.

“I think all of us hear from our constituents. They know the economy is improving, but their own personal situation isn’t getting better,” Cicilline said.

The pressure for Democrats to get the message right on the economy comes as Trump enters the throes of his reelection campaign with the highest approval ratings at any time of his presidency. His approval rating now stands at 49 percent, leaving him virtually unshaken by an election scandal that would likely sink any other president.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 12: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) asks Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok a question on July 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.  Strzok testified before a joint committee hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees. While involved in the probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server in 2016, Strzok exchanged text messages with FBI attorney Lisa Page that were critical of Trump. After learning about the messages, Mueller removed Strzok from his investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)

Pelosi and other top Democrats have never thought impeachment would be a winning political message, fully aware that he would be acquitted by the Senate. They refused to even consider the possibility of impeaching Trump until the fall, when Trump was accused of pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.

But Democrats were privately shocked by the fealty to Trump from Senate Republicans — particularly moderates — throughout the impeachment trial, especially on questions of calling new witnesses or evidence.

Capitol Hill Democrats are now under pressure to play catch-up to White House messaging on the economy, after months of impeachment overshadowing their own agenda on the airwaves.

Some of the party’s worst fears were realized in a recent ABC/Washington Post poll that showed nearly 6 in 10 people approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, another career high.

In a closed-door meeting this week, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) argued to his fellow Democrats that they should try to take credit for economic gains that he said were likely spurred by policies under President Barack Obama, according to multiple people in the room.

But Cicilline, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, countered that Democrats needed to pummel Trump for all the ways that he’s catered to the wealthiest Americans over the poor and middle class.

Cicilline pointed to recent internal polling that showed Democrats who argue over which party deserves credit for a strong economy would have a “losing message” against Trump in 2020.

The polling, conducted by the Navigator Research group, showed that candidates playing the partisan blame game — arguing, for example, that Obama pulled the country out of a recession — would lose in a head-to-head against Trump’s economic message 38 percent to 41 percent.

The winning message, the polling finds, is when Democrats talk to people “about what’s happening in their lives,” like rising cost-of-living expenses but stagnant wages. That message wins 49 percent to 35 percent, according to data obtained by POLITICO.

Trump is even making a push for voters from minority groups who typically support Democrats, touting record low unemployment for Latino and black workers. But Democrats say they don’t think it will work.

“Black and Latino voters aren’t selfish voters,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). “We’re just not going to vote for the economy when he's caging children, causing all this racist rhetoric, doing all these types of things that I think affect our communities, not just jobs.”

Still, at the heart of the debate is a difficult question for Democrats: how to tout some of the economic successes of the last three years, without making Trump’s own case for reelection in 2020?

“It would not be a saleable argument to say the economy’s not doing well. It has been doing well, it continues to do relatively well,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said at a briefing with reporters. “But, quite frankly, the economy is growing jobs at about 30,000 less than the Obama administration.”

The post-impeachment shift within the Democratic Caucus is evident, with Pelosi and her deputies taking strides to talk up pocketbook issues like health care and the economy.

Still, Democratic leaders continue to face some pressure within their caucus to continue investigating Trump on matters related to the Ukraine scandal -- including subpoenaing former national security adviser John Bolton, who claimed in an unpublished manuscript that Trump told him he withheld millions of dollars in Ukraine aid while waiting for the country’s assistance to investigate Biden.

Pelosi indicated last week she has no desire to summon Bolton and would rather see the current court cases play out first — a sentiment she reiterated in a private meeting Monday.

But details of the Ukraine scandal have continued to surface since Trump’s Senate trial ended, including the Justice Department’s decision this week to review information from Rudy Giuliani on Biden.

Asked about the development on Tuesday, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) condemned the move but did not call for further investigations.

“I don't want to look backward, because we're focused on looking forward,” said Jeffries, who was one of seven House impeachment managers who prosecuted Trump in the Senate. “This is all now in the hands of the American people.”

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Indiana’s freshman senator steps up to the impeachment mics

Sen. Mike Braun quickly vaulted from a self-described “no name” to one of President Donald Trump’s most prominent and prolific defenders during the Senate’s impeachment trial. And the GOP freshman from Indiana gives all the credit to Chuck Schumer.

The Senate minority leader, notorious for his infatuation with the press, orchestrated a Democratic media blitz during the three week-long trial, leading daily press conferences often multiple times a day.

At the start of the proceedings, Braun noticed Schumer was beating him and other Republicans to the cameras during the few short breaks each day, getting the first chance to engage with reporters and shape that day’s impeachment narrative.

“I move a lot faster than Chuck Schumer, I can tell you that,” the 65-year-old Braun said in an interview in his office Wednesday, just hours before he and most other Senate Republicans would vote to acquit Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

“I told [Sen. John] Barrasso, ‘We’re going to have to be a little quicker, we’re getting outmaneuvered ... So I ended up keeping an eye on Chuck and got down there first those last several days.”

And it worked. Braun morphed into a talking point tour du force, clocking dozens of appearances on every cable news channel and in both local and major newspapers over the last several weeks.

Just over a year into his term, Braun has become a prominent GOP voice on impeachment, joking that he spends more time on TV than probably any Republican senator beside Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies.

But the freshman senator said it was a natural move to enter “the lion’s den” of CNN and MSNBC after a brutal, nationalized primary in 2018 where he eventually pulled off an upset against two sitting GOP congressmen after initially polling at 1 percent with Hoosier voters. Plus, he said, there was little choice if Republicans wanted to get their message out at a time when most of their members would rather remain out of the spotlight: “Generally, most people don’t want to do it.”

For a businessman turned unlikely senator who spent most of his first year lying low, the sudden spotlight wasn’t gaffe free.

For example, Braun went further than many in his own party by asserting during a press conference that Trump didn’t ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens or withhold foreign aid as part of the pressure campaign, despite evidence to the contrary.

“I'm not saying it's okay. I'm not saying it's appropriate. I'm saying it didn't happen,” Braun said at the time. His answer was panned on Twitter but Braun quickly embraced the criticism, tweeting out the clip from his official account.

Whereas other Republican senators at times struggled to answer if they thought Trump’s request for a “favor” on the call with the Ukrainian president was appropriate, Braun leaned in, unabashedly defending the president at every opportunity.

When a press conference featuring several other prominent Republican was abruptly canceled last week as the GOP struggled to respond to the latest John Bolton revelations, Braun was undeterred, showing up with Barrasso to face the barrage of questions from reporters.

“Well I think there, the official story would be ‘conflicts,’” Braun explained when asked why several of the other GOP senators bowed out of the press conference. “I’m guessing the unofficial story could have been maybe that was a topic that was hot.”

Braun is part of a chatty freshman class who frequently hold court with reporters, including Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). The public posture is a break in a chamber defined by its long-standing traditions and often unspoken seniority rules, including that junior members are more to be seen and not heard when they first arrive.

“I wanted to sit back and watch and learn,” Barrasso said of his experience when he first came to the Senate in 2007.

But Barrasso, now the chamber’s No. 3 Republican and a frequent partner during Braun’s many media appearances throughout the trial, said the Senate has evolved in many ways, including this, and Braun has embraced the opportunity.

“When they take breaks in the trial, some people want to go and grab a candy bar or sit down and make a phone call,” Barrasso said in an interview. “And he wanted to talk about what was happening so it showed a real level of commitment and energy.”

And talk he did. Within a span of minutes, Braun could often be found on the second floor chatting with reporters penned in just outside the chamber before hustling down to the basement to make a quick appearance at a bank of microphones, and then trekking to another camera setup in one of the Senate office buildings before circling back to the chamber in time for the trial to restart.

Even Trump has noticed Braun’s nonstop media blitz, praising him for being “a big fixture on television and doing a great job” during a signing ceremony for the new North American trade agreement last week.

Democrats, too, have paid attention to Braun as one of the few Republicans willing to go on air and defend Trump and the party amid the upheaval of impeachment.

“There’s a senator from Indiana, Braun or Brown, I’m not sure, who said on ‘Meet the Press,’ we want to get rid of this, we want to get impeachment done, so we can get to the people’s business,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters on Tuesday.

“I haven’t talked to him,” Hoyer said, eager to dispute Braun’s remarks about the Senate getting back to legislation. “But they have 275 bipartisan bills in their possession.”

That argument, that the Senate has prioritized judges over legislation, is a salient point for Braun, who has an appetite for the kind of big, bold compromises that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not inclined to seek.

At times, Braun sounds more like a Blue Dog Democrat — an ideology that has long reigned supreme in southern Indiana, where he’s from — with the kind of old-school fiscal conservatism mixed with the real-talk of a Harvard MBA graduate.

And Braun readily acknowledges that Democrats have outmaneuvered Republicans on issues like health care and climate, in a way that senators who’ve served for decades don’t admit.

He calls Republicans “born-again believers of pre-existing conditions” and warns that the GOP will be “on the wrong side” of the discussion if they don’t acknowledge the effects of greenhouse gases on climate change.

That’s part of the reason he stepped up to the microphones, he said: To prevent it from happening with impeachment, too. And if he gets the chance, Braun said he tries to squeeze in a little policy talk at the end of each appearance.

“To me, it’s a big microphone here, and I’m going to use it,” Braun said. “I wasn’t afraid to use it on getting our point of view out on impeachment.”

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