One of the more appalling moments in the recent history of the House of Representatives occurred recently in the Capitol Visitor Center. Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave her weekly news conference and said that she had changed her position on the issue of passing a coronavirus relief bill. For months, as millions suffered the economic devastation associated with the pandemic, Pelosi stonewalled the Trump administration's efforts to pass targeted, short-term relief for those in need. Now, as if by magic, she's all for it.
What happened? A new president has been elected, Pelosi explained, and coronavirus vaccines are nearing public distribution. "A total game-changer -- a new president and a vaccine," she declared. The kind of short-term relief that she blocked for months is now acceptable. "It's for a shorter period of time, but that's OK now," Pelosi said, "because we have a new president."
As policy, it made no sense. Why condition help for struggling Americans on the development of a vaccine? Didn't the lack of a vaccine in the last several months, with a virus raging and no end in sight, make it more urgent to help people? Yet Pelosi wouldn't do it. And why refuse to assist suddenly unemployed Americans until President Trump had been defeated in his bid for reelection? The speaker's explanation revealed the cold political calculations behind her actions. But it also suggested the personal obsession driving her refusal to approve aid at a time when millions of Americans were out of a job, stretching to pay the rent, struggling to buy food and desperately trying to make ends meet.
The short version is that Pelosi suffered from a toxic case of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Remember, this is the speaker of the House who made a show of tearing up her copy of the State of the Union speech in front of a joint session of Congress while the president stood a few feet away and millions watched on television. This is the speaker who called COVID-19, a worldwide pandemic, the "Trump virus." This is the speaker who suffered a meltdown in a White House meeting with Trump, standing up, pointing her finger at the president, and storming out of the room. This is the speaker who suffered another meltdown when a reporter asked if she hated Trump. ("Don't mess with me," she warned.) This is the speaker who announced an impeachment inquiry of the president -- solely on her own authority -- before seeing the evidence on which she would seek to remove him from office. This is the speaker who pronounced herself "heartbroken" and "prayerful" even as her top House lieutenants, acting under her guidance, raced toward impeachment. This is the speaker, in other words, who became obsessed with resisting the president.
That is the same Nancy Pelosi who was stonewalling virus relief efforts. In an election year, when a relief bill would help millions of Americans but might also, as an ancillary effect, boost Trump's reelection bid, she would not act. When the election was over and Trump lost, she would.
"I am somewhat concerned that she is afraid that any deal would be good for the president," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who spent hours and hours negotiating with Pelosi, said in September. No kidding.
What Pelosi was doing was no secret. "Pelosi Is Playing Hardball on Coronavirus Relief. She Thinks She'll Win," read a New York Times headline from August. Noting Pelosi's insistence on the huge relief bill the House passed, knowing it had no chance in the Senate, the Times continued: "Emboldened by Republican divisions and a favorable political landscape, the speaker is refusing to agree to a narrow relief measure, unbothered by charges that she is an impediment to the deal."
In her drive to stop Trump, Pelosi stiff-armed not only Republicans, but moderate Democrats as well. In September, the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group with a number of Democrats involved, proposed a $1.5 trillion relief bill. Pelosi dismissed the effort. A group of her handpicked committee chairs dumped on the plan as a "retreat" that "falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the economy." Meanwhile, Pelosi criticized similar administration proposals as "half a loaf."
So more months passed -- until the presidential election gave Pelosi what she wanted. Now, she is ready to deal. But what about all that lost time? All that suffering? Pelosi doesn't want to talk about it. That was clear at her news conference, when a reporter asked, "Was it a mistake, though, not to accept half of a loaf months ago?"
A clearly angry Pelosi lashed out at the journalist for his temerity. "Look, I'm going to tell you something," she said. "Don't characterize what we did before as a mistake, as a preface to your question, if you want an answer. That was not a mistake. It was a decision. And it has taken us to a place where we can do the right thing without other, shall we say, considerations in the legislation that we don't want." The short version of that was: Look, we waited Trump out. He lost. Now, we'll act.
The good news is that relief might be on the way for millions of hurting Americans. And, as a side benefit, Pelosi's ugly Trump obsession might be easing. It's just too bad she couldn't get over it months ago.