Trump and Pelosi's relationship is a powder keg, and the GOP convention could be the match that sets it off

Analysis: While former First Lady Michelle Obama has advocated taking the 'high' road against Donald Trump, that's easier said than done for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, writes US political correspondent Griffin Connolly

Griffin Connolly
Thursday 20 August 2020 14:16 BST
Trump lashes out at Obama over ex-president's DNC comments

At the Democratic National Convention’s opening night this week, former First Lady Michelle Obama doubled down on her position from 2016 that “when they go low, we go high.”

Democrats “just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else” if they stoop to Donald Trump’s politics of personal insults, character assassination, and conspiracy mongering, said Ms Obama, wife of 44th US president Barack Obama.

“We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight,” she said, adding that “going high” means “taking the harder path” by “standing fierce against hatred” with truth and facts.

Ms Obama’s is one school of thought among Democrats in Washington.

But avoiding responding in kind to personal abuse might be easier said than done when you haven’t been in the actual policy making trenches opposite the president, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been these last three and a half years.

The veteran California congresswoman’s relationship with the president — if it can even be called that — is defined by a deeply personal, mutual animus that is poised to explode back onto the front pages next week during the Republican National Convention.

He has encouraged right-wing hoaxes that she is a drunkard and questioned her sanity.

She has taken shots at him for being “morbidly obese” and ripped up a copy of his State of the Union address right behind his back on live television.

“I feel that I’ve extended every possible courtesy. I’ve shown every level of respect,” she said at the time, explaining her exasperation at constantly being scolded among some talking heads to take Ms Obama’s high road.

Next week is supposed to be a four-day celebration within the GOP of everything Mr Trump has done since his election victory in 2016, but Ms Pelosi has called members of the House Oversight Committee back to Washington for a high-profile hearing next Monday — the first day of the Republican convention — to confront his administration for actions that have undermined the US Postal Service ahead of an unprecedented push among state leaders to expand mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The speaker has also scheduled a vote on the Saturday before the convention on a bill to roll back Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s changes at the USPS that have already caused significant delays in the mail service.

Mr Trump was so furious on Wednesday about Ms Pelosi’s attempt to steal the spotlight from his convention that he rage-tweeted to a helpless Senate Majority Mitch McConnell to stop it.

“Why are Republicans allowing the Democrats to have ridiculous Post Office hearings on Saturday & Monday, just before and during our Convention,” Mr Trump wrote.

“Let them hold them NOW (during their Convention) or after our Convention is over. Always playing right into their hands!” he added, tagging Mr McConnell’s Twitter handle.

Though Mr Trump and Ms Pelosi, the respective party leaders, have not spoken to each other in more than 10 months — during which time Ms Pelosi’s House has impeached Mr Trump, the coronavirus pandemic has upended the global economy and health system, and the president has pushed the US to the brink of a direct military conflict with Iran — they have continued to hurl insults at each other from afar.

Mr Trump and some of his closest allies have encouraged a popular internet hoax that the speaker, who does not drink, is an alcoholic who sometimes slurs her words.

Last year he shared a video on social media that had been edited to slow down the speaker’s response to a question at an event in Washington, making it appear that she was somehow impaired.

He has also called her “a very confused, very nervous woman.”

The State of the Union in February marked a turning point for Ms Pelosi, who has unleashed her own string of insults.

When the president claimed in May that he was taking the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventative step against possible Covid-19 exposure, the speaker prodded him for being “morbidly obese.”

"He's our president, and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists," she said.

"Especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group... morbidly obese, they say,” Ms Pelosi said.

Mr Trump fired right back: "Pelosi is a sick woman. She's got a lot of problems, a lot of mental problems," he said.

There’s no telling how far the president may escalate his personal feud with Ms Pelosi as she attempts a coup of the airwaves and front pages on Monday.

Mr Trump is expected to deliver his nomination acceptance speech next Thursday "live from the White House," an ethically and legally fraught move that Ms Pelosi has said "degrades" the historic home of US presidents.

Perhaps he's saving his most blistering affront to the speaker for then.

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