One week after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ignored personal entreaties from President Barack Obama and helped temporarily scuttle his trade bill, the two top Democrats will be schmoozing donors in Pelosi’s hometown.
Nothing awkward in that.
Pelosi and Obama aides insisted there’s no tension, and both are planning to attend the fundraiser Friday at the home of billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Asked whether the split over trade legislation would affect their interactions at the event, Pelosi said no.
“We are, shall we say, friends,” she said in a brief interview Wednesday in the halls of the Capitol.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest was dismissive of any suggestion of a rift with Pelosi or with other House Democrats, who voted overwhelmingly against a key piece of trade legislation that Obama has staked out as a top priority.
“The strength of their personal and professional relationship is more than enough to withstand a difference over one particular policy issue, even one that’s as important as this one,” he said at a briefing.
Still, Earnest declined to say whether Obama and Pelosi have talked since the June 12 vote, even as he confirmed that the president has talked with lawmakers of both parties, including House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. He did say White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and Pelosi have spoken.
There were signs of strain. Earnest, after being asked repeatedly whether any of the calls Obama made were to Pelosi, said that the lawmakers “who are most relevant to trying to find this path forward are people who are part of the bipartisan majority that have allowed this legislation to advance.”
As for Pelosi, he said, “She doesn’t want the legislation to advance.”
Some Republicans didn’t hide their glee.
“Are they in a fight?” Brendan Buck, the spokesman for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, tweeted. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has been shepherding the trade legislation in the House.
The House plans to vote Thursday on reviving legislation to give Obama greater authority to negotiate trade deals after Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky announced a plan to push it through along with a separate measure to provide aid to displaced workers.
Obama met with pro-trade Democrats at the White House on Wednesday. “He laid out a legislative path that is not uncomplicated, but we think we can get this done,” Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, told reporters at a White House picnic for lawmakers later in the day.
The division between Pelosi and Obama on trade is a rare hiccup in what has been among the most productive working relationships in Washington, and it’s emblematic of the intraparty divide that has so far confounded the White House’s effort to move forward Obama’s trade agenda.
Obama has leaned on Pelosi to shepherd his top legislative priorities, from health care to the stimulus, through the legislative process. She has demonstrated her skill at both counting votes and keeping the Democratic caucus in line.
As illustrated last week, that can also work against Obama.
Pelosi holds sway with core Democratic constituency, a reality recognized by Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
“In order to get a deal that meets these high standards, the president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi,” she said when asked about trade debate while campaigning in Iowa.
Obama administration officials took heart in Pelosi’s praise for the president and his intentions in her comments before and after opposing the trade legislation last Friday.
In an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, Pelosi said that event though they disagree on the trade deal, “I certainly trust the president, and I think all of our members trust the president.”
The president’s fundraiser in San Francisco—one of four high-dollar events scheduled for a four-day trip to California that begins Thursday—also is evidence that Obama still is a draw within the party.
A Pew Research poll released May 27 found that 58 percent of Democrats say free-trade agreements have been good for the U.S.
Representative Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat who voted against the trade legislation on Friday, said the party will stick with Obama. Trade is a special exception.
‘The president has had the support of the House Democratic caucus overwhelmingly, whether it’s on the Affordable Care Act, whether it’s on supporting his veto threats on the various appropriation bills that we’ve had, whether it’s been on the steps that he’s wanted to take to get the economy back on track,’’ Swalwell told Bloomberg reporters and editors on Tuesday. “House Democrats, by and large, are going to be just skeptical of any president seeking trade promotion.”
—With assistance from Billy House and Angela Greiling Keane in Washington.