A little more than 24 hours before President Trump is set to deliver the first major speech to Congress of his young presidency, the two top Democrats in Washington held a joint press conference that seemed almost designed to get under the presidential skin.
Offering what they billed as a “prebuttal” to Trump’s address to Congress tomorrow night, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke to reporters for an hour at the National Press Club. Their remarks, delivered at a time of day that will assure they are still fresh fodder for tonight’s cable news broadcasts, were laden with belittling, even insulting language suggesting that the president is accomplishing little, breaking promises, and failing in his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
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During the Obama administration, there was no shortage of Republican press conferences attacking the president, sometimes in personal, petty ways. It was the same way with Democrats under President Bush.
However, those press conferences were aimed not at the president, but at the GOP base. Presidents Obama and Bush were practiced at letting attacks and insults slide off them. In the Trump era, though it’s impossible to dismiss the idea that Pelosi and Schumer were taking direct aim at a president who can’t seem to ignore or forget a slight, and they dealt them out by the bushel on Monday afternoon.
“Thus far he’s demonstrated himself to be a president of little impact and all too often the little he’s done seems to be a broken promise to working people,” Schumer said.
“The first month of a Trump presidency is less of a bang and more of a whimper,” he continued. “Not much impact. But what he’s done so far has shifted the burden off of the special interests and the wealthy and onto working families.” Comparing the Trump administration to a bad restaurant, he said that for working Americans so far, “The portions are small, the food is terrible.”
Schumer needled Trump over the Democrats’ ability to delay Senate confirmation of his cabinet picks, and the evident concern Republicans have about going through with repeal of the Affordable Care Act. “The odds are very high that we keep the ACA,” he predicted. “It will not be repealed.”
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He also ridiculed some of the actions that Trump and his administration have hailed as accomplishments. “They have undone a few regulations that were an afterthought of the Obama administration, but when the president signs them he makes it seem like they’re the greatest thing ever done,” he said.
“Jobs continue to leave America despite the president’s boasts,” Schumer said, making mocking reference to Trump’s saving “one-half of one Carrier plant” in his intervention with the Indiana-based company last year.
Trump’s withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade deal, he said, was simply an attempt to take credit for someone else’s accomplishment. The deal, he pointed out, was already dead before Trump took office.
Pelosi went after Trump for many of the personal traits that, during the campaign, Trump had insisted were superior, including his judgment and his intelligence. “The president’s reckless agenda and incompetent judgment are jeopardizing the security of our nation,” she said. She also suggested that he might not be capable of understanding the actual effects of his policies, such as planned budget cuts.”
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“I don’t even know if the president really understands the ramification of the cuts that he’s proposed,” she said at one point. Pelosi also hammered Trump on the suggestion, evidently infuriating to him, that he has been somehow compromised by Russian intelligence services.
She referred to the resignation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after he was said to have had improper contact with Russian officials, and to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who pressed FBI officials and other intelligence professionals to push back against the story in the media.
“The American people deserve the truth,” she said. “What do the Russians have on Donald Trump?”
But it was Schumer who delivered the most stinging blow, suggesting that President Trump’s address to Congress will be less consequential than similar speeches delivered by his predecessors. “President Trump’s address to Congress is far less important than past presidential addresses because his speeches don’t indicate what he’s actually going to do,” he said.
Again, under other circumstances, many of these attacks would seem petty and pointless. But with Trump in the White House, they may be petty, but they definitely aren’t pointless. Democrats want to paint Trump as reckless and ego-driven, and there’s no better way to do that than by proving that he can be provoked into reactions that his predecessors in the Oval Office would never have considered.