Pelosi and McConnell: Mom and Dad in a Big, Unhappy Family

By Jamie Stiehm

October 23, 2019 5 min read

WASHINGTON — You may wonder what the House and Senate, under that good-looking Capitol Dome, are truly like. Here's the way it is: They're like any unhappy American family but multiplied by 535.

In these times of sound and fury, strife and stress, with an impeachment inquiry hanging over the House, divided government is at work in a constitutional crisis.

Picture Madam Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., head of Household, as Mom with a noisy, mixed bunch of 435. Multitasking is a high art to her. She balances charm, hardheadedness and tight discipline on her ranks of 234 Democrats. On the left, freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., learned to respect Pelosi's leadership.

Across the rotunda's marble, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is like Dad, presiding over the Republican Senate (51-47) with a stately pace and old-school rigor. He barely bats an eye at the other chamber's churn and commotion. House Americana, diverse in female, black and Jewish members, is not interesting to him.

Dad grumbles about Mom's "impeachment obsession" but has no choice but to get ready for it.

Whatever happens, Pelosi and McConnell are braced to play an epic role in American history as early as Thanksgiving. The House is likely to impeach President Donald Trump. Then the matter crosses over to a Senate trial. Constitution framer Alexander Hamilton set it up. Senators remove the president if they reach 67 votes out of 100.

Their political marriage is night and day. Yet each top leader regards President Trump with a gimlet eye that would shed no tears for his downfall.

Pelosi says the president betrayed his office by inviting "foreign governments to interfere in our elections." McConnell, in a rare rebuke, declared Trump's withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria, which left Kurds open to Turkish hostilities, was "a grave strategic mistake."

The contrast is startling. Mom is a stylish, outspoken liberal who represents San Francisco. She may be the most savvy speaker ever; she learned lessons from her father, once mayor of Baltimore.

Dad has a Kentucky drawl. He's the strong, silent type who smokes a pipe after dinner and expects his few words to be obeyed. Feelings are not his strong suit. He says no often, in the spirit of Father-knows-best. He likes his nickname, the "Grim Reaper" of legislation.

But make no mistake; this dad is a shrewd judge of political winds. He only has 52 Republicans to manage, mainly white men. He treats Senate Democrats like poor relations. He rarely loses on the floor, because he refuses to allow votes on the hard work Mom does, the bill after bill she passes in the House.

The political pair is solemnly setting the table for this spectacle now, sitting at opposite ends. Candles are lit. Let the family fight begin. Let democracy tear — or mend, depending on where you sit.

Mom and Dad don't get along, but they do keep up appearances. Both in their 70s, they stay together because we, the people, are counting on their joint judgment in a sea of dysfunction in Congress and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Impeachment has hit the ground now. Even Trump knows rebellion may be brewing in Republican ranks, because he has few friends. If McConnell turns on the president — and it could happen — it's all over for the stark raving man in the White House. McConnell just expressed displeasure with Trump's "unfortunate choice of words" when Trump tweeted that impeachment is like a "lynching."

In the House, Pelosi officially counts 435 members — but only 434 with the death of a beloved Baltimore congressman with a thundering voice. Somehow the speaker has words for everyone. Even as impeachment drapes the House in a cloak of gray, she is delivering three eulogies — for Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; newswoman Cokie Roberts; and Pelosi's brother Thomas D'Alesandro III, a former Baltimore mayor.

"The finest public servant I have ever known," said Pelosi in tribute to her brother.

Pelosi heard about his death days ago when she led a congressional trip to war-torn Afghanistan — a place the president has never been.

Mom and Dad have one key thing in common: They're polished pros at their peak — tired of amateur hour.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the website, Creators.com.

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