There was a time not long ago when women in politics were counseled never to speak about their children, if they were moms. A woman needed to seem strong enough for the job. Especially for the male consultants in the room, being a mom read “too soft,” maybe even too weak.
But among the other bragging rights that Speaker Nancy Pelosi can continue to collect after last week’s schooling of President Donald Trump in the government shutdown fight, Pelosi can claim this too: For the first time in American history, the most powerful person in the country is a woman. And not only did Pelosi not downplay her role as a mother and a grandmother in the process, she made it clear during the shutdown standoff against Trump that raising five children before her career in politics may actually have made her uniquely prepared for the job she holds and the president she’s dealing with.
That Pelosi used the language of child-rearing to do it made it downright delicious for more than a few women around the country. “I’m a mother of five, grandmother of nine,” Pelosi said of the president after he stormed out of a West Wing meeting with Democrats that had been meant to hammer out an end to the standoff. “I know a temper tantrum when I see one.”
When Pelosi earlier pulled the president’s invitation to deliver the State of the Union until after the government reopened, she likewise described her decision as “a housekeeping matter.” In December, as Republicans balked at the conditions Democrats had put on voting for a continuing resolution, she observed the GOP as being “in the middle of a meltdown.” Watch a toddler lose it in the cereal aisle and you’ll know exactly what she meant. None of it is a compliment, but coming from a grandma whose little ones call her “Mimi,” Pelosi’s language about the president seemed especially belittling. And effective.
Patting her opponents on the head has in fact been one of Pelosi’s most reliable and effective tools as she has risen to power, but Trump seems to be the most appropriate (and oblivious) to get the Mimi treatment.
In 2017, she suggested the president might start trying to do his job better “with a good night’s sleep.” On climate change, she once said “almost every school child in America knows more about the climate challenge than the president of the United States.” When Trump criticized her earlier this month for going to Hawaii after Christmas during the shutdown, she retorted, “The president may not know this, but Hawaii is part of the United States of America.” As if telling a preschooler something especially exciting, she added, “Hawaii has airports and airlines and telephones.”
Of course, Pelosi isn’t your average grandma. And she’s not your average soccer mom, security mom, “Panera mom” or whatever tag pollsters come up with every four years to describe women with children. On the morning she was sworn in as speaker for the second time, Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra told CNN viewers what Trump should expect in his future negotiations. “She’ll cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding,” she said, meaning it as the compliment I am sure the speaker took it as.
True to her daughter’s prediction, the president and his advisers did not seem to know they had lost the first shutdown fight to Pelosi until it was too late. As the House and Senate Democrats stayed united through the end of last week, GOP senators began to signal they wouldn’t stay with Trump as the shutdown dragged on even while Trump insisted he would never give in. But when news broke at the end of the week that LaGuardia airport had a ground stop because of a lack of air traffic controllers, Trump capitulated quickly without any of the demands he was holding out for. Pelosi had come out on top.
Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast.