"Let's do it!": Nancy Pelosi calls Trump's bluff and traps Republicans on COVID relief

When Donald Trump blasted the emergency COVID relief compromise just passed in Congress, especially highlighting the paltry nature of a $600 per person direct payment, Nancy Pelosi could have led Congressional Democrats into complaining about Republicans and pointing out that the House-passed HEROES Act that had been collecting dust in on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's desk had twice the direct payment ($1,200) as the compromise measure just passed, and twice the unemployment enhancement ($600/week vs. $300).

She could have pointed out that the original version of the House-passed HEROES Act would have provided households a maximum direct payment benefits of up to $6,000 ($1,200 for each tax filer plus $1,200 per dependent up to three dependents) compared to Donald Trump's vocalized demand of a maximum benefit of $4,000 (at $2,000 per tax filer).

Speaker Pelosi would have been right to do so.

But she didn't. Instead, she went for the kill. She announced that Democrats were ready to happily meet Trump's demand for $2,000 checks immediately, and only Trump's own party could hold it back.

Unanimous consent is a process to pass legislation quickly, skipping the normal committee process and with no amendments and no protracted floor speeches. But any one member of a legislative body can hold it back since one objection would mean that there is no longer a unanimous agreement.

Democrats in Congress - House and Senate, leadership and rank-and-file - quickly closed ranks behind Pelosi, putting the onus on Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to clear way to proceed with the unanimous consent requests at lightning speed.

This has put Republicans in complete and utter disarray. Beyond falsely claiming that the $2,000 checks are an original idea from Trump, they are all over the place on what to actually do. Some, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, appear to be sheepishly for moving it on the floor of the senate, so long as it includes unrelated Republican wishlist items. Others, like fellow Sen. Rand Paul, are railing that Americans don't really need direct payment assistance at all. Nothing has been heard from Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy as of yet.

Republicans in Congress, who had been ideologically opposed any COVID relief targeting individuals, went along with a $300-a-week unemployment enhancement, extending the eviction moratorium, increasing and expanding federal food assistance, and even a $600 direct payment, swallowing a bitter pill for the sake of popular outrage, but really for the sake of trying to save the two Republican Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia's twin runoffs on January 5.

But the Democrats' constant emphasis on the skinny and underwhelming nature of the assistance, especially in direct payments, got to Trump.

By quickly coalescing her caucus around a stand-alone $2,000 direct payment bill, Pelosi has accomplished two critical things: First, she paid exactly zero attention to the other grievances Trump and Republicans listed, such as foreign aid (though that is part of the paired government funding bill and was in his own budget request) and punishing tech companies for failing to be sufficiently servile to Trump and the GOP. Now, if Trump follows up by coming out in favor of these other items as a precondition for a $2,000 check, Pelosi will be able to claim that Trump was never serious about the $2,000 check in the first place and that when she called his bluff, he backed off.

Second, as mentioned above, she has put the onus for why Americans aren't getting help completely on Republicans in the most visible way possible, appearing to have Trump on board. This type of wedge was bound to have been driven between Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans. Donald Trump had counted on Republicans in states and Congress to steal the 2020 election for him, and he views their inability to nullify the election as not just a lack of loyalty but a betrayal.

Donald Trump is nothing if not vindictive. He demands absolute loyalty but doesn't believe he owes any to those loyal to him. Any time he feels crossed, threatened, or disobeyed, he seeks punishment and retribution.  His parting gift to the Republicans for their sin of insufficient loyalty is putting them between a rock and a hard place: they could either roll or be seen as the grinches who stopped $2,000 checks for Christmas.

In the ancient Chinese book of military strategy Art of War, there's a quote attributed to Sun Tzu that translates, in English, to this: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."

No one has mastered this aspect of political warfare than one Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and she is especially effective at wielding it against her often-vanquished (but in governmental terms, technically more powerful) adversary, Donald Trump. Pelosi has scored important victories over Trump over and over, from successfully forcing Trump to back down from a war with Iran to refusing to negotiate on documents and witnesses for its impeachment inquiry with Trump (the subject of the inquiry) to humiliatingly barring Trump from giving a State of the Union address during a government shutdown to even shaming Trump into backtracking on his own pre-election boast about skipping a coronavirus relief package.

And now, Pelosi has pulled yet another masterful move that is not only wreaking havoc on the defeated occupant of the White House but his Republican allies in Congress. Instead of getting into a who's-more-generous competition with Trump, she went with let's do it, leaving no excuse for Republicans not to.