Zelensky helps Pelosi exit House in historic fashion

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is ending her long leadership tenure with a historic flourish, wrapping up two decades at the top of the party with a string of major victories — political, legislative and diplomatic — that are putting a remarkable cap on a landmark era.

This week alone, House Democrats have released the tax records of former President Trump following a years-long legal battle.

They wrapped up their marathon investigation into last year’s Capitol attack, complete with criminal referrals for Trump.

And they’re poised to pass a massive, $1.7 trillion federal spending bill packed full of Democratic priorities, including legislation designed to ensure the peaceful transfer of power between presidents — a push that came in direct response to the rampage of Jan. 6, 2021.

Those were just the expected developments. 

Congress on Wednesday also played host to a history-making address by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, after his surprise visit to Washington — a stunning demonstration designed to shore up U.S. support for Kyiv amid Russia’s long-running invasion.

Any one of those items, on its own, would have been a significant triumph in a brief lame-duck session following midterm elections that will put Republicans in charge of the lower chamber next year.

The combination is something else entirely, constituting an extraordinary — and highly consequential — string of wins for Pelosi and the Democrats just weeks before she steps out of power after 20 years and passes the torch to a younger generation of party leaders.

“The 117th Congress has been one of the most consequential in recent history,” she wrote to fellow Democrats this week, taking a victory lap. She added that the lame-duck agenda has them leaving on “a strong note.”

Zelensky’s visit, in particular, carried outsize significance. 

The Ukrainian president has, since the Russian invasion began in February, emerged as the global symbol of democratic defiance in the face of the violent authoritarianism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And having him on hand in the Capitol —  itself the target of an anti-democratic mob last year — gave a big boost to the warnings from Democrats that America’s election systems and other democratic institutions are under attack, not least from Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was “stolen.”

Pelosi, who had staged a surprise trip to Ukraine earlier in the year, found a special importance in Zelensky’s visit, noting that her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was a House member in 1941 when Winston Churchill addressed Congress to urge America’s support in the fight against the tyrannical forces of Nazi Germany. 

“Eighty-one years later this week, it is particularly poignant for me to be present when another heroic leader addresses the Congress in a time of war – and with Democracy itself on the line,” Pelosi said in announcing Zelensky’s visit this week. 

Zelensky’s presence also gave a boost to the Biden administration’s efforts to provide Ukraine with assistance — military, economic and humanitarian — in the face of opposition from conservatives on Capitol Hill who want to cut off the spigot of U.S. aid when Republicans take over the House next year. 

Hours before Zelensky’s speech, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a conservative firebrand, said U.S. taxpayers are being “raped” by lawmakers who provide billions of dollars in foreign aid.

“Of course the shadow president has to come to Congress and explain why he needs billions of American’s taxpayer dollars for the 51st state, Ukraine,” she tweeted, referring to Zelensky. “This is absurd. Put America First!!!”

Democrats, joined by many Republicans, have countered with promises to continue providing Kyiv with the support it needs to win the conflict. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that it’s meaningless to praise the Ukrainians’ courage without backing those words with funding. 

“Some of you asked me, ‘Well, how much would we do?’ And my response has been, ‘As much as we need to do.’ That’s my limit,” Hoyer told reporters. “This is a fight for freedom — [a] fight for a world order of law and justice.” 

The issue of Ukraine aid could prove to be a headache for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who’s vying to become Speaker next year and needs the support of conservatives — including those opposed to more Kyiv funding — to achieve that goal. 

Despite the hurdles, Pelosi said she’s confident that Congress will come together to support Kyiv next year, even with a GOP-controlled House. 

“I think there’s very strong bipartisan support respecting the courage of the people of Ukraine to fight for their democracy,” she told reporters earlier in the month. 

Pelosi, of course, had solidified her place in the country’s history books long before this Congress — when Democrats adopted massive bills to fund infrastructure, battle COVID-19 and tackle climate change — and the lame-duck session, when that list of policy wins is growing longer still. 

As a back-bencher in 1991, Pelosi had visited Tiananmen Square, launching her image as a pro-democracy activist, both in Congress and on the world stage. And her profile rose again in 2002, with her firm opposition to the Iraq War. 

Years later, in 2007, she became the first female Speaker in U.S. history, a feat she repeated again in 2019. She was Speaker during the Great Recession; ushered in the Dodd-Frank law designed to curb the worst abuses of Wall Street; and battled Trump head-on, launching two impeachments of the 45th president and creating the special committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

That panel reached the end of its investigation this week, issuing a summary of its findings on Monday that included recommendations that the Justice Department further investigate Trump for four separate federal crimes, including inciting an insurrection. The final report is expected to be released on Thursday. 

“Our Founders made clear that, in the United States of America, no one is above the law,” Pelosi said in response. “This bedrock principle remains unequivocally true, and justice must be done.”

Perhaps recognizing that her leadership days were numbered, Pelosi also went out of her way this year to boost her legacy by visiting some particularly volatile spots around the globe. That list included Ukraine, amid the war with Russia; Taiwan, in the face of retaliatory threats from China; and most recently Armenia, where she took clear sides in a long-standing conflict with Azerbaijan.

Yet in Pelosi’s own view, her legacy will be defined by a law she helped to enact long before Russia invaded Ukraine or Trump entered the political stage: The Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, is how she wants to be remembered.

“Nothing in any of the years that I was there compares to the Affordable Care Act, expanding health care to tens of millions more Americans,” she told reporters last week. “That for me was the highlight.”

Tags Donald Trump Jan. 6 Capitol riot Nancy Pelosi Nancy Pelosi russia ukraine Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky Volodymyr Zelensky

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