The Ballad of Don and Nancy

By POLITICO Magazine

The year has been full of political upsets and surprise events that derailed everyone's expectations, like an unexpected whistle-blower report that sent the country hurtling toward impeachment. But in one respect, the year ended as it began: with a bitter, public, high-stakes feud between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Trump and Pelosi have an unusual relationship, even by Washington standards. They both have firm grips on their own parties, so the pair set the tone for the partisan divisions that defined national politics in 2019, and sometimes, the two leaders even resolved them. Pelosi was at turns patronizing, calculating and cautiously supportive of the president. “I pray for the president all the time,” she said in early December when a reporter asked if she hated Trump. For his part, Trump went back and forth between reluctant cooperation and bitter insults, sometimes about Pelosi's appearance or her “unhinged” state. He called her either a “third-rate” or "third-grade” politician in October, depending on whose hearing you trust, and he recently tweeted about her teeth “falling out” in a video clip shared by Rep. Mark Meadows. But both Pelosi and Trump needed each other over the past year—and that mutual need kept pulling them back together, either for strategic talks or very public showdowns.

And the cameras were there to cover much of it. POLITICO Magazine pulled together some of the best photos of the tortured relationship that drove so much political news in 2019.

The trouble started even before the new speaker took the gavel.

Trump and Pelosi were locked in a fight over the government shutdown just as the year was beginning. On January 8, Trump made a televised address from the White House mobilizing support for border wall funding, the sticking point in negotiations. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer soon made their own address from the Capitol. “The president has chosen fear; we want to start with the facts,” Pelosi said.

In a letter in mid-January, Trump canceled a trip Pelosi was scheduled to take to Brussels and Afghanistan on a military plane. “I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown,” Trump wrote.

In a letter in late January, Pelosi disinvited Trump from delivering the State of the Union address before Congress, and Trump fired back with his own letter. “It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location!” he wrote.

Eventually, Trump relented and agreed to reopen the government without border wall money, handing Pelosi a big win.

After the government was reopened, Pelosi invited Trump to deliver the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in early February. In a now-iconic moment, she pointed her hands at the president during an applause line. To some, she was merely intending to give the president his due and put their recent tensions to rest for the moment. To most observers, though, it looked like the kind of exaggerated recognition that a parent might give a toddler in need of positive reinforcement.

Another fight erupted in the spring, when the Justice Department backed a judge's ruling that the entire Affordable Care Act should be repealed. The House voted to condemn the Trump administration's support of the effort to repeal the health care law in early April. “The American people deserve to know exactly where their representatives stand on the Trump administration’s vicious campaign to take away their health care,” Pelosi said.

Attorney General William Barr looks on as Trump shakes hands with Pelosi during the 38th Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in Washington.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., right, chair of the House Health Subcommittee, says Trump and Barr want to take a sledgehammer to health care, as she joins, from left, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., Pelosi and Schumer at a Democratic event on May 15, 2019.
Trump carries notes that say


After the release of the Mueller report in April, talk of impeachment began to swirl, ratcheting up tensions between the president and congressional Democrats, especially Pelosi. On May 22, after a meeting of House Democrats, Pelosi told reporters the president was “engaged in a cover-up.”

Just hours later, Trump, Schumer and McConnell met to discuss an infrastructure bill. The meeting ended with Trump storming out and soon holding a news conference in the Rose Garden, where he railed against the Mueller investigation. “This whole thing was a take-down attempt of the president of the United States,” he said.

In mid-September, after a summer of Pelosi resisting calls for an impeachment inquiry, news broke of a whistle-blower complaint regarding Trump's communications with a foreign leader. Soon, a readout of the call, between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, was released, and Rudy Giuliani admitted on CNN that he had asked Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens.

Pelosi is seen on a briefing room monitor at the White House on September 24, reading a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry.

On September 24, Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump.

In this photo released by the White House, Trump meets with Pelosi and other congressional leadership on October 16 in the Cabinet Room of the White House.

In mid-October, tensions between Trump and Pelosi cut a White House meeting short after 20 minutes. The meeting, which was meant to be about the administration's Syria policy, began with the president declaring he did not want to be there. According to differing accounts, he called Pelosi either a "third-rate" or "third-grade" politician, and at another point, the pair bickered over who hated ISIS more. When Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer stood up to leave with Pelosi, Trump told them he'd “see you at the polls.”

On December 17, Trump sent a six-page letter to Pelosi, calling the impeachment inquiry “an unconsitutional abuse of power” and “war on American Democracy.” “I have no doubt the American people will hold you and the Democrats fully responsible in the upcoming 2020 election," he wrote to Pelosi. “They will not soon forgive your perversion of justice and abuse of power.”

Pelosi and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler, left, listen as Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, speaks during a news conference to unveil articles of impeachment against Trump on December 10.

The following day, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump. When Democrats started to applaud after the passage of one of the articles, Pelosi shot them a stern look.

The holidays will bring a brief reprieve from the tortured relationship that defined Washington in 2019. But 2020 will bring a fresh round of grievances and a presidential election that will make everything in national politics more contentious. Pelosi may have had the last word in 2019, but if we've learned anything from the past year, Trump won't take long to respond in 2020.