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Just months ago, Nancy Pelosi’s grip on power was tested again by rebellious Democrats frustrated with her leadership. Now she’s strategizing with President Donald Trump in phone calls and over dinner at the White House.

The dramatic reversal of fortune for the longtime House Democratic leader is forcing even her loudest critics to reconsider.

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“While she’s here in this leadership position, I think there’s no one better to do the job,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), who vocally pushed for a leadership change earlier this summer. “I think this is a good start.”

Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have lately connected with Trump in a way that Republican leaders seem unable to do, exerting an almost unseen level of sway over a president who thrives on chaos and bucking convention. The two Democratic leaders dined with Trump Wednesday night, in the latest sign of a burgeoning bipartisan relationship.

Last week, Pelosi and Schumer secured a three-month debt limit deal with Trump over the objections of GOP leaders. She also received a commitment from the president to sign a bill to protect young undocumented immigrants and even perusaded him to tweet a note of encouragement to so-called Dreamers.

“Let’s hope that this is a sign of something to come,” Pelosi told reporters recently. “You never know where your shared interests might be.”

Trump, too, seems content to continue working with Democrats, brushing aside Republican skepticism about his outreach, which also has included hosting vulnerable Senate and House Democrats at separate bipartisan meetings this week.

“I’m not skeptical,” Trump told reporters ahead of Wednesday’s dinner. “If we can do things in a bipartisan manner, that will be great.”

Both friends and critics of Pelosi within the caucus say her rising leverage is a good thing. Pelosi, who bills herself as a “master legislator,” may be able to broker some wins for her caucus that she likely wouldn’t be able to achieve with a more traditional Republican president, they say.

Pelosi and Schumer used the dinner to press Trump on shepherding a legislative fix for Dreamers — which, if they succeed, would be a coup for Democrats and something they were unable to achieve when they previously controlled Congress and the White House.

But some rank-and-file lawmakers say despite Pelosi’s power plays, the caucus could still use fresh leadership after next year’s elections if Democrats don’t take back the House. Other members say they’re watching the current bipartisan bonhomie warily, noting that there’s only so much Democrats can agree on with Trump.

“I think whatever we do should be limited and businesslike and, frankly, always accompanied with the caveat that none of this absolves him from previous wretched behavior and statements,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

Connolly pointed out that Democrats wouldn’t even need to negotiate with Trump to save Dreamers if the president hadn’t ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that protects the young immigrants from deportation.

“Now he wants to solve the problem he helped create? Well I’m happy to do that with his help but let’s not forget who created the problem,” Connolly said.

“A lot of us are very, very wary of trying to have a workman-like relationship with a man who has renounced and denounced virtually every value we hold dearly,” he said.

Pelosi has tried to put Democrats at ease, arguing that she can be trusted not to compromise her party’s values.

“I’m a progressive from San Francisco. Proud liberal,” she told reporters Tuesday. “I have my own kind of credibility on these subjects.”

Those close to Pelosi also say she’s no amateur. She’s dealt with several presidents during her three decades in the House, particularly the past 15 years as Democratic leader — and won’t hesitate to call out Trump in areas where they disagree, large and small.

Pelosi was the one who challenged Trump during his first sit-down with congressional leaders after becoming president. At the time, Trump repeated a debunked claim that he lost the popular vote because of voter fraud, upon which Pelosi spoke up to tell him that was false.

For his part, Trump has limited his attacks on Pelosi since coming into office, not targeting her with some of the viciousness that he’s hurled toward others who criticize him.

For now, Trump continues to rave about his relationship with “Chuck and Nancy” and the positive media coverage it’s earning him.

Of course, Trump has proven unpredictable and could change his mind on a whim, quickly putting the kibosh on the relationship with Democratic leaders if he doesn’t get what he wants.

“[We] are always hopeful that we can find common ground, which we have a responsibility to do,” Pelosi told reporters. “If we can’t find it, we stand our ground.”

There is still one looming issue that Pelosi just can’t seem to shake, with or without Trump.

A handful of Democrats say no matter how much bipartisan cooperation there is, they will push for a wholesale change in leadership after next year’s midterm elections; Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland have led the caucus for the past 15 years.

“After Election Day next year, we should have a new leadership team in place,” Rice said. “But while they’re there — she and Steny and Jim [Clyburn] — it’s in all of our best interest for them to be involved and doing what they’re doing.”

Pelosi allies scoff at Rice’s complaints, noting the vast majority of the conference has backed her time and again.

Still, even some Democratic supporters of Pelosi said they worry about how Republicans will vilify her ahead of the 2018 midterms, a popular GOP attack that shows no signs of easing.

Republican campaign consultants poured money into ads bashing Pelosi ahead of the special House elections earlier this year, particularly the face-off in Georgia between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel.

After Ossoff’s loss, some disappointed Democrats publicly blamed the outcome on the GOP barrage of ads demonizing Pelosi and her “out of touch liberal values.”

Jorge Aguilar, Pelosi’s campaign director, said Republicans should maybe do some soul searching of their own first, given the recent string of House Republicans announcing plans to retire next year. Within the last week, GOP Reps. Dave Reichert of Washington, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Dave Trott of Michigan all announced they were leaving Congress after this term.

“No amount of petty and pathetic attacks will mask the lethal combination of a Republican Congress that has failed to achieve results for the American people and a president with historically abysmal approval ratings,” Aguilar said.

“You cannot sustain a majority on such a feeble strategy.”

Republicans say they have no plans to give up the Pelosi playbook, even if she cuts more deals with Trump.

“Our mission is to ensure that in two years Paul Ryan remains speaker of the House. Every decision we make is through that prism,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC with ties to House Republicans.

“Could something happen that have us change our tactics when it comes to Nancy Pelosi? Sure. But to be honest, I’d put the odds at 1 trillion-to-1.”

And while that concerns some House Democrats, most lawmakers polled by POLITICO said they are enjoying the face time their leader is getting with the president.

“It’s the new bromance,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), one of several House moderates who met with Trump Wednesday.

Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.



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