Yesterday the Trump administration hosted Democratic leaders at the White House for a meeting about the situation in Syria, after the House passed a resolution (with significant Republican support) condemning the president’s abrupt withdrawal of troops from the region.
The meeting did not go well.
Democratic leaders reportedly stormed out, and issued blistering attacks on Donald Trump at a press conference outside the White House. Administration officials have rejected the Democrats’ depiction of the meeting,
The characterizations of the closed-door meeting were made even more conflicted by a Rorschach test of a photo, taken by White House photographer Shealah Craighead and then tweeted by the president. In it, Pelosi stands to speak to Trump, who appears to be talking back.
For a president who has consistently pushed the limits of what constitutes appropriate usage of social media, this was still a startling use of a White House photographer, whose work has typically captured the more sedate moments of a volatile administration. In this context, Craighead was being used almost like a prank show videographer, capturing moments meant to make the subjects look confused, if not just unflattering.
Less than a year ago, Trump was involved in a similar spat with Democratic leaders, but it was in front of the assembled media in the Oval Office. A testy exchange between Trump, Pelosi, and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer showed Trump saying publicly that he would take responsibility for a government shutdown if he didn’t get funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border. It was a rare moment that revealed Pelosi’s ability to argue with the president, a toughness that Trump’s own aides said he respects, the New York Times reported in December.
But much like Elizabeth Warren taking the quote “Nevertheless, she persisted” from a chastising address by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and through embracing it reversing the power and gender dynamics, Pelosi has done a similar thing with this photo. By yesterday evening it was being used on her Twitter profile, showing her literally and figuratively standing up to the president, all the while as one of the few women in a room mostly filled with men.
If Pelosi’s talent for dismantling Trump’s bluster was already seen in a public sphere, it’s interesting that the White House would choose to broadcast a similar moment that Pelosi could appropriate to her own advantage.