The importance of Nancy Pelosi’s “handcuffs” exchange today with William Barr

The leaders of the federal government participated in a memorial event today for the National Peace Officers, which is about as nonpartisan as you can get. But when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General William Barr came face to face at the event, they had a rather strange exchange which – despite the obvious sarcasm on both sides – is nonetheless important.

William Barr went up to Nancy Pelosi, shook her hand, and – according to several major news outlets – said to her “Madam Speaker, did you bring your handcuffs?” This was in obvious reference to Barr being held in contempt of Congress by Pelosi’s House of Representatives. Pelosi smiled and reminded Barr that the House Sergeant at Arms was on the premises in case she ended up needing to arrest him.

Let’s parse this. Again, they were both obviously being sarcastic. Barr wasn’t expecting to be arrested at the ceremony, and there’s no way Pelosi would have had him arrested during a ceremony for National Peace Officers. But the point is that this is now where things stand for Barr. He took his big swing on offense by trying to convince the public that there was nothing worth seeing in the Mueller report, and when his summary stunt failed, he then went in front of Congress to try to bail himself out, and only ended up making it even worse. Now he’s playing defense from here on out, and he knows it. It’s difficult for Barr to do much to help Trump if he’s expending all his effort to try to save his own backside.

Nancy Pelosi publicly stated last week that she’s planning to have the various House committees vote to hold Donald Trump’s other obstructors in contempt, and then hold one big high-profile hearing to have the full House vote to make it official. That should make for a huge spectacle, making clear to the American people that Trump himself is the obstructor here, and not just any individual Trump underling. From there, Pelosi will move into the punitive phase. She hasn’t tipped her hand on the details of that yet, but at least she’s keeping track of where the House Sergeant at Arms is at all times.

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