Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer beat Donald Trump at his own game — reality TV

The president wants to make good TV? Democratic leadership brought a classic reality show fight to the Oval Office

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published December 12, 2018 2:00PM (EST)

Donald Trump argues about border security with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as Vice President Mike Pence sits nearby in the Oval Office on December 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Getty/Mark Wilson)
Donald Trump argues about border security with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as Vice President Mike Pence sits nearby in the Oval Office on December 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Getty/Mark Wilson)

CNN's Chris Cillizza loves frequently pointing out that Donald Trump is running the country as if it's his personal unscripted competition TV show, as if the world needed to be reminded of that. But something unusual happened on Tuesday when representatives of the newly divided government, House Speaker-Designate Nancy Pelosi and current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, visited the Oval Office. In short, the Democrats signaled that they're changing the channel, a turn of events for which the former host of "The Apprentice" was woefully unprepared. Here, then, is our fantasy script of what really went down in the White House on Tuesday.

Andy Cohen: Hey, everybody. I’m Andy Cohen and welcome to this Bravo special coverage of Tuesday’s episode of whatever the hell that was the public was subjected to in Washington D.C. I mean, what was that?

Let’s call it “The Real Housewives: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Not an official program of mine, by the way — the official Washington D.C. edition of the "Housewives" franchise doesn’t exist anymore. But man, did those cat fights and high drama look familiar! I had to check my executive producer credits on IMDb to make sure I didn't sign off on that thing!

What's really interesting, though, is that the only person who wasn’t aware of which show he was on was . . . Donald Trump.

Mind you, sticking with a structure that works is smart — I’ve built an entire slate of cable shows around that idea. But you have to be aware of what works and what doesn’t. As executive producer of the “Real Housewives” franchise, I know full well when to hold onto a killer combo and when to send the wrong characters packing. That’s why I’ve been able to successfully market shows about stables of rich ladies in cities across the country, all eager to claw out each others’ eyes, more or less continuously since 2006.

“The Apprentice,” in contrast, spiked and faded and died out and yet, Trump insists on grinding that dying engine into nothing. Hoo! What a mess.

And that, friends, brings us to Tuesday.

Simply put, Trump acted like he was starring in his usual show when, actually, he'd been fooled into sitting down for a good old testy Bravo-style reunion. Given that some hoped against hope this meeting would amount to a level-headed conversation about how to move forward in a bipartisan fashion, the president was ill-prepared for what transpired. This is not that kind of show. It never was!

Nope, in face-offs like this one chaos and bitchery reign supreme. House Speaker-Designate Nancy Pelosi and current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer knew what episode they were on, playing the part of fiery Bravo divas stomping their stilettos all over the former NBC host's dead format.

Under ordinary circumstances the chance to referee any bitchy stand-off makes me tingle, but not this time. I have a life to live and martinis to drink. Therefore, assuming my place as guest host in this episode is the white shadow to my silver fox, Vice President Mike Pence — who, as it turns out, gives me no reason to fear for my job security.

Watch what happens, either now or on an upcoming "Saturday Night Live" episode.

INT: Fade in on the Oval Office of the White House, with a pool of journalists gathered around Pelosi, Trump, Schumer and a 1950s-style Sears, Roebuck & Co. mannequin we presume to be Vice President Mike Pence.

President Donald Trump: All right, come on over, everybody. Welcome to the White House. It’s a great honor to have Nancy Pelosi with us and Chuck Schumer with us. This is really the center of the world for big business.  And we’ve actually worked very hard on a couple of things that are happening. We have great Democrat support, great Republican support. So, criminal justice reform, something that people have been trying to get — how long, Nancy?

House Speaker-Designate Pelosi: [Turns to camera and smiles.Everybody loves a comeback story, especially starring me.

Trump: I guess you have visions of something big, something glamorous, but that’s not gonna be it. We’re bringing you back to basics here. OK. Criminal justice reform. Looks like it’s going to be passing, hopefully — famous last words — in a very bipartisan way. And it’s really something we’re all very proud of. Chuck?

Senate Minority Leader Schumer: [Turns to camera with a severe expression.] New York City is my playground.

Trump: What’s going on here?

Schumer: Just letting you all know that . . . [turns to camera with a very severe expression.a true New Yorker never backs down, and I'm no exception. Holla!

Trump: [Shrugs.] Alright. Fine. You want to play project manager? Fine. A lot of good things are happening. And then we have the easy one, the wall. That will be the one that will be the easiest of all. What do you think, Chuck? Maybe not?

Schumer: It’s called “funding the government,” Mr. President. I'm not about the drama. Don't start none, won't be none.

[There’s an audible whirring as Vice President Mike Pence's eyelids slide shut.]

Trump: I’ve always felt location is important, but the people behind the deal are much more important than location. OK?  We’re going to talk about the big beautiful wall. Huge. I wanted to talk about criminal justice reform, just to let you know how positive that is. I want to talk about the farm bill, how positive that is. And I want to talk about the wall. The wall will get built. A lot of that smocking wall is built.

Nancy, would you like to say something?

Pelosi: Well, thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to meet with you so that we can work together in a bipartisan way to meet the needs of the American people. If you can’t be my friend, just please don’t be my enemy. Anyway I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open, and that you should not have —

[Turns to look at president, dramatically.]

— a Trump shutdown.

[Long pause, ominous music plays.]

Trump: I was going to call it a “Pelosi shutdown.”

Pelosi: No, it’s a Trump shutdown. If people can't handle the truth, it's really not my problem. Look: you have the Senate. You have the House of Representatives. You have the votes. You should pass it right now.

Trump: No, we don’t have the votes, Nancy, because in the Senate, we need 60 votes and we don’t have it. What can I say? The numbers speak for themselves.

[Cut to: Confessional. Vibraphone riffs and the crisp tock-tock of a conga drum beat merrily plink in the background as Pelosi rolls her eyes.]

Pelosi: It’s like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing.

[Cut back to: White House meeting.]

Pelosi: No, no, that’s not the point, Mr. President. The point is that there are equities to be weighed. And we are here to have a conversation in a careful way. So I don’t think we should have a debate in front of the press on this.

[Vice President Mike Pence’s face strains slightly as his battery cell weakens.]

Trump: OK, let me ask you this, and we’re doing this in a very friendly manner. It doesn’t help for me to take a vote in the House, where I will win easily with the Republicans —

Pelosi: You will not win. I never throw the first punch, but I’m always a knockout.

Trump:  — doesn’t help to take that vote because I’m not going to get the vote of the Senate.

Pelosi: Well, don’t blame it on the Senate, Mr. President. You have the White House, you have the Senate. You have the House of Representatives.

Trump: I have the White House. The White House is done. And the House would give me the vote if I wanted it. But I can’t because I need 10 votes from Chuck.

[Cut to: Confessional. More lilting plucking on stringed instruments in the background, this time in a minor key.]

Pelosi: It goes to show you: You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.

[Cut: Back to White House meeting.]

Schumer: All right, let me say something here.  We have a lot of disagreements here. But that’s not the point here. We have a disagreement about the wall, whether it’s effective or it isn’t. Not on border security, but on the wall.

We do not want to shut down the government. You have called 20 times to shut down the government. You say, “I want to shut down the government.” We don’t. We want to come to an agreement. And that’s what we’re urging you to do. Not threaten to shut down the government —

Trump: You don’t want to shut down the government, Chuck.

Schumer: Let me just finish! . . . because you can’t get your way.

[Cut to: Confessional. Music: Pulse-pounding drum line.]

Schumer: I can deal with a lot, but I can't deal with stupid.

[Cut: Back to Oval Office confrontation.]

Trump: You’re fired.

Pelosi: Wrong show, Mr. President. Catch up. You’re in the House’s franchise now.

[Vice President Mike Pence’s cloaking function kicks in as his body disappears into his chair’s upholstery.]

Pelosi: Let’s call a halt to this. We’ve come in here as the first branch of government: Article I, the legislative branch. We’re coming in, in good faith, to negotiate with you about how we can keep the government open. Unfortunately, this has spiraled downward. We came at a place to say, “How do we meet the needs of American people who have needs?” The morale —

Trump: Excuse me. Did we win the Senate? We won the Senate.

Schumer: [To assembled press and cameras] When the President brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble — oops! I meant to save that for the confessional.

[Trump moves to flip coffee table, Teresa Giudice-style; realizes hands are too small for that gesture, hunches back down.]

Trump: I don’t think we really disagree so much. I also know that, you know, Nancy is in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now, and I understand that.

Pelosi: Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the Leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory. I am the OG of the O.C.

Schumer: Elections have consequences, Mr. President. The House is about to take you out back and pull some Oklahoma on your ass.

[Vice President Mike Pence has disappeared. Sitting in his place is a snow-covered log.]

Pelosi: Let me say this: What the President is representing in terms of his cards over there are not factual. If you can't take the heat, get out of my kitchen. We have to have to an evidence-based conversation about what does work, what money has been spent, and how effective it is.

Schumer: The one thing I think we can agree on is we shouldn’t shut down the government over a dispute. And you want to shut it down. You keep talking about it. Twenty times you have called for, “I will shut down the government if I don’t get my wall.” None of us have said —

Trump: You want to know something? You know what I’ll say: Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other — whether it’s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call — I will shut down the government. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.

Schumer: [Quietly grinning.] But we believe you shouldn’t shut it down.

Trump: Okay. Thank you very much everybody. Thank you.

Pelosi: Go home, wig. Goodbye, wig. Go away. BYE WIG.

[With regal confidence, Pelosi rises from her seat, slides on her sunglasses as she departs.

Schumer, at the door, turns to address Trump one last time.]

Schumer: Go back to Party City where you belong!

Pelosi: [Whispers to Schumer] Wrong show!

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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