Shortly before becoming House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) made an interesting statement in an interview with the New York Times that the Constitution makes her to be President Donald Trump’s equal. While President Donald Trump is criticized for misconstruing his inherent powers (often for good reason), Pelosi also appears to need a basic constitutional primer on the office.
The Times piece is a largely celebratory story about Pelosi as an “icon of female power.” However, Pelosi was asked “if she considers herself Mr. Trump’s equal.” She responded “The Constitution does.”
No it doesn’t. The Constitution makes the Legislative Branch the equally to the Executive Branch. Indeed, I have testified repeatedly before Congress in the hopes of reminding members of that fact. Members have allowed the expansion of presidential powers for years — ignoring their constitutional duties to protect the inherent powers under Article I. Pelosi played a major role in that erosion under the Obama Administration.
Now back to the Speakership. A speaker is not the equal to a president because a speaker is not the head of one of the branches. She is at most the head of one of the house of the Legislative Branch and even that can be contested as overblown since her powers are limited under House rules.
The fact that a Speaker is second in line to the President under the Presidential Succession Act also does not make her a constitutional equal — any more than cabinet members are the equal to the president because they are also in the line of succession.
Pelosi is the equal to the iconic Sam Rayburn who was the last person to take the office of Speaker twice. That will have to be enough for now. If Pelosi wants to be the equal to the President, they would require running for President after 2020 or succeeding to his position due to his death or removal — assuming Pence is not available.