House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had to cut a tough deal with rebellious younger Democratic representatives in order to resume her leadership role. That itself signaled that her days of ironclad control over the party’s caucus, which were a hallmark of her previous time in the speaker’s chair, are gone. Pelosi seems to see herself as the chief rival to President Trump on Capitol Hill, but instead has been revealed as a weakened general facing a roiling mutiny in her ranks.
It is not only the younger progressive foot soldiers who are chafing at the 78-year-old veteran pol’s attempts to enact strict party discipline. Moderate Dems are doing the unthinkable: actually considering their own constituents ahead of rigid adherence to Boss Dem diktats. They know Pelosi doesn’t have the muscle anymore to make them toe the line, even if madam speaker doesn’t yet realize it herself.
Who’s In Charge Here?
“Vote ‘no.’ Just vote ‘no,’ because the fact is a vote ‘yes’ is to give leverage to the other side, to surrender the leverage on the floor of the House,” Pelosi says she told House Dems at a closed-door meeting after a procedural vote that marred a leftist gun control bill with a Republican immigration enforcement codicil. Moderate Dems helped Republicans pass the parliamentary measure under a “motion to recommit,” which provides the House minority party one final opportunity to reconsider a bill before the final vote. This particular addition would mandate Immigration and Customs Enforcement be notified if an illegal alien attempted to buy a gun.
“I vote my district,” Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), one of the more than two dozen Dems who helped pass the motion, told The Hill. On the other hand, Pelosi reportedly told Dems in the closed-door meeting “We are either a team or we’re not, and we have to make that decision.”
Whatever they may be, House Dems are certainly not Team Pelosi. Her response to the episode was an attempt to get rid of the pesky motions to recommit – more a sign of her inability to keep a firm rein on her own splintering caucus than a move primarily aimed to stifle the minority Republican voice in the chamber. When a spokeswoman for House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) threatened that the GOP would work to ensure that “all legislative activity [would] grind to a halt” if Pelosi scuttled the motions to recommit, Pelosi defiantly replied, “I don’t know that he has the authority to do that. The power of the speaker is awesome.”
Splitting at the Seams?
The power that Pelosi so assiduously schemed to reclaim is not so awesome to Dems who won’t be cowed by coercive language coming from a shaky speaker who lacks consensus support. With radical young progressives loudly pushing their agenda instead of silently taking their seats in the backbenches, and moderates going their own way, the lack of strong congressional Democratic leadership is glaring. And it just may lead to anarchy, or worse. Saikat Chakrabarti, chief of staff to firebrand freshman radical Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), has founded a group called Justice Democrats; the organization is not hiding the fact that AOC and her cohorts aren’t going to Washington to help Nancy Pelosi maintain her autocratic rule.
“I am talking about the radical conservatives in the Democratic Party. That’s who we need to counter,” Chakrabarti said in February, Politico reports. “It’s the same across any number of issues — pay-as-you-go, free college, ‘Medicare for all.’ These are all enormously popular in the party, but they don’t pass because of the radical conservatives who are holding the party hostage.”
Just in case the message was unclear, Waleed Shahid, spokesman for Justice Democrats, added: “There is going to be a war within the party. We are going to lean into it.”
The Democrats are headed for internecine warfare and a toothless Nancy Pelosi sits on her bargained throne, daydreaming that she is the unquestioned master of a united faction. With Republicans still controlling the Senate, the obvious fissures in the House Dem majority should present a golden opportunity to push Trump’s agenda more stoutly. Alas. If only we had Republicans who actually wanted to secure our borders.