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Op-Ed: A House Speaker, Divided




By IR reader that wants to remain anonymous -  

If anybody thought this recent election and the success of Democrats in the House of Representatives would precipitate choruses of Kumbaya among Democrats, you might want to rethink that one.

For those who enjoy the spectacle of political drama, for Republicans with a case of schadenfreude, or for people who are simply misanthropes, you’re going to want to get your popcorn.

The battle for Speaker of the House is going down!

Former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), is the presumed Speaker, but this is not totally certain.

There seems to be a schism among Democrats over this.  In one corner, there are people making the argument that Pelosi is experienced — after all, she has done this gig before. In an era where Republicans have the White House, Senate, and are remaking courts in their image, an experienced Speaker may be what they need to successfully counter Republican power.  But Pelosi is not without detractors in her own party.

One argument against Pelosi is that she isn’t “progressive” enough on immigration reform.  CNN published an op-ed in February that claimed “Pelosi and the Democrats sold out the Dreamers.” Outgoing Illinois Congressman, Luis Gutierrez, referred to a nearly 8-hour speech by Nancy Pelosi as a “nice gesture” but added that “when it counts and when it matters, they usually put their party before their principles.”  Dreamers and other left-wing immigration activists have protested Pelosi on multiple occasions.

Another problem that progressives could have with Pelosi is that she is already proposing making it extra difficult to raise taxes. Common Dreams and the Washington Examiner are reporting that Pelosi is pushing for a rule that would require a 3/5ths majority to raise taxes on income earners in the bottom 80 percent. Given that progressives are calling for paid leave at work, job guarantees, universal health care, tuition free college, more investments in renewable energy, more investment in research and development, strengthening social security, strengthening welfare for the poor and disabled, and more infrastructure, the math to do these things would be pretty dicey when you don’t raise taxes, especially considering that we already run large deficits.

Yet another (less wonky) argument against Pelosi is this: “Hey, do we really we want this old lady from San Francisco to be the face of the Democratic Party? We need some new faces.” It’s not like Pelosi is popular. In June, Gallup reported that Pelosi has a 9-year low approval rating with Democrats, and her overall approval rating is just 29 percent – far lower than President Trump’s which has generally lingered in the low to mid 40’s.

So what are Pelosi’s chances of winning? It depends what House Democrats do. Democrats are projected to win 234 seats in the House. That means Pelosi can only afford to lose 16 Democrats (assuming no Republicans support her). Washington Post (WaPo) published some eye-raising numbers yesterday. Here’s a quick rundown of them with emphasis on Illinois House Democrats. (Please keep in mind that these numbers are constantly changing.)

The largest group supports her and it’s made up of 81 representatives. It includes Brad Schneider, Jan Schakowsky, Bobby Rush, and Robin Kelly. Rush celebrated Pelosi’s “insight, fortitude and strategic thinking.”

Another group is made up of 62 members and labelled as “unknown/unclear.” It’s safe to bet that most of these people will fall in line for Pelosi. WaPo lists representatives Michael Quigley, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Danny Davis, and Cheri Bustos in this category. However, Bustos just released a statement saying she supports Pelosi. Chicago Sun-Times reports that Quigley is a supporter of Pelosi too.

Another group labelled “dodged questions” is made up of 68 members. It includes representatives Lauren Underwood, Sean Casten, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and Daniel Lipinski. Chicago Sun-Times reports Garcia is leaning towards Pelosi, and Underwood was scheduled to meet with Pelosi to talk about infrastructure. This group has a large number of freshmen congressmen – 3 of the 4 people from Illinois in this group are freshmen. I believe ultimately these people will fall mostly in line with Pelosi. Underwood said the following, “I’m only interested in supporting someone for speaker who’s aligned on an agenda that will help families across northern Illinois.” Lipinski had tougher words, saying, “We need new leadership, new faces.” He has also stated that he’s withholding support from her unless there are certain rule changes in the House. But Pelosi supported Lipinski in his primary, so he may end up repaying her.  (Lipinski managed to defeat a progressive female challenger in the primary, despite his pro-life and anti-Obamacare voting record. He then went on to defeat Holocaust denier, Arthur Jones, although Jones got a higher percentage than the last two Republicans who ran against Lipinski.) Socialist wondergirl, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is part of this group as well. She’s been causing quite a headache for establishment Democrats lately: First, she led environmental activists in a protest at Nancy Pelosi’s office which resulted in 51 arrests. Then she sparred behind closed doors with the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone (D-NJ), over climate change. Like I said, they’re not singing Kumbaya.

The fourth and smallest group outright opposes Pelosi. This group includes Illinois Congressman Bill Foster. He has been one of the biggest critics of Pelosi. This group is made up of 20 members. That alone could sink Pelosi’s effort to become Speaker. But that’s assuming they don’t crack under pressure. A quick Google search shows a more recent article that says there are just 18 Democrats opposing her. That would still be enough to deny Pelosi though. There is buzz from progressives in the Twittersphere that fissures are already showing. Pelosi is “whipping” Democrats into submission. 9/20 of these people are freshmen. I suspect they will be strong-armed by Pelosi in a variety of ways. This can be done by withholding money to campaigns or directly to their districts, possibly with primaries, or by attacking their influence with the regulation of their speaking time and committee assignments. Pelosi will break some of these dissenters. Notably in this group are Tim Ryan, who has long been a gadfly to Pelosi; Seth Moulton, he’s been sort of the figurehead of this movement; Conor Lamb, the guy who won a special election in Pennsylvania and partially embraced Trump; and Marcia Fudge, Chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Some of the responses were quite stern. Max Rose, a freshman from New York, said, “I’m not going to vote for her – no ifs, ands, or buts, under any circumstances.” Jared Golden, a freshman from Maine, said, “I’m not going to vote for Congresswoman Pelosi.”

The trouble for the anti-Pelosi faction of the Democratic Party is that they need an alternative. So far, few people are stepping up. One person who did was Marcia Fudge of Ohio. But the likelihood of a Speaker Fudge is almost zero. Fudge was one of just two Democrats in the House who voted against a bill that prohibited discrimination against the LGBT community. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana is on the fence about Pelosi, but he doesn’t appear to be a big Fudge fan. He said, “If Marcia Fudge did anything, except run against Jim Clyburn, then I’d probably be for her.” Pelosi met with Fudge and other critics yesterday, so that may have quelled some of the anger. Fudge was booed quite loudly by Bernie supporters at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

What happens over the days and weeks ahead will be interesting. Just looking at the numbers, Pelosi can’t afford to lose many Democrats, and there are already enough Democrats opposed to her to prevent her from winning. On the other hand, it’s reasonable to assume that some of these people will break, especially given the lack of viable alternatives.

Come January, I suspect we will be saying “Speaker Pelosi” again. But don’t think that will unite the Democratic Party. There won’t be any kumbayas – the tension will get worse. Progressives, establishmentarians, and moderates will battle for the future of the party. Hardcore anti-Trumpers and pragmatists will clash. There will be single-issue disagreements too: universal healthcare vs preserving Obamacare, taxes, foreign policy, environmental policy, immigration, etc.  Freshmen will try to find their identity and may have trouble walking the line between the demands of their constituents and the demands of the House leadership. Some of these representatives only squeaked by – their constituents may want results. While Dems will have trouble getting bills passed in a Republican Senate and signed by a Republican President, what some are wondering is whether they’ll even be able to pass their own House bills. Democrats are predicted to have 234 seats. A majority in the House is 218, meaning if Republicans are united in opposition then Democrats can’t afford much disagreement within their ranks.

Will there be grandstanding? Will it be all political calculations? Will they spend most of their time raging against Trump or trying to get things passed? Will they move to the left, knowing if they pass something aggressive it will fail in the Senate? This “strategy” backfired for Republicans when they voted against Obamacare numerous times before winning the White House. Once they were back in power and had full control, people called their bluff. The subsequent failure to repeal and replace Obamacare made them look quite silly, especially after investing so much political capital into it.

There are other parallels to what happened earlier this decade. After the Tea Party wave of 2010, establishment Republicans were appalled by the behaviors and policies of the conservative freshmen. Even to this day, the Freedom Caucus is known to bother Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.  Republicans also have to deal with the moderates in their party known as the Tuesday Group. It’s difficult to get everybody in your party in line. This dilemma caused Former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to quit and curse his Republican colleagues as “knuckleheads.” Boehner has since chilled out; he now advocates marijuana, after years of opposing it.  Pelosi may find herself in a similar situation as Boehner: being unable to maintain order.

No one knows for sure how these things are going to unfold, but I can safely bet that Pelosi will be called a socialist by Republicans and a corporate shill by progressives. It almost makes one have sympathy for her. 



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  1. It’s time for tht rich old bag to hit the road, back to the liberal Hell-hole of San Francisco.
    (As a man over 70 years of age, I believe I can say that with impunity.)
    She has abused her power; using government planes as her ow=n personal air taxi service, and probably in other ways that the liberal press has successfully hidden from the public.
    It’s insightful that the largest group who supports her includes four notorious leftist crackpots from Illinois, especially the DIRTY Jan Schakowsky, whose husband, Robert Creamer, is a notorious leftist riot-provoker and dirty-tricks specialist for the Democrat Party.
    Weather or not these Young Turks will “go along to get along” will depend on the power and threats Pelosi can muster to “convince” them that in two years they will be re-elected only by her will (and the campaign money she dispenses to them.)
    How they react to this will determine how sincere they really are to reform the Democrat Party in their image.