In The House That Nancy Built, Pelosis Not The Only Choice

In The House That Nancy Built, Pelosi\s Not The Only Choice
Pelosi picks up 2 more Democratic votes in bid for speaker
ImageCreditCreditAriel DavisThe feud over who will be the next speaker of the House is heating up, as allies of the longtime Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, take on a rowdy band of rebels pushing for regime change.

Pro-Pelosi forces launched a snarky Twitter assault against a handful of the men leading the rebellion. As the progressive pundit Joan Walsh tweeted, So #fivewhiteguys are following the tactics of the right wing white guy Freedom Caucus to block a woman speaker after an election in which women saved the Democrats. Got it.

“I think that right now its important for this majority in the House to engage in some really critical oversight of an administration that is undermining a lot of critical freedoms for folks in our country. When I say save our democracy, I mean precisely that,” Democratic Rep.-elect Joe Neguse of Colorado said on “Face the Nation” Sunday alongside three other newly elected members. “I think some of our democratic freedoms and the principles that we live by have been under attack for the better part of the last two years.”

Nancy Pelosi Will Be Speaker

One of the targeted white guys, Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, fired back, Theres plenty of really competent females that we can replace her with — to which Pelosi defenders gleefully responded with the hashtag #CompetentFemales. (Think of it as this years binders full of women.)

Neguse replied by referencing the White Houses conflict with CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, whose “hard pass” to the White House was revoked after a contentious exchange with the president in a news conference last week. CNN sued to have it restored, and the court sided with the network this week. Democratic Rep.-elect Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania said President Trump “is consistently disruptive in those very same press conferences,” in what she called “literally an attack on the press.”

Distressed by the increasingly public and caustic spat, two incoming California Democrats, Katie Hill and Mike Levin, issued a joint statement on Thursday urging colleagues, for the sake of the new majority, to drop the discord and infighting and unite behind Ms. Pelosis bold, pragmatic leadership. In a closed-door meeting with fellow freshmen, Ms. Hill reportedly pleaded, We dont have time for internal squabbling — we have to get things done.

To which I feel moved to reply: Bollocks. For the sake of the new majority, now is precisely the time for squabbling over the shape and direction of the caucus — though Mr. Ryan should seriously rethink his talking points.

With a large freshman class on its way and the Democratic Party in the midst of a roaring debate about its core values, there will, of course, be clashes about who will have what kind of influence in the caucus, and which voices will lead the way. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the member-elect representing parts of the Bronx and Queens, does not share the political style or the priorities of Representative Conor Lamb, who was first elected in a special election in March from a decidedly Trumpy corner of Pennsylvania. Many incoming Democrats ran on the promise of disrupting the status quo. And theres a wide range of views about the degree to which the party should try to work with President Trump on issues of shared interest versus pursuing a path of total resistance. Members old and new need to air their grievances, hash out their differences and set a course for how the team can better function over the next two sure-to-be-bonkers years.

“What is he undermining exactly? You know, what democratic freedoms have been undermined?” Crenshaw asked. “We just had an election where we switched power in the House. Democracy is at work. People are voting in record numbers.”

Few would deny that the Democratic caucus is overdue for an overhaul. As has been noted repeatedly, it has a hard-earned reputation as a dead end for talented up-and-comers. The senior leadership team is stagnant, having kept a death grip on the top trio of jobs for the better part of a decade. (With 15 years at the top, Ms. Pelosi is the second-longest serving Democratic leader ever.) Committee chairmanships are doled out based heavily on seniority, and, once ensconced, chairmen are tougher to root out than kudzu. This system deprives younger members of the opportunity for growth and, worse still, deprives the entire party of a much-needed pipeline of talent. Republicans have been aggressively working to address this problem for years — for instance, by term-limiting their committee chairmen — and many Democratic members look longingly across at the aisle at what theyve accomplished.

Other types of reform are being sought as well. A bipartisan gaggle known as the Problem Solvers Caucus has put together a slate of rule changes aimed at empowering rank-and-file members and cutting down on gridlock. Nine Democrats in the group have threatened to withhold their support from Ms. Pelosi unless she embraces their platform.

The prospect of House Democrats launching a slew of investigations into the administration has seemed to rankle Mr. Trump, who could find his legislative agenda stalled for the remainder of his presidency.

All of these ideas, and more, should be worked through while the caucus is getting organized and hammering out the rules of engagement for the coming Congress. While some will argue that it is risky, or even wrong, for members to leverage their votes for speaker to get concerns taken seriously, the reality is that this is how the game is played.

Lindsey McPherson is Roll Calls House leadership reporter. She previously covered taxes for CQ and Tax Notes. A University of Maryland graduate, Lindsey got her start in journalism covering education and government and politics in Howard and Prince Georges Counties for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. Lindsey lives in the Atlas District neighborhood of DC and in her free time volunteers with with City Dogs Rescue helping place homeless animals in foster and adoptive homes.

In the grim aftermath of the 2016 elections, some of the same members currently challenging Ms. Pelosi were grumbling — loudly — about the ossification of leadership and the lack of opportunities for young talent. Mr. Ryan even launched a quixotic (read: quasi-suicidal) challenge to the minority leader. Looking to soothe the troops, Ms. Pelosi loosened her grip ever so slightly. She created new vice-ranking slots on the committees, specifically reserved for junior members, and decreed that the assistant-leader position would, once Representative Jim Clyburn, who came to Congress in 1993, vacates the post, go to members who have served three terms or less.

Houlahan was one of Democrats’ star recruits of the 2018 cycle — among the first 11 candidates named to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program — but she didn’t end up having much of a challenge winning in Pennsylvania’s 6th District after incumbent Republican Rep. Ryan Costello decided not to seek re-election after the state’s redistricting. 

Change is hard. Change in Congress can be darn near impossible. And convincing powerful members who have been well-served by the existing system to tinker with that system requires more than a gentle nudge.

“It will be important that we’re able to maintain the messaging that I think is what the Democratic Party is all about, which is you know jobs and education, opportunity for everyone and healthcare, the planet,” Houlahan added. “Those are the kitchen table issues that we should all be talking about.”

Why shouldnt reformers press their issues now, when they have influence with leadership? While Ms. Pelosi is seeking their support, they can lobby for rule changes to empower the rank-and-file, to reform how chairmanships are assigned, to put in place programs aimed at nurturing young talent — or maybe even to extract a promise that she will step gracefully aside in 2020.

“I understand the rigors of a difficult race in a large media market. With so many Frontline races in 2020, it will be critical to have voices crafting our message who understand the challenges of a highly competitive district,” Houlahan said in a letter sent to her Democratic colleagues Sunday announcing her candidacy.

Ms. Pelosi is a wily negotiator — one of the wiliest. She is not going to get rolled. But history shows that she does need a shove now and again to get her to embrace change. Better to have as many of these fights as possible before the new Congress convenes in January. At that point, the caucus will need to get focused and pull together for the real fights to come.

“I think that people recognize that there is this great big class of people who are coming in with kind of fresh experience and fresh legs and fresh ideas and that if we would like to maintain the majority that we need to make sure that we’re listening to everybody,” she said in an interview. 

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Reps.-elect Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and Chrissy Houlahan, D-Penn., announced their support for Pelosi on “Face the Nation” Sunday. They appeared alongside fellow incoming representatives Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who had previously voiced her support for Pelosi, and Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Texas.

“Critical to our collective success in 2020 will be the development of a deep bench of ‘ambassadors’ capable of carefully navigating our identity as pragmatic, solutions-oriented, servant-leaders who will provide an important check on the current administration,” she said.  

Sunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover | TheHill

The vote for speaker of the House is open to all representatives regardless of party, meaning a handful of members from the majority party could prevent a candidate from reaching the threshold of 218 votes by withholding support. Democrats control 232 House seats with two races yet to be decided, according to the latest CBS News tally. Last week, 17 Democrats signed an unreleased letter vowing to oppose Pelosi for speaker.

Houlahan already has ideas for tools that the DPCC can use to help prepare members to be those ambassadors, like “video trainings; a curated, shared Google Drive; a coordinated barnstorming tour targeting swing districts; topical expert webinars; one-on-one skills based training.”

Reps.-elect Joe Neguse, left, and Chrissy Houlahan, right, appear on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018.

On her first day of congressional orientation in Washington, New York Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist, joined hundreds of young protesters outside Pelosis office to push for a “Green New Deal.” While the tactic was an aggressive and unconventional one for a member of Congress, Pelosi praised the activists as “inspiring” — and Ocasio-Cortez commended her in return for agreeing to call for a select committee to address climate change, one of the groups requests.

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Neguse said he was asked about his vote for speaker more often than any other topic during his first week on Capitol Hill for orientation. He said Pelosis commitment to establish a new House diversity office and adopt rules aimed at inclusion swayed his decision to support her bid for speaker.

The minority leader and her allies argue that the former speakers fundraising prowess, significant legislative accomplishments, recent electoral victories, and a lack of any strong progressive alternative should be enough to vault her to the speakership. Pelosi says shes “100 percent” confident shell be re-elected speaker in the new Congress, citing “overwhelming support” in her caucus. Others in the party are pushing for a new voice.

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“I think that its important that we have steady leadership right now,” Neguse said. “I found it pretty heartening over the course of the last week some of the developments around it becoming clear that this leadership team is going to work to try to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table.”

Houlahan, an engineer and former chemistry teacher, said she took an “analytical” approach to figuring out her speaker vote. She took this week to study the structural organization of the house and think about who would be the best fit at the top of it.

The Brady Campaign, a gun control advocacy organization, endorsed Pelosi on Friday afternoon, and, indicated their support on Thursday night shortly after Pelosi promised to put members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — which will make up two-fifths of the Democratic caucus — in leadership positions and prioritize progressive legislation.

“Its important to not make that decision as in isolation,” Houlahan said. “Right now shes the only person whos running, so it would appear as though thats where my vote would go. And right now I believe that shes an effective person in that job.”

“I never want to be disrespectful to anyone who has served, especially a woman who has broken glass ceilings,” the 42-year-old former CIA officer said last week. “But we need to hear what people are telling us on the ground,” she continued. “They want a new generation that thinks differently and works harder and takes the caucus in a new direction.”

Neguse is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and said the group would be a strong ally for Pelosi, contrasting the dynamic to tea party Republicans who were often thorns in the side of GOP leaders. 

“I think we are all working together rowing in the same direction trying to save our democracy,” he said.

“Anyone who thinks that Pelosi should be replaced by a moderate white guy is fundamentally misreading the moment,” Joe Dinkin, spokesman for the Working Families Party, told INSIDER. “Women voters, and especially women of color, powered the progressive wave, and we need more women in leadership roles — not less.”

“We just had an election where we switched power in the House. Democracy is at work,” Crenshaw said. “I always ask for examples, and then we can hit those examples one-by-one and if its worth criticizing, its worth criticizing, but just kind of this broad-brush criticism that the president is somehow undermining our democracy. I always wonder, like, what exactly were talking about.”

Houlahan pointed to the White Houses recent entanglement with CNNs Jim Acosta, calling it “an attack on the press.” Haaland said the president was “discriminating against the LGBTQ community.”

Crenshaw said those examples sounded more like policy disagreements than fundamental attacks on American democracy.

“I want to caution us, because those are very bold words. If we have policy disagreements, lets focus on those policy disagreements and Ill be happy to discuss those at any point,” Crenshaw said. “But this is what Ive been getting at kind of all week, which is we tend to go right at the jugular, right? We say, Youre undermining democracy, youre a bad person fundamentally. Thats not always true.”

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