A vote today will decide if Nancy Pelosi remains the leader of the House Democrats, but a new piece in the New York Times already knows who her primary concern should be should she win: the same Democratic left that’ll be instrumental in her victory.
The piece is chock full of outdated conventional wisdom about politics. The story draws a direct comparison between the burgeoning Congressional Progressive Caucus, which will have a few socialists in it next year, with the far-right Freedom Caucus which torpedoed John Boehner’s speakership and has generally been a pain in the ass for anyone who’s come into contact with it. From the Times:
But by empowering newcomers like Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and [Rashida] Tlaib [of Michigan], Ms. Pelosi risks creating a headache for herself down the road: a Democratic version of the House Freedom Caucus, the far-right group that consistently defies Republican leadership, making life difficult for Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
With Ms. Pelosi in their debt, the potential speaker may be giving voice to their dissatisfaction with mainstream Democrats, emboldening them as tensions between their midterm campaigns and the party establishment linger. In a closed-door meeting with the incoming freshman Democrats on Tuesday, Ms. Pelosi walked a fine line, acknowledging their “idealism, integrity and imagination” while warning of the risks of being intransigent.
There’s only one problem: the people giving Pelosi a giant headache to begin with is the Democratic center and right, which has been desperately trying (and failing) to find someone to run against her for Speaker. This is also nothing new at all for the Democratic right; not only have Pelosi’s two major challenges to her speakership come from a conservative (Heath Shuler) and a moderate (Tim Ryan), but when Pelosi was actually Speaker last time, the right-wing Blue Dogs were instrumental in watering down the 2009 stimulus and getting the public option removed from the Affordable Care Act.
If Pelosi loses today (although it currently appears that no one bothered to step up to run against her), it’ll be because of the more conservative members of her caucus. They will be, and always have been, the biggest thorns in her side.
So why, then, compare people like Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes, the first black women elected to Congress from New England, to the neo-Confederates and incels in the Freedom Caucus? The underlying assumption here is that the political center is what’s “normal”—the Times even uses that dreaded word, “pragmatic,” to describe the supposed “moderates” who are worried about the socialist horde coming in—and that both the Freedom Caucus and the new crop of progressives taking office next month are only interested in blowing the system up for the sake of it, if not with similar goals than by using similar tactics.
This only makes sense if you think that really wanting everyone to have healthcare and thinking health insurance itself is collectivism run amok are the exact same thing. But even tactically, there’s no real comparison. The Freedom Caucus demanded complete fealty from Boehner and Ryan at all times, and when they didn’t receive it, openly plotted against their party leaders. Progressive Democrats rejected the idea of running their own speaker candidate and chose instead to negotiate with Pelosi. And what, exactly, is this huge request that progressive Democrats are making of the current leader?
Taking aim at the seniority system that Ms. Pelosi used to climb the ranks of the House, Ms. Tlaib pressed the would-be speaker from California to give progressive newcomers coveted seats on powerful committees like Appropriations and Ways and Means — spots usually reserved for veterans. Ms. Tlaib, who once said she would “probably not” vote for Ms. Pelosi, appears headed to do so when Democrats elect their leaders on Wednesday, one member of a crew of boisterous young liberals who have become shock troops in Ms. Pelosi’s leadership battle.
That’s right: committee assignments. Not a demand for the passage of a big policy like Medicare for All (which would be dead on arrival in the Senate anyway), but significant roles in the process. And for a Democratic Party whose leadership is substantially older than both its base and the incoming rank-and-file, it’s a good idea, too!
In any event, it’s becoming increasingly clear that no matter how savvy left-wing Democrats prove to be in the coming months and years, they’re always going to be accused of things like not being “pragmatic” enough. But so far, even though it’s still probably too early to tell what kind of relationship the CPC is going to have with the Democratic leadership (or if this is the right move at all), one thing is clear: for better or for worse, Pelosi so far has absolutely nothing to complain about.