There’s no way around it–Nancy Pelosi has done a dreadful job as Speaker this term.
There are multiple fronts here. While the jury may remain out on whether to impeach, where are the legitimate massive investigations of the administration? Remember that Republicans spent the second Obama term conducting investigations that were completely spurious and yet they weren’t going to be stopped. Even if the administration doesn’t cooperate–and it won’t–it both shows the public that Democrats are trying to do something to stop Trump and keeps these scandals in the public eye. Or in many cases, it might well put them in the public eye since many are barely reported upon. And yet, Pelosi and her team have done very little. It’s incredibly disappointing.
Then there is the absolutely outrageous response to the left wing of the caucus, personified by Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar, and Pressley. Now, has AOC’s staff said some unfortunate things? Sure, I think most of us can agree on that. But the fact of the matter is that over the last couple of weeks, Democratic leadership has turned sharply away from Trump and instead is turning actual fury–which they have never shown in investigating the administration–toward these four people. First there was Pelosi trash-talking them to Maureen Dowd, of all people. Then there was this absolutely disgusting tweet by the House Democrats account, which is evidently controlled by Hakeem Jeffries and his staff.
Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?
Her name is Congresswoman Davids, not Sharice.
She is a phenomenal new member who flipped a red seat blue.
Keep👏🏾Her👏🏾Name👏🏾Out👏🏾Of👏🏾Your👏🏾Mouth. pic.twitter.com/k4sV5hsbQl— House Democrats (@HouseDemocrats) July 13, 2019
What the hell is this? This is the official House account being actually incredibly aggressive toward Ocasio-Cortez’s Chief of Staff. Even if you disagree with the guy, this is effectively total warfare, not to mention misstating what he was saying and using over-the-top language. That got a ton of backlash, leading to some very weak sauce.
Senior Dem aide to me on @HouseDemocrats tweet about AOC’s CoS: “This is Hakeem’s account, so he can do whatever he wants … This is the caucus’s Twitter account, this isn’t the voice of House Democrats’ generally, come on.”— Ella Nilsen (@ella_nilsen) July 13, 2019
You have got to be kidding me.
Dowd then doubled down here by talking to Fresh Voice of the Democrats Rahm Emanuel about how nasty those scary women are.
And then you have Trump using Pelosi in his tweets against those four congresswomen by saying there’s no way she’s racist. She totally set herself to be used by Donald Trump!
What the hell is going on here?
Dayen has a good piece from Netroots Nation saying that much of this is about the border, where you have some members of Congress, such as our four freshmen friends, treating this with the outrage it deserves, while House leadership is perpetually worried about white moderates and so can’t respond except to attack the left.
Talk of border cruelty dominated a session with three-quarters of the “squad”: progressive House freshmen Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), alongside colleague Deb Haaland (D-NM). “If there were dogs in those cages, all members of Congress would vote to get them out,” said Omar at the session. Pressley added, “If you improve the conditions of a child in a cage, the child is still in a cage!”
The crisis provided the backdrop to an ugly back-and-forth between these progressive women of color and Nancy Pelosi and her staff, which has played out mostly on Twitter and in the mind of Maureen Dowd. In a move reminiscent of the segregated South, someone in House leadership leaked a poll of only white non-college voters to “prove” that squad members, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), represent a problem in swing districts.
The best analogy for why this is happening in the midst of a much more urgent concern might be what often happens in sports. When a team’s on a ten-game winning streak, everyone’s happy. When they’re losing, they’re pointing fingers. And right now the Democratic leadership is losing.
They have failed to restrain a human rights catastrophe within our borders. They have failed to capture the imagination of the public with anodyne bills going nowhere in the Senate. They have failed to challenge Donald Trump’s obstruction, and seem almost afraid to investigate him or his administration, perhaps for fear they will find something impeachable. They have managed to demobilize an engaged citizenry on the left and the center. They rode into power in 2018 promising a new day in Washington, and the day hasn’t changed. So they’re lashing out.
And that frustration is unquestionably louder because of what’s happening at the border. “We can all respectfully disagree, but know that this is very personal to me as a child of immigrants,” Representative Tlaib told me and another reporter after her session. “I will not support funding a broken system. I won’t further fund and support something that to me is un-American and violates international human rights.”
Tlaib added that Pelosi has explicitly told her to represent her district, and her unwillingness to fund unchecked operations in the border supplemental—the vote that triggered this latest bout of tension—fully reflects what her district wants.
“This is a district that, when I talk about mass incarceration, it is intertwined when I talk about caging of children on the border,” she said. “It’s a form of, to me, militarization of communities of color. And growing up in a northern border, in southwest Detroit, where we have 20 different ethnicities, I’ve seen it first-hand … I just bring it back to the work that we have to do, and that’s what we need to focus on. We need to be uplifting what’s happening at the border.”
The question then becomes what can be done to that end. And one thing that became surprisingly clear at Netroots Nation is the extent to which even policymakers of like minds don’t work together or even hear each other. The most remarkable panel of the weekend, bar none, happened on Friday, when Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, took the stage.
Because of timing issues with House votes, Merkley was alone on stage first, and he told HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel about his disappointment with House Democrats for rubber-stamping the Senate’s version of the border supplemental (which he voted against). “The assumption was that Pelosi would have taken it to conference and she didn’t,” Merkley said. He said substantially the same thing to me in an interview before the session.
Jayapal showed up and flipped that narrative on its head. “We can’t have Senate passing big bipartisan votes because it affects things in the House,” she said, explaining that the 84-8 Senate vote on the bill gave conservative Democrats reason to ask why that bill couldn’t just get its own vote. Merkley countered that planning was underway to improve the Senate bill in conference, and that promise created the large vote to move the process forward. Jayapal agreed, but said that the large vote took away the House’s leverage.
It was clear that these congressional leaders, both on the same side on the issue, had never conferred with one another about the border supplemental. A normal person might ask what the vote in the Senate has to do with who holds the majority in the House. But that’s clearly not how these things work, and the lack of coordination on the dynamics of each chamber is striking. If a handful of progressive Democrats don’t talk to one another on something as simple as a vote count, how will resistance to the border agenda ever succeed?
Well, I’m glad basic competence is too much to ask for.
But there is more happening as well. Let’s go back to the latest attack on the four freshmen that Dayen just briefly mentions, the all-white poll of voters with lower levels of education that Democrats leaked. I hate to link to someone like Mike Allen, but he’s the right person to read on how the spin of garbage like this matters in the Beltway.
First, the fact that Democrats would even take this poll is a sign of how badly they misstate what will bring them back to power. Second, where are the polls of all-black or all-Latino voters? Do they even exist? Third, why would you leak this poll? I know why–you leak this poll because you have bought full-on into believing that the only path to power is through conservative whites with low-levels of education. This is incredibly stupid. Democrats won their House majority in 2018 through well-educated suburban whites, not through rural Pennsylvania and Kentucky. AOC may well be defining Democrats with these voters, but that’s because Fox News is defining Democrats. Yet House leadership drops this poll as part of their dirty war against the left of the caucus.
This is all just pathetic. I think there are at least 4 major problems here with House leadership. First, Democrats consistently overstate the conservatism of voters. Scott has written about this here frequently and it’s true. They simply haven’t learned any lessons since 1988.
Second, leadership was really freaked out by the Kavanaugh hearings reaction by conservatives and are determined to not let anything like that happen again in 2020. The problem there is that there is nothing they can do about it. Republicans will just gin up something ridiculous. Need I remind you (as I evidently do need to remind Democratic leaders) about the EBOLA!!!!!! scare of October 2014 that immediately disappeared the day after the elections?
Third, leadership actually thinks that if they just keep their caucus in line and don’t rock the boat that voters will reject Trump because he is so awful. This is ridiculous. It was already proven wrong in 2016. White people vote for Trump BECAUSE they like his behavior, not in spite of it. That’s not going to change in 2020. Yet, Democrats seem to think this is a strategy.
Fourth, Democratic leaders still seem to think that reasonable bipartisan compromise is possible and so isolate their loud left wing to keep that possibility alive. I don’t even know what planet they are living on here. Obama believed in this until the last day he left office and, in spite of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and Donald Trump and all the Freedom Caucus whackos and everyone else involved in this over the past two decades, Democratic leaders just can’t get over this fundamental belief, as per Joe Biden.
There’s no doubt more to all this as well, ranging from some legitimate annoyance at some of the staffers now in Washington to the Congressional Black Caucus wanting to defend the Obama legacy and thinking that hunkering down is a smart strategy to other things that I just can’t know.
In any case, Pelosi needs to get her shit together. The problem with the attempt to replace her after the election is that the clowns like Seth Moulton who wanted to do it would be far worse, conservative white men who want to move the Democrats to the right. The left has no legitimate challenger. But if Pelosi can’t focus on what is important–attacking Donald Trump, even outside of impeachment, then we need a strategy to replace her in 2021. I am skeptical of whether that happens, largely because most Democratic representatives share her delusions about the state of American politics. But this is all really awful and Pelosi has earned a lot of the blame.
This is almost unquestionably the worst performance by a party controlling the House responding to a historically awful president in American history. That is already part of Pelosi’s legacy. Much of the rest of her legacy depends on what she does from here.