December 03, 2008
Anxiety Among Democrats As Pelosi Tightens Her Grip
Anxiety among Democrats as Pelosi tightens her grip
Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) moves since the November elections have shaken up some of her colleagues, with some looking over their shoulders and others worried about how the Speaker will lead her expanded majority in 2009.
Next year is regarded as the biggest legislative opportunity for Democrats since 1993, the last time they controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress.
But not all Democrats are celebrating. Liberals are worried about Pelosi’s vow to govern “from the middle” and centrists are concerned that the make-up of the House leadership team has shifted noticeably to the left.
Contrary to the jubilation of House Democrats after they regained control of the lower chamber after the 2006 elections, there is some unease among members heading into the 111th Congress.
“Everybody I talk to, everybody’s worried about something,” said a Democratic staffer.
Pelosi’s effort to make some Democrats anxious could be a calculated maneuver as she seeks to maximize the effectiveness of her caucus heading into 2009. Pelosi’s hard-charging tone and decisions over the past month have sent a message to her colleagues: Don’t get too comfortable.
The seniority system that tempers the power of the Speaker is teetering, having received a body blow from Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) coup at the Energy and Commerce Committee.
When chairmen aren’t flinching at the possibility of a challenge from a junior member, they can look forward to being bounced by term limits in four years. That’s a change that Pelosi quietly endorsed in the 2007 House rules package.
Throughout the past four years, there has been a palpable strain in the Democratic Caucus between the older members who extol the seniority system and younger legislators who believe they deserve a more significant role in decisionmaking.
Pelosi, the unquestioned leader in the House whose enormous power seems to grow by the day, has sought to placate both factions. And to this point, she has succeeded.
Few members clash publicly with Pelosi. Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who were at odds with Pelosi over the last few years, were stripped of their top committee posts.
Centrists are grumbling that their growing ranks aren’t represented in the leadership team that Pelosi shaped through back-room arm-twisting. The so-called Blue Dogs, while publicly celebrating President-elect Obama’s commitment to “pay-go,” are wondering when the stimulus balloon stops expanding.
There is also growing speculation that pay-go will be waived for healthcare legislation, which is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
Meanwhile, Congress has swept in and out of town since the election with little to show except for a deposed chairman and a tongue-lashing for auto executives. And to the extent that any decisions are being announced, they’re coming from Obama’s headquarters in Chicago.
The word out of Pelosi’s office is not to worry.
“Everyone had and will continue to have a seat at the table,” said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami. “Her record has been that she’s a pragmatist who gets things done.”
On the day after the election, Pelosi assured that “the country must be governed from the middle.”
But as she spoke, Waxman was seeking to move things to the left.
He spent the day making calls to fellow members asking them for the gavel of Energy and Commerce, where the heart of the Obama agenda will be hammered out. About two weeks later, the environmental left prevailed over the business-minded centrists when Dingell, the champion of the auto industry, was ousted.
“We’ll work with the new leadership,” Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), incoming leader of the conservative Blue Dogs, said after the Dingell vote. “But to deny a man who defines the modern Congress ... is a mistake.”
Pelosi insists she had nothing to do with it. Her aides claim that she stayed strictly neutral even though Waxman hails from her state and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), a Pelosi confidant, lobbied heavily for Waxman.
Pelosi did intervene when Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) indicated he would run against Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) for caucus chairman. Van Hollen reconsidered, announcing he would stay on at the DCCC, and a Larson-Van Hollen showdown was averted.
In the Dingell-Waxman race, Pelosi’s silence was viewed as an endorsement of Waxman.
“I assume that not playing a role is playing a role,” said House Ways and Means panel Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) last month.
Rangel, in particular, has reason to pay attention to Pelosi’s attention to the seniority system. He is perceived as one of Pelosi’s most loyal lieutenants, but is under increasing pressure to give up his gavel because of mounting ethics charges against him.
Last week, Pelosi took the unusual step of issuing a statement about the ethics committee investigation of Rangel, indicating it had been accelerated.
Yet Pelosi this week reiterated her support for Rangel. Asked at a New York event whether Rangel might lose his chairmanship, she said, “I don’t foresee that.”
Still, there are signs that Republicans might challenge Rangel’s chairmanship by way of a floor vote that will further test Rangel’s standing and popularity.
The ripples of the Dingell vote are still being felt, as the discussion turns to whether Waxman loyalists will try to unseat Dingell allies who chair the panel’s subcommittees, and who will assume Waxman’s Oversight role.
But there’s more uncertainty than that. Some say it was the seniority system, not just Dingell, under attack.
And the old rules, like Dingell, will play more of a ceremonial rule in the future.
“It’s a reed in the wind that there are other forces working the system,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who lost her leadership race last month against Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) for vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus. “The seniority system is a neutral method of promotion, as opposed to [raising] money, which is becoming increasingly important.”
Democrats are embracing at least some aspects of how House Republicans promoted from within when they controlled the chamber from 1995 to 2006. Fundraising, loyalty to leadership and voting records were major factors in the selection of committee chairmen and deciding who would fill coveted seats on “A” committees.
Seniority was a major factor for the GOP, but not the dominant determinant.
Moreover, the six-year limit for committee chairmen that Pelosi has embraced was implemented by Republicans when they were in the majority.
For worried Democratic centrists, the unlikely source of salvation is Obama, derided in the campaign as the most liberal member of the Senate, who sounds more conservative with each new Cabinet appointment.
“While people are disappointed, what’s coming out of the top office in the land is good news,” said an aide to a top centrist lawmaker. Obama has also embraced pay-go principles, delighting Blue Dogs.
Some aides say what tension there is stems from the Democrats’ figuring out how to act as a majority party that controls all levers of lawmaking and policy in the federal government. It was one thing to defy a Speaker. It will be another to defy a president. And Pelosi and Obama were generally on the same page throughout the 2008 campaign season.
“It’s adjusting to a Democrat, and a Democrat with a mandate, in the White House,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “When Obama walks in to the Blue Dogs and says, ‘I need your support for getting out of Iraq in 16 months,’ it gets tough to say no.”
Wild Thing's comment..........
Pelosi is headed for creating the largest deficit in the history of the USA at over $1 trillion dollars for fiscal 2009! The US Constitution is very clear that only the House of Representatives can appropriate money. This deficit is Pelosi's deficit.
LOL well one thing, I think we will be seeing some fighting going on in the next 4 years. Dems don't like anyone, they don't like each other either. Each oneo is way too hungry for power to sincerely care for another person.
Posted by Wild Thing at December 3, 2008 05:40 AM
Egotism reigns in the Democratic Party. As long as they are brawling, they are not legislating or spending. Continue the fight boys and girls.
Posted by: TomR at December 3, 2008 12:34 PM
Personally I don't think Pelosi can speak for herself much less engineer a plot, she's nothing but a tool in Bernie Sanders CPC toolbox. What started in the House of Representatives has infected the Senate, both Sanders and Pelosi are Senators that moved up, they have surrounded themselves with like surrogates, all they needed was an endorser(Obama)to rubberstamp their agenda's. She's indeed a dangerous Communist ignoramus with too much power and lacks the brainmatter to control it, she shares a symbiotic existence with Murtha. Nancy !!!, Nancy !!!
She has the goods on too many like J. Edgar Hoover did and is in the position with some CPC guidance to wield that power. I just wish they'd get into a few more publicly exposed fights but the media wouldn't say shit with a mouthful.
Vindictive? You can bet your sweet bippy!!!!
Posted by: Jack at December 3, 2008 12:51 PM
Nancy Pelosi tightening her grip.
Posted by: Les at December 3, 2008 04:26 PM
Tom, Hahahahahahha great way to put it. Yes I cheer that on for sure.
Posted by: Wild Thing at December 3, 2008 06:49 PM
Jack, your so right and I love this expression I never heard it before. LOL
"media wouldn't say shit with a mouthful."
It is soooo perfect.
Posted by: Wild Thing at December 3, 2008 06:52 PM
Les, good one, thank you.
All the tightness in her face. haha
Posted by: Wild Thing at December 3, 2008 06:56 PM