Aaron Tan / Courier
Sixteen Democrats vowed Monday to oppose Nancy Pelosi for speaker on the House floor, throwing the California Democrat’s bid to reclaim the gavel in serious jeopardy. In a highly anticipated letter that went public Monday, the Democrats praised Pelosi as "a historic figure" but argued that it is time for change at the top.
The long-promised “blue wave” finally swept over the country, handing control over the House of Representatives to the Democratic Party in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. In Orange County, once fondly referred to as “Reagan Country”, Democrats flipped all four congressional seats. Democrat Harley Rouda dethroned 15-term Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. Republicans maintained control of the Senate, but Democrats won most of the hotly contested seats. It was the first official referendum on the Trump presidency, and a rout in every sense of the word.
But some Democrats are already stressing about potentially losing those coveted seats just as many Americans finished breathing a sigh of relief. They fear Nancy Pelosi will reclaim her gavel and the Republicans attacks that would inevitably follow. They fear they will not pass the legislation they are keen on if she is at the forefront.
But if there is a problem, you better bring a solution. So far no one else has stepped forward to challenge Pelosi. In all the time they had since they lost the House, in spite of their grousing, the Democrats have failed to groom or put forward an alternative. Their argument is essentially “anyone but her”, without providing an anyone. Disorganization, lack of coherent messaging and infighting are the self-sabotaging elements currently in the Democratic party.
Sixteen House Democrats have signed a letter expressing their intentions to vote against Pelosi.
“There are moments when we have to stick our necks out, take tough votes and sacrifice the safety of a Democratic majority for the sake of our country,” New York Rep. Rice wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “But losing your seat because the Washington Establishment ordered you to do as you’re told instead of doing what you promised? That’s self-sabotaging behavior at its worst.”
The time for self-reflection usually occurs when you lose. Anyone who believes the Republicans won’t use every tool in their arsenal against their Democratic opponent haven’t been paying attention. This is the party who openly vowed to make the last moderate Democratic president a one-termer regardless of what he may bring to the negotiating table. Cocaine Mitch is ruthless and doesn’t play around, and neither should the Democrats.
It is not like Pelosi hasn’t lost. The previous House Speaker got clobbered in two previous wave elections and still stuck around. Her brand of governing from the middle predictably ruffles the feathers of the progressive wing of the party.
Thankfully, some of the newcomers don’t seem eager to join the circular firing squad.
“All the challenges to Leader Pelosi are coming from her right, in an apparent effort to make the party even more conservative and bent toward corporate interests. Hard pass,” Rep.-elect and rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “I hope that we can move swiftly to conclude this discussion about party positions, so that we can spend more time discussing party priorities: voting rights, healthcare, wages, climate change, housing, cannabis legalization, good jobs, etc,” she later added.
Ocasio-Cortez is correct. The Democrats are now eroding the GOP’s iron grip on power and need to start planning for the real war in 2020. They can finally start the investigations Republican congressmen have been doing their damnedest to hinder. If no one is willing to step up to the plate and challenge Pelosi, this rebellion is dead on arrival, and this stunt does more harm than good.
Believe it or not, with an impressive three decades of party leadership experience behind her, Democrats can do worse than Pelosi. Much of the dislike for Pelosi stems from Republican hysterics not wholly anchored in truth. They have spent an extraordinary amount of money vilifying her and using her as an effective boogeywoman to frighten their voters to the polls. The great losses Democrats took between 2010 and 2016 in all levels of federal government could be attributed to the relentless political attacks against Pelosi, but it is still difficult to voice exactly why people dislike her beyond her politics. Other reasons sound superficial. Making Americans fear centrist Democrat women seems to be one of the party’s greatest talents.
Ironically enough, compared to the new blood coming in, Republicans should prefer Pelosi’s more even-handed approach to governing. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wasted no time in calling for bipartisanship but Pelosi herself sang a similar tune.
“We will strive for bipartisanship. We believe that we have a responsibility to seek common ground where we can. Where we cannot must stand our ground, but we must try,” Pelosi said in her first post-election press conference.
It is a useless olive branch. The current toddler-in-chief is far more likely to take that branch and beat the Democrats with it than he is likely to listen to anything critical they may have to say. The Republicans express interest in bipartisanship only when they lose their leverage, and fearing the image of being hostile and unreasonable, the Democrats usually oblige.
Even so, Pelosi’s fundraising chops and extensive political connections may be the best way for the embattled Democrats to fight the Trump administration and the Republicans who march in lock step behind the president. What may cripple an inexperienced rookie does not do grievous damage to Pelosi. It may be distasteful, but the arm twisting and backroom political assurances are part of the game. A newcomer may have trouble bridging the gap between inter-party ideologies and acquiring the votes to pass contested legislation. Pelosi has no such trouble: she was a big reason why the Affordable Care Act passed under the Obama administration and she has continued to fight in its defense. She may pay lip service to “bipartisanship”, but it is clear she isn’t spineless and puts in the considerable legwork needed to make an effective leader.
The plan going forward for the Democrats should be letting Pelosi take the reigns again and weather through another round of blistering Republican attacks, while the older members of the House take the newbies under their wing and teach them how to navigate the Washington minefield. Let the general fight on the same battlefield she’s been waging for the past fifteen years – she isn’t perfect, but neither is anyone else.
Back in October, amid increasing divides within the party, Pelosi acknowledged her time to step back was on the horizon.
“If people want to be the bridge that I’m building toward, they have to show what’s on the other side of the bridge,” she said to the New York Times. She claimed her role was “to open doors, to build bridges, but there has to be another side to the bridge.”
It’s about time we started building the other side of the bridge. Lets not drive off it.
Jennifer is the Opinions Editor at the Courier. She is majoring in Journalism and has a passion for writing about politics and political science. In her spare time she enjoys (poorly) playing strategy games on her PC, tweeting and re-tweeting snark on Twitter, and reading the latest news out of Washington.