Now that the Democrats have taken the majority in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi will have to win a Jan. 3 floor vote to be confirmed as Speaker of the House. To return to her former position as speaker, Pelosi will have to fend off a rumbling challenge to her rule from certain disaffected Democrats. While these dissidents are in the minority, they number enough to cause her problems if their movement gains steam.
It might surprise some to hear this, but I’m not one of those leftists clamoring for the removal of Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Don’t get me wrong: She and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer represent everything wrong with the Democratic Party.
They’re ancient, corporatist millionaires who haven’t washed a dish or taken out their own trash in decades. They’re barely human anymore, and it’s impossible to think they’re somehow in touch with the interests and needs of working Americans. They’re the old guard, the protectors of relatively conservative policies whose times have passed and who should be supplanted by the rising, much younger, left wing of the party.
But I’ve got to admit: Pelosi is pretty darn good at her job, both currently as House Minority Leader and in the past as speaker. She is an unmatched fundraiser who advanced major legislation during the Obama administration, including the Affordable Care Act, and who’s held her own during the Trump administration.
She also just oversaw the retaking of the House despite Republicans’ gerrymandering and upholding of Trumpism as a political talisman to woo conservative voters. With Trump still enjoying a high approval rating among conservatives, this was no small feat, and credit should be given where it’s due.
It should also be noted that many of the dissidents looking to block Pelosi from becoming speaker are, in fact, blue dog Democrats, meaning conservatives with a “D” next to their name. These Democrats in name only have their own political reasons for opposing Pelosi and seeing a more conservative Democrat taking her place.
Progressive darling and incoming freshman House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted this, saying of the signatories to a letter promising not to support Pelosi, “14 of (the 16) are male, there are very few people of color in (their) caucus. There’s very little ideological diversity.”
Further, the fact that some Democrats are refusing to vote for Pelosi means she will have to seek support from and promise something to more Republican members of House. Yes, the Speaker of the House is the speaker for the entire body. Both parties vote for or against them.
But most importantly, there is simply no realistic answer to Pelosi as speaker. The Left wants someone who will advance progressive policies and challenge Trump far more rigorously than Pelosi has. Well, I do too, but who is that supposed to be? No one is stepping up to the role, and now Pelosi’s progressive opponents are attempting to “draft” California Rep. Barbara Lee.
Lee would be a progressive dream as speaker. Venerable and experienced enough to be a credible replacement to the Pelosi machine, Lee has a strong portfolio of progressive politics and the bonafides of being the only member of the House or Senate to vote against giving the George W. Bush White House sweeping military powers after the 9/11 attacks.
Lee also lacks the toxicity of the Pelosi brand. Now, as a point of principle, I don’t think Democrats should be basing their decision of who should be speaker on whom Republicans like. Reaching across the aisle is one thing, but let’s be real. Republicans will only be happy with an anti-choice, anti-worker, pro-war member of the House as speaker.
That said, Pelosi is polarizing to the point of Republicans being able to raise millions of dollars in political donations simply by whispering her name. Association with Pelosi is enough to lose a congressional race in many districts.
So, what’s the problem with advocating Lee’s take on Pelosi for the speaker position? Well, she doesn’t want the job. Hence the attempt to “draft,” i.e. convince, her to run.
Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge was, until recently, looking like another option. Up until the middle of last week, she had neither confirmed nor denied that she would challenge Pelosi for the top spot in the House. This means she wanted to, and was still gauging or drumming up support for herself.
Fudge had previously called for Pelosi to step down, but, after Pelosi shrewdly offered Fudge a job as chairman of an election subcommittee, she flip-flopped and endorsed Pelosi as speaker.
The case against Pelosi is clear. She’s a huge obstacle to progressive policies supported by most Americans like single-payer healthcare and is far too comfortable with corporate interests. What is not clear is the alternative.
So, who and what should people be rooting for in this vague, probably nothing burger of an intra-party fight?
All things considered, the best-case scenario is that Pelosi serves as Speaker of the House and keeps helping Democrats raise money and win congressional seats, but that she also recognizes that, for at least a little while, the challenge to her rule was credible. This recognition will, hopefully, force the party leadership to move a little more left and take the progressive outlook of the incoming freshman class of House members a little more seriously.
This will also give progressives more time to foster a bench of candidates for when Pelosi retires. As it stands, we simply don’t have someone who can match Pelosi’s experience, tenacity and track record of political victories.
What we do have is a slate of young members of congress who, while still green, can actually speak to the lived experience of working Americans and who will work to advance policies that will help them.