For those who laughed at the indecisiveness and the “himin’ and hawin'” Republicans did during their time in the majority of the House of Representatives – issues like healthcare, immigration, economic welfare, criminal justice reform, etc. – which created a factioned GOP in Washington led by the commander-in-chief, just get ready to see how broken the Democratic Party is as they retake the majority in the lower chamber of Congress. The issue for them in choosing a new speaker of the house for the 116th Congress should reveal many fractures in a party which has new progressive-minded liberals battling against the rank-in-file old guard holding onto traditional agenda items cemented in place by the previous political generations.
Politico reports that a total of 19 members or members-elect of Congress now oppose Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi‘s bid for speaker of the house, with 16 signing a letter both praising the 78-year-old lawmaker and calling for “change at the top.”
“Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-won districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington,” the group of Democrats wrote. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise.“
Although the moderate Democrat bulwark of less than two dozen lawmakers seems to be an easy hurdle to clear for Pelosi, who has led the caucus for 16 years, the speaker-to-be needs 218 votes out of the the now 233-strong Democratic majority. Therefore, she can only afford to lose 15, placing the California Democrat’s bid to reclaim the congressional gavel in serious jeopardy.
The predicament suggests that the minority leader will have to cut some sort of deal with her critics to regain the post once more as highest position of power for the Democratic Party in the next Congress.
The problem here is that the two largest ideology-based factions of the Democratic Party in the House – the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and the New Democrat Coalition (NDC) – are likely to have disagreements about what legislative items to pursue, besides investigations into the Trump Administration, with their choice for a new speaker showing the clear divide between the much more liberal Progressive Caucus and the moderate New Democrat and Blue Dog coalitions.
It is no surprise that Democrats have a messaging problem, despite their wins on Election Day. The party is losing the rural, white, non-college educated, working class demographics. Take it from the 2016 presidential election – the Upper Midwest and the Rust Belt were areas that were traditional Democratic strongholds. However, they went, on average, more for then-candidate Donald Trump than they did for then-candidate Hillary Clinton.
Considering there was just a midterm election, there are some figures to go by to understand which side of the Democratic Party is more successful in messaging, brought forth by what kind of Democrats were elected on November 7. Moderates overwhelmingly won on Election Day, with their progressive colleagues losing in areas that were said to be a part of the “tsunami-style blue wave.” Regardless, their membership numbers in Washington are rising.
Within Congress, the numbers are growing in both sides of the party. According to Roll Call, the CPC will have somewhere between 91 and 97 members in the next Congress, with the pro-business NDC upping its stake from 68 members, six of whom are retiring or ran for other office, with at least 27 candidates endorsed by the group to have won their races. The coalition is also expecting another few possible members from races that remain uncalled, overall expecting 90 or so members in 2019.
Whoever wields the gavel in the next congressional session will have a significant platform to challenge President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress. The speaker will also have the ability to set the agenda in the lower chamber and decide whether and to what extent Democrats reach across the aisle.
So, who do the Democrats, as a whole, pick to be speaker?
While it may be hard to believe, there are Democrats, newly-elected and otherwise, who say Pelosi needs to step down so the party can “change the status quo.” However, progressives like congresswoman-elect Alexandria Osacio-Cortez of New York claim that the opposition to Pelosi lacks “diversity.” She said in a report from Newsweek that the letter signed by Democratic lawmakers opposing the Pelosi speakership “lacked any ideological diversity,” pointing out that “no people of color had signed onto the caucus.”
Furthermore, she considers Pelosi to be “the most progressive candidate” in the field.
This, of course, has irritated many in the caucus who say they should be fighting Republicans, not each other, arguing that Pelosi knows how to lead the party at such a critical time, with Democrats looking to turn their fire on Trump and move towards ousting the president in 2020.
Behind the revolutionary backdrop, if Democrats focus solely on beating President Trump in two years they may inevitably fail as their messaging keeps losing voters. To combat their lost demographics that do not respond to the progressive side of the party, they could pick a more moderate character like Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio.
Ryan, however, has one big problem, well two, actually. He’s white and he’s a man. For a party that is trending further and further into identity politics, that probably just won’t happen. As well, he is interested in getting things done. For a party whose only mission is resistance against the President, that probably just won’t happen either.
This will likely push the CPC and the NDC and Blue Dogs apart in the coming months as Republicans get their bearings in the House and decide how to handle whomever is the next speaker. If Republicans can unite in the lower chamber, whether that be just sitting on the sidelines or not, the Democratic Party is likely to come to a critical point if the current infighting over speaker continues, and would likely continue if Pelosi becomes speaker of the house once more.
One theory outlines that if Republicans, who have 199 members in House next year, barring current recounts, can get the 19 members of the Democratic Party to sign on to a speaker of their own, a Democratic majority in the House may not end up equating to a Pelosi speakership. Nonetheless, the liberal factions in Washington may undoubtedly be at each other’s throats during President Trump’s last two years of his first term as he enters re-election mode, which could end up helping the GOP.