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Despite Losses, Pelosi’s Power In The House Remains Undiminished

By Michael Doyle and Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau (MCT)

WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has paid no public price for her party’s repeated defeats.

Personally, she keeps racking up one-sided victories in her San Francisco congressional district. She just won her 15th term with 83 percent of the vote. A signature face of her party, Pelosi is poised to handily win re-election Nov. 18 as leader of the diminished House of Representatives Democrats.

“It doesn’t look like Leader Pelosi is going anywhere anytime soon,” Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said in an interview.

Pelosi’s survival is all the more remarkable, considering the fate of her fellow House Democrats.

In 2003, her first year as House minority leader, Democrats held 205 of the 435 seats in the House. There have been roller-coaster years since, culminating in Pelosi’s four-year reign as speaker from 2007 to 2011. But in the upcoming Congress, the Democrats will hold only about 186 seats.

“I regret the loss of some of our members,” Pelosi said Thursday, before dismissing any talk of stepping down.

Party leaders, of course, cannot be held solely responsible for congressional losses. There are many other reasons, from midterm disenchantment with the president and individual candidates’ frailties to ruthlessly efficient partisan gerrymandering.

Texas redistricting, for instance, effectively slashed the state’s House Democrats from 17 in 2003 to 11 in the next Congress.

“It’s fair to assign Nancy Pelosi a decent share of blame for the original turnover to the GOP in 2010, but in 2014 she was barely a factor at all,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said in an interview Friday. “Yes, she was spotlighted in some Republican TV ads, but only as a supplement to the focus on President Obama.”

Meeting with reporters Thursday, Pelosi, 74, took umbrage at any suggestion she should step aside, noting that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, 72, had lost seats three elections in a row before winning a majority Nov. 4.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid is also retaining his leadership position as Senate Democrats seesaw into the minority next year. At least six Democrats declined on Thursday to vote for Reid following an occasionally heated closed-door meeting.

“I don’t understand why that question should even come up,” Pelosi said when pressed on her leadership status. “I’m here as long as my members want me to be here.”

Not that the daughter of a former congressman and Baltimore mayor who learned politics at his knee would leave her status to chance.

Within hours after the polls closed Nov. 4, Pelosi already had declared her candidacy for another turn as minority leader, effectively heading off any potential challengers. Even before the polls closed, her team pre-empted doubts by touting on Nov. 3 her remarkable fundraising prowess.

As of Oct. 31, Pelosi had raised $101.3 million for Democrats, including $65.2 million directly for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It was, Pelosi notes, a record-breaking fundraising cycle for the California Democrat and her flock.

Over the last two years, according to her staff, Pelosi has completed 750 fundraising and campaign events in 115 cities.

“She’s very dedicated to the party, and she’s a strong fundraiser,” Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) emphasized in an interview. “She has been a strong supporter of many of us.”

Beyond money and personal connections, Pelosi’s supporters note her ability to win allies, sway sympathizers and discipline members who stray.

“She’s able to persuade people,” Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, said in an interview, “and that’s what she’s going to keep doing.”

Even if they dared to dissent and press for new leadership, House Democrats have few obvious up-and-coming alternatives.

“You have to have a challenger,” noted Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report, “and that challenger has to have the votes.”

To the extent there’s any upheaval, it may bubble beneath the surface, or show up in proxy fights.

Pelosi, for instance, is backing a fellow Californian, Rep. Anna Eshoo, for the top Democratic spot on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. The more centrist House minority whip, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, 75, backs Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who has more seniority on the committee and would be closer in line for the post.

Earlier in their careers, Pelosi defeated Hoyer for the House majority whip position. Then, Pelosi backed a candidate who lost to Hoyer for another leadership slot. Speculating about how Pelosi and Hoyer get along is a Capitol Hill parlor game. Still, they appear to work well together.

There’s a younger generation of potential House leaders, like 56-year-old Los Angeles-area Rep. Xavier Becerra, currently chair of the House Democratic Caucus, But none has shown hints of insurrection nor suggested they’re watching the clock.

“I’m not here on a schedule, on anything except a mission to get a job done,” Pelosi said.

Her persistence has not entirely displeased some Republicans, who tie her to vulnerable Democrats in House races where “San Francisco” is code for “liberal.” Two such Democrats from California’s moderate San Joaquin Valley, Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno and then-Rep. Dennis Cardoza of Modesto, declined to vote for Pelosi as leader in 2011, as did 18 other House Democrats.

In 2013, five House Democrats did not vote for her as leader. One, Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, made note of his anti-Pelosi vote in a campaign ad this year. It did not matter. The five-term House member lost by ten points.

“My life and who I am is not dependent on being here,” Pelosi said. “So I have the liberty of, if you want me here, I am happy to be here; if you don’t, I’m proud of what we have done together.”

Photo: House Democrats via Flickr

Meet The Wipeout Caucus: Republicans Who Didn’t Catch The Wave

By Jason Dick, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

Sometimes you catch the wave. Sometimes the wave, um, doesn’t let you catch it? Crashes down on you before you can catch it?

Republicans had quite a night on Nov. 4, picking up more than a dozen House seats, reclaiming the Senate majority, knocking off Democratic governors. It was party time for the GOP.

But what about the Republicans who didn’t catch the wave? How weird is it for them to lose in a year that was so good for the party, one has to reach back to a time when the American people saw fit to elect Herbert Hoover president for comparison. Call them the Wipeout Caucus.

Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., came to Congress during one wave, in 2010, and has now been swept back out to sea, or Panama City Beach at least, in another wave year. Southerland was defeated by Democrat Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, but he was really up against the whole Graham family after making impolitic remarks about their influence.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., proved the only thing people hate more than Democrats in his district is a congressman who whines about his personal financial situation. Terry was running through peanut butter throughout his whole campaign. But things got really bad when the National Republican Congressional Committee ran an ad criticizing his opponent’s support for a law that granted convicted felons early release for good behavior, and tried to make the connection between now-Rep.-elect Brad Ashford and a convict who was released and then killed four people. The ad was widely panned. The convict, Nikko Jenkins, went on to endorse Terry as the “greatest Republican ever.”

Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La. Oh, where to start? He rode into town after winning a special election in November 2013, with the “Duck Dynasty” family at his back. Then he got caught on tape kissing his scheduler. Then he said he wouldn’t run for re-election. Then he said he’d think about it. Then he decided to run. He came in fourth on Election Day in his House race. To add insult to injury, he was edged out for third place by a relative of the “Duck Dynasty” folks, Republican Zach Drasher.

Former Sen. Scott Brown, formerly of Massachusetts, wanted to take his talents to the Granite State but lost to incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, whose ties to New Hampshire were apparently a little stronger. Brown was criticized for jumping the border.

Former Rep. Eric Cantor is the dean of the Wipeout Caucus. His primary loss started it all. The Virginian and House majority leader was shocked to find himself out of the running when economics Professor Dave Brat came out of Randolph-Macon College to beat him. All it meant was that Cantor missed out on the opportunity to lead the biggest House majority since Hoover was sworn in.Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. After all, that GOP majority had to then deal with the Great Depression.

Bigger Than 2010

WASHINGTON — For Democrats, the 2014 election was not the 2010 Republican landslide. It was worse.

Four years ago, the economy was still ailing and a new wave of conservative activism in the form of the Tea Party was roiling politics. This time, the economy was better, ideological energies on the right had abated — and Democrats suffered an even more stinging defeat. They lost Senate seats in presidential swing states such as Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina. They lost governorships in their most loyal bastions, from Massachusetts to Maryland to Illinois.

After a defeat of this scope, the sensible advice is usually, “Don’t overreact.” In this case, such advice would be wrong. Something — actually, many things — went badly for the progressive coalition on Tuesday. Its supporters were disheartened and unmotivated, failing to rally to President Obama and his party’s beleaguered candidates. And voters on the fence were left unpersuaded.

A dismissive shrug is inappropriate.

If Democrats are tempted to seek alibis, Republicans want to read the outcome as a vindication for their strategy of obstruction to Obama’s program and a ratification of right-wing ideology. As The New Yorker’s Jeff Shesol pointed out, leading Republicans from incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to Sen.-elect Cory Gardner to Rep. Paul Ryan all discerned a message from the voters against what Ryan called “incompetent big government.”

To make the argument, they can cite the victories of two of their most ideologically driven governors, Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Sam Brownback in Kansas. Both won re-election despite a backlash against their policies. North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis survived a similar backlash to defeat Sen. Kay Hagan.

Yet the one thing that will save the Democrats and ignite progressives will be a Republican Party that ignores the extent to which its candidates — notably Gardner in Colorado and Sen.-elect Joni Ernst in Iowa — had to tack away from the right to win their signal victories.

The nation plainly did not vote in favor of more gridlock. Republicans will throw away the opportunity they have been handed if they mistake the general dissatisfaction with Obama’s leadership that they exploited for a specific turn to right-wing remedies. Many of Tuesday’s ballot issues were won by progressives. It’s instructive that four deeply red states, Alaska, Nebraska, Arkansas and South Dakota, all voted to raise the minimum wage.

Moreover, as Bill Clinton showed after the Democrats’ 1994 midterm defeat, the surest way to beat conservatives is to confront them when they press for steep cuts in government programs that voters like. Clinton’s mantra defending “Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment” was revealing and successful. If Republicans move to repeal Obamacare — a cause they used to mobilize their base — the GOP will only remind Americans of the many parts of the Affordable Care Act they want to retain.

Republicans need to remember: The electorate that turns out at midterms is demographically narrower than the pool of voters who elect presidents. To claim a sweeping mandate now will get in the way creating a real one in 2016.

Ironically, perhaps, the party’s potential presidential candidates — particularly Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — will be pushing the party rightward. This could help individual Republicans, especially Cruz, in the 2016 primaries, but endanger the party as a whole in the fall.

Yet Democrats and Obama can’t simply blame defeat on an inevitable falloff in their midterm vote. They failed to give the faithful enough reason to cast a ballot.

Amy Walter of National Journal cited a Republican operative: “You can’t win on turnout if you are losing on message.” The clarity of the GOP’s anti-Obama battle cry, as Washington Post columnist Steve Pearlstein wrote, was not matched by a sustained Democratic argument about the dangers of a Republican victory or a broad defense of a progressive approach to government.

Democrats had pieces of an economic message. But they need a comprehensive and more ambitious answer for voters angry about stagnating incomes. They took out their rage on the party in the White House.

For Obama, there is no escaping the urgency of restoring energy to his administration and confidence in his leadership. He should begin by focusing on the travails of Americans — including blue-collar whites as well as traditional members of his coalition — for whom neither the economy nor the government seems to be working. They’re the ones who keep sending Washington desperate messages, both by voting and by staying home.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.

Photo: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker thanks supporters as he wins another term over challenger Mary Burke during a rally at the Wisconsin State Fair Park Exposition Center in West Allis, WI, on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT)

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How Democrats Could Maintain Senate Control

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — A few weeks ago I wrote Senate Republicans would gain at least seven seats, even though the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race ratings showed a likely Republican gain of five to eight seats.

That expectation was based on national survey results showing the president extremely unpopular and voters unhappy with the direction of the country, as well as state polling that showed Democratic incumbents well below the critical 50 percent threshold in ballot tests against their GOP opponents.

My admission shouldn’t have been all that startling. After all, Mitt Romney carried seven states where Democrats are defending Senate seats, and in this era of declining ticket-splitting, it wouldn’t be surprising for anti-Obama voters to vote against the Senate nominees of the president’s party.

Indeed, midterm electoral history would suggest Democrats have an uphill battle to hold onto the Senate.

But, as I pointed out in the column, with only three Democratic Senate seats in the bag for GOP — South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana — Republicans can’t yet be certain they will net the six Senate seats they need for a majority in the next Congress.

So what could/would cause me to change my expectations over the next month? How could Democrats alter the election’s trajectory?

First, Democrats still may be able to localize elections in a few states — the most likely prospects are North Carolina and Alaska, which were carried by Romney, and two swing states won by President Barack Obama, Iowa and Colorado. Doing so would inoculate the Democratic nominees (three incumbents and one open seat hopeful) from Obama’s near-toxic political standing.

Democrats certainly have lowered the boom on North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Alaska’s Dan Sullivan, Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Colorado’s Cory Gardner, and it isn’t unreasonable to believe that they can hold all four seats by discrediting the GOP nominees.

But, as I previously noted, plenty of Republicans who lost in 2006 and Democrats who lost in 2010 tried that strategy — unsuccessfully. So while it isn’t impossible to localize a race, the broad national mood and the states in play combine to make that a tough task. And the president’s recent assertion that while he isn’t on the ballot next month his policies are only makes localizing more difficult for Democrats.

Second, Democrats may be able to register and turn out additional voters, who could change the arithmetic of the election.

I have been assuming a 2014 electorate that looks more like the last midterm electorate than either of the past two presidential electorates. The 2010 electorate was much older and whiter than the 2008 and 2012 electorates, and there is no reason to believe that Democrats won’t suffer again from this year’s midterm electorate.

But Democrats are making an effort to register African-American voters in a number of states, mobilize Democratic voters in Alaska’s remote villages, and turn out both younger voters and reliable Democratic voters who in the past sat out midterm elections. If they can change the electorate, they can change their chances of holding on to a handful of states that I am expecting them to lose.

As I wrote in mid-April, it’s hard to quantify the effectiveness of the Democrats’ ground game, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a significant impact in November. Still, given the president’s problems and signs of lower Democratic enthusiasm, it’s difficult to imagine widespread sufficient Democratic turnout gains.

Third, the Democrats’ money advantage could help limit GOP gains to five seats or fewer, keeping the Senate in Democratic hands for the president’s final two years.

“We have been waiting for our big donors to come into (competitive) races, but I’m starting to think that they aren’t going to come,” said one worried Republican consultant to me recently.

The veteran insider fears the party’s hype about winning the Senate in 2010 and 2012 had turned major GOP donors into skeptics about 2014 as well.

Campaigns and outside groups generally seem to be awash in money these days, but some GOP insiders are particularly worried about Democratic spending in North Carolina making it easier for Democrats to squeeze out a narrow victory.

Finally, news is always a wild card. Some event could raise questions about the Republican Party, change the election’s narrative or cause the country, or at least Democrats, to rally around the president. The beheadings by ISIS and the president’s decision to bomb the group’s forces in Iraq and Syria may help Obama’s numbers inch up, but any electoral impact would likely be negligible.

Obviously, a significant improvement in the president’s job approval ratings could change the national dynamic and improve the chances of a few endangered Democratic senators and Senate candidates.

Every election involves some tension between national and state forces. National factors look quite strong to me now, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have a different view in three weeks.

At this point, however, with Election Day fast approaching, I remain where I was a month ago. I still don’t like where many Democratic Senate nominees are now positioned.

Photo: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons

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