After Election Losses, Democrats Battle For Some Top Leadership Positions
In what seems like a replay of the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, some top Democratic Party leadership positions may be in jeopardy.
While it’s true that reports of the imminent demise of the Democratic Party are greatly exaggerated, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fight developing over the future direction of the Democratic Party, and we can see it developing on Capitol Hill, where the elections for Democratic leadership in Congress have been delayed until after Thanksgiving:
House Democrats decided Tuesday to delay their leadership elections until after Thanksgiving — a move that will give reeling Democrats time to nurse their wounds, and could spell trouble for longtime leader Nancy Pelosi.
House Democrats told reporters following a closed-door meeting that their choice of leadership would be selected November 30.
A group of younger Democrats has been organizing behind the scenes to review Democratic leadership in the wake of last week’s results. Last Tuesday’s beating at the ballot box provided fuel to Pelosi’s critics inside the Democratic caucus, and they aired their concerns at Tuesday’s meetings in the Capitol, but no challenger has emerged yet to run against her for leader.
Pelosi opened the meeting saying that she was open to delaying when Democrats pick their leaders, but that she had been hearing from members that they wanted their leadership selected before Thanksgiving and that the vote on timing should happen this Thursday.
Pelosi told the members inside the meeting Tuesday that she had planned to leave the decision until after Thanksgiving, but said they have to move forward now, according to a Democrat in the room.
“I don’t care. I’m agnostic. I was ready to go with after Thanksgiving because I didn’t want the new members to be spending all their time worrying about who they are going to vote for — for this, that or the other thing,” Pelosi said. Then, many of the members were saying: ‘Why are you delaying the elections?’ And the press was picking that up. ‘Why are you delaying the elections?’ I’m not delaying it.”
But there was long line of House Democrats who stood up inside the meeting looking to decide Tuesday whether they would push back their selection of leaders. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, pushed inside the meeting to hold a leadership vote December 1, but was shot down inside the meeting by Pelosi’s allies on the Democratic leadership team.
Wounded Democrats attempted to laugh off last week’s results at the opening of their meeting, watching a series of Saturday Night Live clips mocking Trump. But the meeting quickly moved to an effort by Pelosi’s challengers to delay picking their leader until after Thanksgiving — a move that would spell trouble for the former House speaker.
By Monday evening, Pelosi’s challengers had gathered 33 signatures to a letter seeking a thorough review of why Democrats lost so badly. The letter did not explicitly call for a challenge to Pelosi, but Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan has said he may challenge her.
Pelosi has been a member of House Democratic Leadership since she became Minority Whip in 2002 and was elevated to the position of Minority Leader in 2003 after the retirement of former Congressman Dick Gephardt. In 2007, of course, she became the first female Speaker of the House when the Democrats captured control of the House from the Republicans for the first time since the 1994 elections. She then became Minority Leader again when the GOP recaptured the House in the 2010 elections. In the years since the 2010 elections, Pelosi has made no secret of her desire to become Speaker again if her party were to recapture the House but, given the political climate of the nation and the fact that there are at this point very few competitive seats in the House of Representatives, the likelihood that control would change hands is extremely low. At this point, it’s unlikely that Democrats would have a realistic chance of recapturing the House until the 2020 Census and the redistricting that will occur at that point, and perhaps not even then. Despite this, and despite the fact that Pelosi’s insistence on holding on to power has meant that other ambitious Democrats have been prevented from rising in leadership, the San Francisco Democrat has been fairly effective at keeping her Caucus united amid even during volatile times. With the 2016 election behind us, and Democrats just starting to lick their wounds after suffering a defeat that few were expecting, or prepared for, it looks like her lock on control of the House Democratic Caucus may be waning:
House Democrats returned to Washington Monday searching for answers after their Election Day drubbing — and their longtime leader, Nancy Pelosi, confronted the first real stirring of discontent within the ranks since the last Democratic wipeout six years ago.
While Pelosi has years or even decades of accumulated loyalty to fall back on, anger within the Democratic Caucus over what happened last week is palpable. The California Democrat faces a possible long-shot challenge from Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who hails from the kind of working-class Rust Belt district in which Democrats got trounced.
And dozens of Democrats are pressuring Pelosi to postpone leadership elections scheduled for Thursday. Voting to reinstall the same set of leaders after just a few days of reflection or debate would be a mistake, they say; Democrats need to reckon with their historic loss.
“This was not my thing. I never had any intention of running for a leadership position,” Ryan said in an interview Monday evening. He said he began considering it after hearing from a couple dozen members over the weekend urging him to launch a bid.
Ryan’s spokesman, Michael Zetts, added that the Democrat “understands that many members are deeply concerned about the future of the Democratic Party and caucus. He watched many traditional Democrats leave our party and he is concerned that if changes aren’t made we will be in the political wilderness for many years to come.”
Pelosi hasn’t had a serious challenge to her position as the top House Democrat since 2010, when Democrats lost control of the House in a GOP bloodbath. She has widespread support within the caucus and would be heavily favored to beat back any challenge.
“This is when we should be gathering momentum and fighting to take the House back and stop [Donald] Trump in 2018. This is not the time for us to be devouring ourselves,” said retiring Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), a Pelosi ally.
A senior Democratic aide called Ryan’s move “a publicity stunt,” saying it’s doubtful he’ll actually run. Ryan paid just half of his $200,000 party dues this election cycle despite having $500,000 in cash on hand for his reelection campaign, the aide said.
Not so, a spokesman for Ryan responded.
“This is absolutely not a publicity stunt. He never had the ambition to run for leader but after last week’s election results and the phone calls he had with his colleagues, he’s open to the idea. He’s not ruling anything out,” Zetts told POLITICO.
A Democratic lawmaker backing Ryan who asked not to be named said support is building for a leadership shakeup and took issue with the criticism of Ryan’s dues payments.
“This is not the time to start taking potshots,” said the member, referencing Ryan’s delinquent dues specifically. “We have lost election after election after election and our leadership doesn’t even want to discuss it with us. They don’t want to hear our concerns.”
Ryan’s potential candidacy comes as another group of House Democrats is seeking to postpone Thursday’s leadership elections. More than 30 Democrats have signed a letter requesting a delay, said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).
The members are not supporting Ryan’s candidacy, though the twin efforts highlight the disquiet within Democratic ranks.
Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said he’s in favor of delaying the elections and sent a separate letter saying so.
“Personally, I think there’s growing support for this,” Larson said.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) also told Pelosi last weekend that he thinks she should push back the leadership vote and that he still feels that way.
There is also talk inside Democratic circles about ways to loosen Pelosi and leadership’s hold on power. For instance, some rank-and-file Democrats want to make the chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee an elected position; currently, Pelosi appoints someone to that job on her own authority. Other options under consideration include making all leadership positions open to a Democratic Caucus vote, or allowing junior members to have representation at the leadership table.
Other members have floated the idea of a renewed push for term limits for committee leaders, something a Democratic aide said the CBC would most surely oppose. A number of black lawmakers hold ranking positions at the full committee level, and a change in policy could threaten that.
But it’s unclear whether those concessions would even be enough to quiet the discord brewing in the caucus.
On the Republican side of the House, there are no doubts about the identity of leadership next year. Paul Ryan has already won re-election as Speaker in a race among Republicans where Ryan was unopposed and it is expected that there will be few if any changes in any of the other Republican leadership positions. Over in the Senate, it seems unlikely that leadership elections will be delayed or that there will be much controversy regarding in either the Republican or Democratic parties. On the GOP side of the Senate, Mitch McConnell’s hold on power is as secure as its ever been both because there are quite fewer Senators who can fairly be thought to be under the influence or control of the Tea Party and McConnell has been fairly effective of controlling those who are. The same is true of the House Democratic leadership, where it was largely decided who would succeed Harry Reid soon after he announced that he was not standing for re-election. In the end, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer won those elections and has done a fairly effective job of keeping the caucus behind him in the waning months of Reid’s time in office. Of course, given the smaller size of the Senate, it’s not surprising that it’s easier for leadership to keep members in line.
Another area where Democrats are facing change, of course, is at the top of the Democratic National Committee. Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz stepped down as head of the DNC at the start of the Democratic National Convention in July when leaks of DNC emails revealed what many Bernie Sanders supporters and Wasserman-Schultz rivals contended was undue interference on the part of her and top leadership at the DNC in the primaries to benefit Hillary Clinton. Now, a battle for control is shaping up between a veteran Democrat and a representative of the progressive wing of the party that backed Bernie Sanders and was critical of Clinton and her allies from the start:
In the wreckage of Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss, liberal lawmakers and advocacy groups have started plotting a major overhaul of the Democratic National Committee, with the aim of using the staid organization to reconnect the party with working-class voters it lost to President-elect Donald Trump.
Much of the talk since Tuesday’s election has focused on selecting a new chairman, with the most frequently mentioned successor being Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who backed the primary bid of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
On Thursday afternoon, former Vermont governor Howard Dean (D) offered his service for a second tenure as DNC chairman, saying on Twitter: “The dems need organization and focus on the young. Need a fifty State strategy and tech rehab. I am in for chairman again.”
In an interview, Sanders said he is lobbying for Ellison and argued that the DNC needs to be reoriented so that it becomes less of an insiders’ club “preoccupied” with raising money and more of an advocate for the concerns of the working class.
“You can’t tell working people you’re on their side while at the same time you’re raising money from Wall Street and the billionaire class,” Sanders said. “The Democratic Party has to be focused on grass-roots America and not wealthy people attending cocktail parties.”
Sanders acknowledged the need for the party to continue its function as a fundraising vehicle but suggested a model akin to his presidential campaign, which raised much of its money from small-dollar donors.
“Millions of people are willing to put in 20 bucks, 30 bucks, 50 bucks if there’s a party to believe in,” Sanders said.
With Clinton’s loss, the DNC chairman is certain to become a more visible face of the Democratic Party, and the contest to replace interim chairwoman Donna Brazile could become a wide-open affair. Had Clinton won, she would have nominated a successor, and it was expected to be someone close to her.
In a conference call Thursday night with members of the liberal grass-roots group Democracy for Action, Ellison said he would make an announcement Monday about whether he will be a candidate for DNC chairman. He said he was eager to help the party organize going forward.
“My shoelaces are tied up tight, and I’m ready to get out on that court,” Ellison said.
Leaders of several progressive groups, who had been courting Clinton as a potential ally on many of their causes, have expressed anger in the aftermath of the election, arguing that the result was a repudiation of a campaign driven by the Democratic establishment.
“The Democratic establishment had their chance with this election,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “It’s time for new leadership of the Democratic Party — younger, more diverse and more ideological — that is hungry to do things differently, like leading a movement instead of dragging people to the polls.”
Taylor said her organization would be supportive of a DNC chairmanship of Ellison, whose choice, others suggested, would convey an important symbolic message during the presidency of Trump, who has proposed temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country. Ellison is a Muslim.
Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the liberal group Democracy for America, said Ellison would be “a potentially phenomenal choice” as DNC chairman, but said the organization was open to other choices, provided they weren’t part of the party establishment.
“I think Tuesday night was a tremendous loss that must sit at the feet of the political establishment of a Democratic Party that preordained the primary process from the very beginning,” said Sroka, whose group backed Sanders in the primaries. “The folks that enabled the loss need to step back and let the grass roots lead it.”
Given the election losses, it’s not surprising that there are leadership battles being threatened. This is not an uncommon development when a campaign has lost, and even more so in a cause such as this when the party went into the election expecting to win right up until the moment the polls closed and the numbers started coming in last Tuesday night. In such a situation it’s inevitable that there would be finger pointing and power plays as people tried to settle on who to blame for a loss that “shouldn’t have happened.” Additionally, after Wasserman-Schultz resigned in July, everyone knew there would be a battle of some kind for control of the Democratic National Committee to replace her. What makes these developments among more interesting, though, is the fact that the leadership battle at the DNC, and the apparently developing battle in the House of Representatives, appear to be mirroring the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In other words, what we’re seeing play out is largely a battle between mainstream Democrats, who were largely backing Clinton from the beginning and likely would have been able to consolidate their power had she won the election, and the progressive wing of the party that gathered around Sanders and which contends to this day, with little actual evidence and arguments that seem more filled with smoke and mirrors that evidence that Democrats would have been able to win the election if Sanders had been the nominee instead of Clinton. If sheer numbers are the only rule to go by, then the mainstream Democrats, many of which are still loyal to Clinton, will likely win these battles, especially at the DNC, but as we saw during the primary, the progressives can be vocal when they want to be so it will be interesting to see how this pans out.
Another issue overhanging the vote at the Democratic National Committee is what the nature of the Chairman’s job should be. Howard Dean, who was already Chairman of the DNC from 2005 through 2009, has been arguing since throwing his hat in the ring last week that the DNC leader’s job is such that it’s inappropriate and overly daunting for someone who holds elective office to be Chairperson of the National Committee at the same time. This seems to be both a swipe at Wasserman-Schultz, who served as DNC head at the same time as she was a Congresswoman from Florida and a swipe at Ellison, who is a Congressman from Minnesota. Be that as it may, it strikes me that Dean may have a valid point here. The party chairman’s job is to be both an Administrator of the party as a whole and a cheerleader/fundraiser for the party. During national elections, the National Committee is supposed to be committed to the interests of the party as a whole rather than one particular wing of the party, or one particular politician. Someone who holds elective office has other interests in mind, including what’s best for their constituents and their state, and what positions they should take to advance their own political careers. Often these two needs could conflict with each other and the party National Committees would arguably be wise to choose a Chairman whose primary loyalty is to the party, not to particular politicians.
A progressive Tea Party style movement isn’t going to work because it calls for tax hikes.
The element of the Trump campaign that appealed to the Tea Party and Rust Belt types was based upon the implication that the cost of giving them what they wanted would be paid for by other people (i.e. furriners and banksters.)
They want the benefits, but they want those benefits for free. They don’t appreciate that all of these trade policies make it possible for them to afford stuff at Walmart that they couldn’t afford otherwise.
Back in the early 50s, a run-of-the-mill refrigerator cost about $3,000 in today’s dollars. I doubt that anyone is truly nostalgic for that.
Permit me to be cynical and state this is more likely a fight over who gets control of the cash-raising apparatus rather than anything else.
(Between the souless Clinton-infested machinery of the present DNC and the burbling angst of the self-proclaimed Progressives, I’m saying A Plague On Both Your Houses. Feh.)
This overly-simplistic formulaic analysis
Ignores this reality
I don’t think you get much more mainstream Democrat than Chuck Schumer.
This is very OT, and I don’t intend to hijack the thread, but perhaps it would be good for another post:
Breitbart has announced that it is going to sue “a major media company” for describing it as a “white nationalist website.” So far, the possible defendants seem to be CNN, Media Matters, Salon, Vanity Fair, The Daily Beast, and RawStory.
There’s an article about it in The Hill by Joe Concha.
Democrats have a plan to win back white voters without college degrees in the Rust Belt–make the African-American, Muslim, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus the leader of the party!
They’re permanently lost to us, and frankly not of much use to begin with. Look for the DNC to start casting rural America / Rust Belters as the economic enemy of suburban (white) voters.
I have serious doubts about your thesis, which seems to be guided by wishful thinking.
There is no value in uneducated white voters. They’re a shrinking demographic to begin with, and they want something no one can give them. Our choices are lie to them or use them. I’m going with door #2.
It’s better for us to find ways to peel away suburban voters and let the disaffecteds get slammed by the mess they’ve created.
That doesn’t explain how Obama was elected twice.
The virulent racists will vote Republican, and the Democrats shouldn’t bother with them. But that’s a minority of the population, and not all independents or rural voters or even Republicans are like that.
I know that it’s fun to cast the election as the triumph of idiots, but the numbers tell us that it’s more of a matter of certain Democratic blocs not showing up, combined with the loss of some independent voters in some places. We’re talking about small groups of people in specific geographic locations, not a movement.
We need to accept that a lot of white voters are neither virulent racists nor civil rights activists, yet they are fairly indifferent to complaints about racism — those among them who voted for Trump were not necessarily enthused by his xenophobia, but they don’t much care, either. Like it or not, it is important to include some of these people in a winning coalition. Ideological purity is not a winning formula.
My commentary has nothing to do with them being racists, which frankly has been worn threadbare. My point is that they expect the impossible – their jobs coming back and a return to relative blue collar prosperity. It’s a fools errand that nobody can deliver, and we have no business getting into that ring at present. Republicans, and trump in particular, have promised them something that can’t be delivered. What they’re going to get not only won’t help their situation, it will make it worse. We need to be prudent enough to allow the Republicans to walk out on that plank. Economic pain in the short run benefits us in the longer run. Eventually, they’ll figure out that they’ve been played and abandon the GOP.
Or, alternatively, they’ll cling that much harder, which will give us the opportunity to cast them as being a danger to the economic interests of more prosperous middle class and upper middle class voters who are being harmed by Republican economic policies. They’re persuadable, the descamisados will have to get hit by the truck and figure it out for themselves. Either they abandon the GOP, and we benefit, or we get to use them as a wedge to split off traditionally Republican support, and we benefit.
There is no quick fix here. We have to play the long game.
Note as well that Ryan is already ramping up his Medicare garbage again. We can only pray he gets the House mired down in that particular train wreck of a pursuit and sets off a civil war within the House. The political benefits of loudly opposing any effort to wreck Medicare are too numerous to count: we get to position ourselves as the protector of seniors AND we get to point out to them that if they hadn’t voted for Republican control of the House, their healthcare wouldn’t be at risk. Hell, it gives us a segue into scaring the daylights out of them regarding Social Security as well. Which leaves Republican representatives in the position of either supporting their leadership, and getting flambéed by seniors, or breaking out into open revolt against Ryan in order to save their own behinds. Either option benefits us.
Think working class whites are a prize to be recaptured? Contrast then with seniors. Get them pissed off at the GOP and it’s lights out for the Republicans.
I think the game should be Massive Cultural Resistance. They own politics (barely) we own culture (decisively.) What we need to do is stop the norming, freeze the Overton window at a point that is defensible and durable.
And @HarvardLaw92 is right. We are either the GOP in the 60’s reaching out to absorb the racists in a contest of who can pander to the worst in society. Or we go at the suburbs. One is a declining demo, the other is rising. It sounds cold-blooded, but it also makes sense.
I don’t think that Democrats should ignore non-College Educated Whites. Democrats can’t win them, but they are still a large constituency, and they share some issues with minorities. It’s true that the 60´s are not going back, and states like West Virginia and Michigan are going to need large public investments to deal with it´s economic problem’s. And these White voters don´t want to hear that.
But Democrats should at least try to do something.
@Andre Kenji de Sousa:
Hence the long game. Eventually, we will do something: reeducation, retraining, etc. but we are going to have to be willing to let them truly hit bottom before we try to get them back. Our job in the short term is to use the impending fiasco to peel away republican constituencies. They’re giving up entre with suburban voters and seniors, who are more persuadable from the standpoint of rational self-interest than the descamisados are. Just winning them back doesn’t buy us much from either a longer-term or a strategic standpoint. We have to use this to fracture GOP support on a broader stage. We’ll help them eventually, but doing that is frankly down towards the bottom of my list of priorities. I’m a wartime consigliere, therefore I have no interest in winning battles. I want to win the war, and to do that you have to be willing to suffer casualties.
It’s not a matter of appealing to bigots, but of having some issues beyond social justice that can appeal to a broader group.
American politics are built on coalitions. Expecting everyone in the coalition to accept everything that you believe is unrealistic.
Bill Clinton and Obama were charismatic, upbeat leaders. So was Reagan. The common denominator for popular presidents is the ability to charm the public, not policy. Optimism is a plus.
I’m sorry, but that would backfire. It’s one thing to have policies that don’t gel with the heartland, it’s quite another to attack the people directly.
Clinton, Obama and Reagan all had the benefit of using economic disasters wrought by their predecessors to their benefit. Should we be looking for our next charismatic vox populi? By all means.
In the meantime, however, let’s focus on letting the opposition create the mess he/she will use as their soapbox. Barnums are more effective when they have some salmon to sell.
Seems to me that it worked out pretty well for Trump. Truthfully, we’ve turned the corner on politics being about hope. It’s now about fear – and blame.
Trump won fewer votes than Romney and he had a spoiler in the form of Gary Johnson who probably took 2 million votes from the GOP. Trump cost the Republicans votes.
Clinton was not an ideal candidate, and you need to accept that she lost largely due to failures on the Democrats’ side. Stop moping and start figuring out how the Dems can find someone who has the charm to take Obama’s place.
The Democrats sure seem a confused bunch, eh? I read tonight that Team Hillary is now blaming self loathing women. What next? It was Sasquatches fault?
Going for rural voters and suburbanites would be a hoot. The suburbanites have already split. For example here in Chicago you have the north shore liberals vs the western suburban Republicans. And rural America?? Did you guys even look at a red vs blue county map? They hate your uppity guts. You have accused them of stupidity, racism, being gun nuts, religious crazies, homo and xenophobia. You have brazenly told them you want to put them out of a job for the God of global warming and new government crack addicted voters, er, immigrants. All while engaged from comfortable perches in the entertainment business and subsidized industries like education, health care or government – which they increasingly can no longer afford. And on it goes. All because you bet on winning with the terminally aggrieved, the arrogant snobs, the government sloths and the snowflake crowd. Self awareness doesn’t seem your strength. But go ahead. Knock yourselves out.
And as for Ms Pelosi, well, I guess you’ll just have to vote for her so you can see how she behaves……
Yeah, charm. Bring back Harry Read.
I’m perfectly willing to stipulate that she was a flawed candidate. I didn’t vote for her in the primary in the first place.
That having been said, you’re focusing on what we need to be doing – finding another snake charmer – four years from now. I’m focusing on how we use NOW – the next six to twelve months – to our advantage. Our primary goal at this point needs to be how we use the looming chaos to our advantage in the midterms, where turnout is lower to begin with. We do that by peeling off GOP support enough to win seats in Congress, and we’ll do that much more effectively by targeting our message at those who are 1) more likely to show up and 2) more persuadable to begin with. The next two years are going to scare seniors and annoy suburbanites while putting us in a position to hang all of it around the necks of congressional republicans. It’s a gift – so make use of it.
Agreed. GOP overreach will be staggering. Democrats will use that to take the purple states, probably in 2018, if they can mobilize the seniors and people who could lose health care. And a key need is to take the state houses prior to the 2020 census. Dems need to wrest redistricting control from the GOP if they want to have a shot of rebalancing Congressional House seats.
Personally, I’m with Howard Dean. The DNC needs a full-time chairman, a professional political technician who can focus attention on recapturing state legislatures and governorships. It doesn’t need a part-time leader (i.e., Ellison or anyone else in Congress). If I were a Congressman, I’d be looking for someone as Minority Leader who can conduct a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the GOP. Newt Gingrich showed how it’s done. Now it’s time for the Republicans to get a taste of it.
That’s why an Ellison/Dean ticket (Ellison as Chairman, Dean as Executive Director) is my personal hope.
Someone like Ellison needs to be the face of the party. We need to make the case on economic issues, but we also need to be crystal clear that we’re not compromising on racism, sexism, homophobia and other bigotry. We’ve already had too many post-mortems reaching the conclusion “Well if we can just be a little bit more welcoming to racism…”. Going down that path will just alienate people of color, LGBTQ people and other marginalized constituencies. making it harder to put together a successful coalition.
At the same time, there’s a lot of complicated administrative work that needs to be done, especially given all of the state-level party building we need. Given that, we should be taking advantage of the experience of the DNC chair that successfully executed a 50-state strategy. That’s why Dean should handle day-to-day operations as Executive Director.
Will it happen? Probably not, but I’ll dream for a little while at least.