Not Will Rogers’ Democratic Party

The case of Katie Porter's committee assignments.

The humorist and social commentator Will Rogers famously quipped, “I’m not a member of any organized political party…. I’m a Democrat.” While Democrats still like to complain that they’re less organized and ruthless than their Republican counterparts, the opposite may actually be true.

The LA Times (“Democrats loved Katie Porter when she bashed Trump. Now she is making them squirm“):

Democrats loved watching Orange County Rep. Katie Porter skewer Trump administration appointees and corporate executives in congressional hearings.
But it felt different when Porter’s progressive passion and impatience for convention turned to them.

Just as she wielded a whiteboard and sharp questioning to expose the flaws and outdated thinking she saw in Postal Service management or the nation’s COVID-19 testing system, Porter recently took aim at House Democrats’ rules and traditions for what is usually a behind-the-scenes competition to determine which lawmakers sit on which coveted committees.

It was a calculated high-stakes gamble that resulted in Porter not returning this year to sit on the Financial Services Committee, one of the House’s most sought-after panels and one for which the former bankruptcy and consumer law professor was highly suited.

Her sharp-elbowed maneuvering and willingness to publicly confront party leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Los Angeles Rep. Maxine Waters underscored the brash determination that made Porter the surprise national standout of California’s 2018 House freshman class — and a strong contender for the U.S. Senate someday.

But in an institution fueled by seniority and relationships — especially within one’s own party — Porter’s tendency to ruffle feathers could cost her the allies she will need in the future in order to get legislation approved.

In an interview, Porter expressed no regrets that her actions might have cost her support. In some ways, she may have felt she had nothing to lose. None of her progressive bills made it through the Democratic-controlled Financial Services Committee in her first term, a factor in her decision to focus more on oversight.

“That was a big concern for me as a front-liner,” she said, using the Democrats’ term for a politically vulnerable member, “and as somebody who’s very committed to governance and to doing the work.”

POLITICO’s Playbook observes,

This story is another reminder of how different the Democratic Party is from the GOP — not merely on ideals but in terms of how they operate on Capitol Hill. Congressional Republicans routinely cause problems for their leadership; it’s almost expected. But Democratic members can be punished for stepping out of line.

This may seem an odd observation, especially given the degree to which Mitch McConnell has managed to hold his caucus in near-lockstep for more than a decade in the body that’s notoriously harder to manage. Still, the House Republican leadership has not really figured out to handle disputes, whether it’s Liz Cheney’s independence on Trump while being part of said leadership team or what to do with kooks like Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Still, while Pelosi is demonstrably better than recent Republican counterparts in managing her caucus, even she doesn’t rule with an iron fist:

Though she will no longer serve on one of the House Democrats’ four “exclusive” committees, Porter did not walk away empty-handed. She will continue to be on the House Oversight Committee, the body’s top investigations panel, where her knack for cutting to the chase and simplifying complex issues will come in handy.

Porter also picked up a subcommittee oversight gavel on the House Natural Resources Committee, and she’s already announced plans to go after polluters and oil and gas companies.

So, a message was sent but she left with her pride intact.

Hat tip: Taegan Goddard

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    McConnell is keeping his caucus together, I suspect mostly with the club of his Senate Leadership Pac and other big donor money. But yes, Boehner and Ryan reportedly had huge problems with the Freedom (sic) Caucus. types And as Minority Leader McCarthy is reportedly coping with them by refraining from doing much leading. But are their problems a matter of laxness in Republican leadership styles or the presence of a large number of members who are either fruitcakes (e.g. Gohmert) or grandstanding for fruitcake constituencies (e.g. Gaetz) or both?

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Yes, Moscow’s power is the purse and the Freedom Caucus can cause so much trouble because they represent a decent chunk of the R caucus and the Hastert rule.

    But Porter is a different case than the Freedom caucus, whose Dem equivalent maybe the Squad, Porter is an iconoclast and an equal opportunity truth teller. Frankly Dem voters should encourage her.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    I’ve really grown to admire and respect Porter. She waded into this fight, won some concessions and left without burning down the house or having everyone gunning for her. And she comes prepared to her committee hearings, understanding the issues much better than 99% of her colleagues and, at least for her targeted areas, 90% of the industry execs who try to intimidate her. There used to be a joke that the worst thing an executive could here is that, “There’s someone that wants to talk to you and they’re from “60 Minutes”.” Today that might be, “You have a subpoena to testify before Congress and Katie Porter gets question time.”

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  4. Jon says:

    @gVOR08:

    But are their problems a matter of laxness in Republican leadership styles or the presence of a large number of members who are either fruitcakes (e.g. Gohmert) or grandstanding for fruitcake constituencies (e.g. Gaetz) or both?

    The problem is that a lot of these folks were elected precisely *to* fruitcake (is that a verb?). So they are doing exactly what their voters, and they themselves, want to be doing. Leadership cracking down makes their fruitcaking even easier in many cases.

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  5. a country lawyer says:

    I love that woman. She looks like my grand daughter’s kindergarten teacher, but she’s a GD tiger. She smart, is always completely prepared, knows how to ask a question and the follow up. But most importantly she knows how to keep the witness on track. The Democrats need to clone her.

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  6. grumpy realist says:

    What this boils down to is a clash between someone who realises “the devil is in the details” and the “let’s all schmooze along together and gracefully leave things nebulous in areas we don’t agree on” tradition that so many politicians use to put legislation together. The latter which sometimes works. Heck, that’s how the U.S. Constitution got thrown together. The inherent problems with the lack of definition only blew up a hundred years later in what is now known as the Civil War. But if they hadn’t done the “waffly loosey-goosey stuff” it’s quite likely that the original Constitution would never have gotten signed in the first place.

    So I suspect that Porter knows exactly what she is doing: a big stonkin’ pointing-out-to “hey you had better think about this issue because it may blow up in your face later.”

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  7. Kylopod says:

    I’ve spoken before about how the Will Rogers quip is misused today (particularly by Dems themselves who quote it with pride). It totally overlooks the historical context in which he made the remark. This was the 1930s, when the Democratic Party was a very, very loose coalition of factions that often had nothing in common whatsoever. If Will Rogers were alive today, he’d view the party as a monolith–and while that may not be entirely an accurate assessment as there are still important divisions within the party, it is very much that way relative to Will Rogers’ time.

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  8. DrDaveT says:

    There’s probably a reason why I should care about the internal politics of elected officials in each party, but it eludes me at the moment. When it starts affecting elections or legislation, wake me up.

    1
  9. Barry says:

    @DrDaveT: “When it starts affecting elections or legislation, wake me up.”

    You haven’t seen the word ‘Manchin’ in recent news?

    Remember back in ’09, the Blue Dog Dems?

    Remember that the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy affected the ACA? (the House passed the Senate version).

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  10. DrDaveT says:

    @Barry:

    You haven’t seen the word ‘Manchin’ in recent news?

    Are you really suggesting that Joe Manchin’s voting behavior is affected by Katie Porter’s criticisms of how the Dems allocate committee seats?

    1
  11. Barry says:

    @DrDaveT: In particular, no, but your original comment was more general (“…why I should care about the internal politics of elected officials in each party…).

    For example, the internal behavior of the Dems in the Senate and House seem to be far more cohesive than in ’09, which matters a lot.

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  12. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod:

    This was the 1930s, when the Democratic Party was a very, very loose coalition of factions that often had nothing in common whatsoever. If Will Rogers were alive today, he’d view the party as a monolith

    That’s certainly fair but it’s still a pretty diverse coalition. Less so than in Rogers’ time, to be sure, but the same is true of the GOP. The parties are much more sorted these days.

  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Barry:

    For example, the internal behavior of the Dems in the Senate and House seem to be far more cohesive than in ’09, which matters a lot.

    Only if it translates into more elections won and more legislation passed. I’m still not seeing the link between the subject of this article and either of those things.

  14. charon says:

    Martin Longman has a different version of what happened:

    https://progresspond.com/2021/03/16/katie-porter-lost-her-seat-on-financial-services-and-its-her-own-fault/

    The freshman lawmaker did not convince the House leadership to change the exclusivity system. So, instead of requesting a waiver to sit on committees other than Financial Services, she requested a waiver in order to serve on Financial Services.

    It was a ridiculous decision and the House leadership treated it that way. They gave her two top choices but denied the waiver request. They also approved a gavel for Porter on the Natural Resources Oversight & Investigations subcommittee where she can put her superb interrogating skills to good use.

    Porter wasn’t wronged by the House leadership. They gave her what she said she wanted for her top two committee assignments. It’s true that she might have been granted the Financial Services waiver if she hadn’t run afoul of Waters and made waves about the assignment rules, but she would not have been kicked off the committee if she’d made it her first choice. There are a lot more congresspeople seeking to serve on Financial Services than there are slots, so Porter was betting that her star-turn on the committee would intimidate the Steering Committee into bending to her will.

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  15. Bill says:

    Seems she didn’t realize that the MSM likes cute minority looking liberal broads who spew rubbish and such, fat white chix with brains (for good or bad) aren’t all that sexy to them. Plus, Nancy’s got maybe a marble or 2 more than Joe, nothing to brag about.

  16. Tony W says:

    @Bill: 7/10

    On one hand, that was an impressive injection of both racism and misogyny into the same sentence, but you overplayed it with the cognitive stuff. The former guy had serious cognitive issues and that was all just projection.

    1
  17. Barry says:

    @DrDaveT: “Only if it translates into more elections won and more legislation passed. I’m still not seeing the link between the subject of this article and either of those things.”

    Note that the American Rescue Plan was passed into law very, very quickly and with no compromises with the GOP.