After their congressional victory, the challenge facing the Democratic establishment will be to figure out how to deal with their progressive wing newly expanded and energized by the “blue wave” of young and more radical members. The Progressive Caucus will increase by about 20 new members next year, making them about two-fifths of the Democratic Caucus. The answer is they will try to accommodate them.
This is becoming clear as the Democrats near a decision on who will be their next speaker. So far Nancy Pelosi is the only one to announce her candidacy, although she may be challenged by Rep. Marcia Fudge, a six-term Congress member and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Pelosi is confident that she will be the next speaker.
Pelosi, ever the consummate politician, has been wooing the individuals and groups she will need to win. Last week, a possible challenge to her came from democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who accepted an invitation to join a sit-in taking place in front of her office by green activists, who belong to a group called Sunrise and who demand legislative action on climate change. Ocasio-Cortez told the protesters, “Should Leader Pelosi become the next speaker of the House, we need to tell her that we’ve got her back on showing and pursuing the most progressive energy agenda that this country has ever seen.”
Pelosi’s office quickly responded that she had already recommended the reinstatement of the Select Committee on Climate Change like the one Democrats financed from 2007 to early 2011, and that she was “deeply inspired by the young activists and advocates” who were leading the fight “to address the crisis.” She announced that she supported their exercise of the constitutional right to protest and that she agreed with their demand. Ocasio-Cortez has not said that she will oppose her as speaker.
Then Pelosi met with progressive House leaders and told them they will have more power in the upcoming Congress. According to Politico, after meeting with Pelosi, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who will probably co-chair the House Progressive Caucus, said that Pelosi assured her that her members would have more seats on powerful committees and more influence over legislation. Jayapal said: “No one can really doubt Pelosi’s progressive chops… And I do think, for the next two years, as we head into 2020 and are coming of this big wave, we will need someone who is smart and strategic and has done this.”
Pelosi made even more concessions. After hearing her report on the meeting, progressive groups tweeted that, “We strongly support and call on all members of the Democratic caucus to support @NancyPelosi for Speaker.” This was followed by an endorsement from Move On.org. which tweeted, “Were it not for her skilled and effective leadership, the ACA would not be law today. Dems must reject attempts to defeat her and move the caucus to the right.” As The Hill reported, 60 prominent female Democrats signed a letter in favor of the speaker, including some incoming freshman and 17 members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Right now, the biggest opposition to Pelosi is not coming from the left, but from moderate, mostly male members who ran in red or purple states. To win they pledged not to support Pelosi, and now 17 of them have signed a letter trying to convince others to follow them. This split between progressives and moderates might be a problem for Democrats in the future.
As Allysia Finley wrote in a Nov. 7th op-ed, the mid-term results (before recounts that have taken place or are ongoing) “broke the GOP’s hegemony in Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.” Now, we can add Nevada and Arizona to that list. But “it’s notable,” Finley states, “that even as voters demonstrated their contempt for the president, they also rejected progressive candidates and repudiated left-wing identity politics.”
The leftist, “progressive” candidates ran on undoable or foolhardy promises, such as ending ICE, institution of a single-payer health system, free college tuition for all, and a “Green future.” These proposals are exactly what swing suburban voters who now voted Democrat in protest of Trump reject. Pelosi is, a National Review writer, notes, “the obvious establishment choice.” Author Alexandra Desanctis gets it right: “Democrats need [moderates like] Tim Ryan…like they needed Joe Biden. Instead they’ll get Pelosi,” like they got Tom Perez and Hillary Clinton, “while a large portion of their base continues to demand leaders who are even further to the left.”
The new House radicals may think these demands are reasonable, but they ignore how they appear to average Americans. Ocasio-Cortez believes that there can be 100 percent reliance on clean energy in 30 years, and that the economy can be decarbonized in 10 years, an outcome disputed by many working in the energy field. Moreover, the Democrats who won did so by putting their focus on more prominent issues like health care, infrastructure spending, and curbing Trump’s abuse of power.
As Nevada Democrat Rep. Dina Titus said, the election results reflect that women were energized this year by economic issues—like wages and health care—and by the president’s “total disregard for women.” Climate change was not among the issues that brought about their victories.
Journalist Dylan Scott provides more evidence that Democrats who opposed the left’s agenda were far more prominent in winning primaries than candidates of the left. “Though much of the party’s base is fired up about left-wing policies,” he writes in Vox, “many of its candidates are busy trying to reach across the aisle.” He quotes Elaine Kamarck and Alexander Podkul of Brookings, who told him that “the steady success of establishment candidates calls into question whether the Democrats are being pulled to the left.”
Based on the promises Pelosi has made to progressives, they certainly will be. That could prove to be disastrous for the Democrats in 2020. They could again lose the votes gained in previously red states or congressional districts, where centrists just won. That could mean another GOP House and perhaps, if a leftist candidate wins the Democratic primary for president in 2020, another four years of Donald J. Trump. Democrats of all camps will not like that.