Democrats in the House appear to have started falling apart following a year of frustration and lost opportunities. Jonathan Allen reports on three events that would have taxed leadership had they happened individually. Coming as they did all on one day, the Politico reporter wonders whether Nancy Pelosi has lost her grip on her divided caucus, and whether the House will get any work done this year:
Shortly after dinnertime, New York Democrat Charlie Rangel emerged from his private hideaway after news broke that he would be admonished by the House ethics committee.
Yet reporters in the Capitol rushed right past Rangel to ask House Democratic leaders about a critical intelligence bill that had just been pulled over a torture provision. The language had been inserted in defiance of leadership by House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).
At the same time, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was slated to meet with leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus to try to salvage a routine, $15 billion jobs bill that turned into a piñata for progressives, the moderate Blue Dog Coalition and members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Any of these three issues – a floundering jobs bill, a hastily scotched intelligence authorization or an ethics committee admonishment of the powerful chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee – would qualify as mid-level crises. Together, these incidents illustrated a chamber in a mini-meltdown near week’s end.
Ironically, that jobs bill became a piñata for progressives because Harry Reid refused to proceed with the more expensive bipartisan bill concocted by Max Baucus and Charles Grassley. As I wrote yesterday, the relatively paltry $15 billion bill doesn’t have enough in it to stimulate much of anything except more bureaucracy. House Democrats were expecting a bill 20 times the size of what the Senate passed, especially the progressives, who griped about Porkulus only because it didn’t get stuffed with enough spending the first time.
On the intel bill, no one seems sure how it wound up with the objectionable language on criminalizing harsh interrogations. Jane Harman, who used to be the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee until Pelosi unceremoniously tossed her off for her own political reasons, called the Jim McDermott language a “mystery.” It was no mystery; progressives had demanded action along those lines, and Pelosi either let them run wild or didn’t know what was happening.
Either way, it doesn’t make for a picture of skilled leadership. Part of Pelosi’s problem, though, is that progressives have become irate at Senate Democrats who won’t pass bills radical enough for them. They have been told to pipe down all year, and after losing the public option on health care, they’re angry. The CBC is almost entirely comprised of progressives, so their action on the jobs bill is just a subset of the opposition to the Reid approach. Pelosi has fanned that discontent rather than sooth it, again for her own political purposes, but she may be about to reap the consequences of both her agenda and her management style.
Even if Democrats survive the midterms, they may be realizing that Pelosi simply has to go, and someone with better people skills should take her place.