Now that Donald Trump has signed the omnibus/relief bill, this is all that remains for suspense outside of Georgia. Even then, how much suspense could there be in an election with only one candidate? Nancy Pelosi wrapped up the caucus endorsement for speaker last month without any opponent, mostly because no one else really wanted the job when it came along with an impossible-to-corral nine-seat majority. Not only did no Democrat challenge Pelosi, no one challenged Majority Leader Steny Hoyer or Majority Whip James Clyburn, either.
So why are these two incoming House Democrats balking at endorsing their nominee for speaker? CNN’s Dana Bash asked progressive newcomers Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman whether they plan to support Pelosi’s bid. They provided almost identical versions of authentic Beltway gibberish while refusing to answer:
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 27, 2020
ASH: And real quick, before I let you both go, something looking ahead at that you’re both going to have to vote on, which is the speaker of the House. Congresswoman-elect Bush, will you vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker?
BUSH: (LAUGHTER) What I’m going to do is make sure that the voices of the people of Saint Louis are heard and that we have what we need. And so you will find out then.
BASH: That’s not a yes.
BUSH: I’m working with my community. I’m working with my community.
BASH: OK. And, congressman-elect Bowman, will you vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker?
BOWMAN: So, you will find out when my vote is tallied, and, again, organizing with our community to figure out what’s best.
“Working with my community” is Washington double-speak for “I don’t really want to answer this question.” But why? Yes, yes, hard-Left progressives might not be totally happy with Pelosi, but she beats the theoretical alternative, especially after what happened in 2020’s House races. Pelosi became the only speaker in decades, or perhaps ever, to lose House seats in an election in which her party’s nominee won a first term as president. Why? Voters — in the kind of high-turnout election that normally favors Democrats — rejected the party’s sharp turn to the Left all the way down the ballot. Had they not nominated a comfortable old shoe for the presidency, they’d be looking at a second Trump term as well. If the House Democratic caucus had any sense at all, they’d have rallied behind a middle-America suburban Democrat like Tim Ryan for the next speakership.
Anyway, the only alternative is theoretical. So why not just admit that they will have little choice but to vote for Pelosi? Bowman, Bush, and the rest of the progressive caucus wants to use that narrow majority to pressure Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn to adopt the hard-Left agenda in 2021-22. If Pelosi loses more than nine Democrats — or if five flip to vote for Kevin McCarthy on the floor — Pelosi will end up getting humiliated, perhaps badly enough to force her resignation. If they can organize well enough to push the election to a second ballot on the House floor, Pelosi and her leadership slate might be forced to withdraw and progressives can push for a harder-Left replacement. It’s not a likely outcome, but by playing coy now, the two can take advantage of whatever leverage they have.
What do Bowman and Bush want? Bash gets Bowman to cough it up at the end:
BOWMAN: We got to bring HR-40 to the floor for a vote. We need reparations for the African-American community.
BOWMAN: We need a federal jobs guarantee. We need Medicare for all.
The chances of any of those proposals getting through Congress are entirely nil, regardless of who gets elected speaker. Senate Republicans can and will easily bottle it up regardless of whether they end up controlling the upper chamber, especially with Joe Manchin opposing both radical proposals and an end to the legislative filibuster. The Biden administration will run for the hills, hoping instead to reposition their party back to the center after watching all of the opportunities progressives squandered in 2020. It would set a torch to all of their plans to partner with moderates in the GOP for some low-hanging policy fruit before the midterms. And House Democrats will set the stage for endless GOP attacks on their radical agenda in the midterm elections. The only mystery will be whether Democrats can contain their losses to just 40 seats or less.
If Bowman, Bush, and other progressives stick to their guns, though, Pelosi will end up stuck in an impossible situation. Because she can’t possibly advance that agenda next year, Peloso might end up getting left short of a majority in her speaker election after all. If Bowman and Bush are bluffing, they’re going to look ridiculous next week for this pussyfooting with Bash. Either way, Republicans need only do one thing … pass the popcorn.