Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Yesterday’s antics on the Left provided a sense of déja vu for those who recall the events of 2007-8 among Republicans after losing a crippling midterm election, although perhaps a bit more compressed in time. Republicans eventually began walking away from George W. Bush after getting clobbered eight years ago, but Democrats started a sprint yesterday to get distance from Barack Obama.
So far, it’s the progressives out in front:
The White House’s aggressive push to salvage a spending bill on Capitol Hill left liberal lawmakers feeling burned by President Barack Obama — and raised significant doubts about their desire to cooperate heading into next year’s Republican takeover of Congress.
Democrats will need every vote they can muster next year as the GOP plans to attack liberal priorities on health care, energy and financial regulation in 2015. But Thursday’s deadline drama offered no signal of party unity, only fresh reminders of the post-election divisions between a president who’s looking to govern during his last two years in office and a newly invigorated populist wing of the party, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). …
Obama’s base said he tried to sell them out—and didn’t even wait to do it until Republicans officially expand their majority in the House and take over the Senate come January. And some on the left worried the wide range of policy riders in a spending bill were a worrisome sign as Republicans take over the Senate next year – and are already urging Obama to steel himself and ready his veto pen for what’s to come.
We’ll come back to that in a moment. House Democratic caucus leader Nancy Pelosi blew her stack yesterday at Obama too, in public, for backing the cromnibus. Chris Cillizza argues that this is a signal from Pelosi to the White House that she’s going her own way from now on:
The House Thursday night passed a $1 trillion spending bill that averts a shutdown and funds the vast majority of the government for the next year. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) was on the losing side of the ledger. But she made her point.
That point? That she’s tired of being forced to carry the water for the White House and Senate Democrats who, she believes, are in the habit of cutting deals without including her. “I’m giving you the leverage to do whatever you have to do,” Pelosi reportedly told her colleagues at the conclusion of a three-hour long meeting Thursday night. “We have enough votes to show them never to do this again.”
The “they” is somewhat vague in Pelosi’s formulation — John Boehner? Obama? Harry Reid? All of them? — but her decision to take to the House floor earlier in the day, after the White House had said Obama would sign the bill if passed, makes clear who she was aiming at.
“I’m enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way they can get a bill is to go along with this,” Pelosi said. “That would be the only reason I think they would say they would sign such a bill.”
Cillizza thinks that this will strengthen her position in the next Congress by forcing Obama and Harry Reid to account for House Democrats before cutting deals with Republicans. It’s difficult to see how that helps, though. Republicans will have a much larger majority for the next two years, which means that Boehner can manage controversial votes to protect more Republican members. Boehner will need Pelosi less in 2015-16 than he did last night, and as the vote proved, he didn’t need Pelosi at all as long as Obama was willing to whip her caucus for a difficult compromise. Pelosi managed to hold things up only because her outgoing caucus was large enough to do so — and Obama ended up overpowering her anyway.
But why did Obama want that deal so badly anyway? It’s true that Democrats would have lost a lot of leverage had Congress simply passed a 90-day CR this week, but this arrangement puts his new project on immigration-reform-by-fiat at significant risk. It contains riders to which Obama publicly objected, plus weakens a significant provision of the Dodd-Frank legislation that Obama claims as one of his greatest legislative achievements. It gets him the current level of federal spending, but only for another nine months. It’s one thing to passively note that a veto will not be forthcoming, but quite another to all but open a war room and personally twist arms for passage, so much so that one’s own allies complain of White House “intimidation” and “blackmail.” Obama put more effort into the cromnibus in one evening than he has shown on anything else other than his golf game in a long time.
It appears from the circus last night that Obama has decided to do what Republicans feared George Bush would do in the wake of a disastrous sixth-year midterm — focus on his legacy rather than his party’s agenda. That’s what put Democrats on Capitol Hill into a mutinous mood last night, and may make Pelosi & Co. even more irrelevant over the next two years. It makes sense, too, as Obama has always focused more on his own designs than that of Democrats. He bypassed Pelosi after losing the House to focus on strategy with Harry Reid, who still mattered after 2010, to Pelosi’s annoyance. The Senate filibuster rule leaves Reid some remaining relevance in the next session of Congress, but Obama knows that he has to cut deals with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell if he wants to accomplish anything in the next two years, even just to keep government funded.
We’ve joked about Obama tossing people under the bus once they became inconvenient or irrelevant to him. The Democrats on Capitol Hill may get that experience collectively, starting next year. Obama missed an opportunity to emulate Bill Clinton after 2010’s debacle, but with nothing else but the history books to shoot for, he could make up for some lost time after 2014. That would be Nancy Pelosi’s biggest nightmare.
NBC News points out that the Democratic civil war will be on for the next two years:
Yes, in the end, Obama won and Pelosi lost. But how public and personal it was is a big sign of things to come in the next Congress. It would have been disastrous for Obama had the legislation gone down to defeat. So call it the White House’s near- (lame) DUCK experience. For six years, the divides inside the Democratic Party were papered over by the greater goal of the party to rally around their president. But now that many congressional Democrats view their president as weak and less powerful today (thank you 22nd Amendment!), there is more comfort in the populist wing of the Democratic Party to clash with the president and the establishment wing. As has been noted for the last four years as Washington has been engrossed in the drama of the divided GOP, there are similar divides in the Dem Party, they just were papered over by Obama. That paper has now been shredded.
Divisions still exist within the GOP too, but this comes at a bad time for Democrats. They will have to convince voters to either go with a continuation of the Obama era in the 2016 election, or a hard turn to the Left, neither of which would be popular with voters. The nightmares will not be limited to Pelosi and her caucus, in other words.
Update: Le même chose should be la même chose — feminine gender. Sacre bleu! I’ve fixed it above.