Anti-Pelosi rebels: We're the gang that couldn't coup straight

Have Nancy Pelosi’s opponents in the House Democratic caucus thrown in the towel — or has their leader cut their legs out from under them? Seth Moulton had been the face of those seeking to dethrone the longtime caucus leader, but the congressman from Massachusetts changed his tune yesterday. Moulton called for negotiations that would leave the current Democratic leadership in place and give Pelosi a smooth ride to the speakership:

The ringleader of a group of rebellious Democrats pushing to deny Representative Nancy Pelosi the speaker’s gavel in the new Congress appeared to soften his opposition on Monday, calling for negotiations in the clearest signal to date that Ms. Pelosi’s detractors have failed to thwart her steady march to the top post.

Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who helped spearhead a letter last week in which 16 Democrats said it was time for Ms. Pelosi to stand aside, said that his effort was “bigger than her,” as Democratic aides aligned with him said that some of the defectors were searching for a deal that would ultimately allow them to vote for her.

“Leader Pelosi wants to boil this down to a personal argument, but this is so much bigger than her,” Mr. Moulton said in a statement. “It’s about the entire, stagnant, three-person leadership team and having a serious conversation about promoting leaders who reflect the future of our caucus.”

Mr. Moulton’s call for negotiation with Ms. Pelosi left open the possibility that he and like-minded Democrats who have pushed for new leadership might be willing to back her in exchange for the promise of a fresh face in a lower-ranking leadership position, or a commitment from Ms. Pelosi to step aside in the next year or two to make way for a younger generation.

There’s only one thing wrong with that new approach by Moulton, which is that he didn’t bother to run it by his fellow rebels. Politico reports that the anti-Pelosi contingent is furious with Moulton, but perhaps they should be more upset with themselves:

The push to block Nancy Pelosi from the speakership is sputtering amid disagreements among her Democratic critics over their strategy and endgame, just days ahead of a critical caucus vote.

Some sources close to the group have privately accused one of its leaders, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, of freelancing — publicly pushing a potential compromise with Pelosi that not all members support or were even aware was on the table. …

“I’m trying to replace the current leadership of the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, one of the rebels who is not interested in a potential deal with Pelosi that Moulton floated Monday. “We need somebody who is a fresher face, that voters don’t identify with the old establishment, who is new, that shows Democrats have chosen a new direction … We don’t want her to be the face of the party.”

Another rebel source said of the group’s ringleaders: “They don’t know what they’re doing,” the source said, adding that their strategy has been disjointed from the start.

How true is that lament? At the moment, the effort to push Pelosi out of leadership has no firm idea on who should replace her. It took a while to get Marcia Fudge to stand up to Pelosi and vie for the speakership, but she then fled the campaign after her earlier support for a murder suspect came to light. Since then no one has risen to prominence as an alternative, but Pelosi has been picking off the rebels one at a time and flipping them back to her camp.

As the old adage instructs, you can’t beat something with nothing, and right now the rebels have nothing except a slight bit of leverage. They’ll test that out tomorrow in a rules fight, which is likely more of an opportunity for Pelosi to peel off a few more holdouts:

Nine moderate House Democrats, members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, reaffirmed their plans Monday to oppose Nancy Pelosi in a vote on the House floor in January unless she endorses their proposed rule changes that they say would facilitate the passage of bipartisan legislation in the House.

“The bottom line is this: We need real rules reform to get bipartisan legislation heard — not just more committees to study the problem,” the group said in a statement. “Bipartisan legislation with broad support deserves honest debate and a simple up-or-down vote.”

The group wants Pelosi to accept two of three proposed rule changes, after weeks of private negotiations. They want her to allow bills to the floor for debate and a vote if they receive 290 cosponsors, fast-track debates and votes for amendments with at least 20 Democratic and 20 Republican cosponsors, and allow members to introduce one bill for debate and vote on their committees, as long as they are relevant to the panel and have a cosponsor from the other party.

Those aren’t necessarily bad ideas from either party, but it would have the effect of loosening the grip of the speaker on the floor agenda. It might give the Senate more opportunity to seek out 60-vote-plus coalitions for cooperative legislation by making passage at least possible in the lower chamber. Newly minted member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez opposes it, which boosts its common-sensical value:

Ahem. Getting floor votes on bipartisan legislation is the definition of “getting things done.” Ocasio-Cortez wants to confuse that with “posturing,” which is hardly surprising given her bumbling campaign.

Pelosi might be smarter than this; ABC reports she’s meeting with the nine-member Problem Solvers Caucus on Tuesday, perhaps to negotiate the parameters of the rules to make those conditions more exceptional. The 290 co-sponsors threshold is well-considered (two-thirds of the House), but the 20/20 rule on amendments seems pretty low. Why not 40/40 instead, requiring more work and a little more chance for ultimate success on the floor vote? Bet on Pelosi scoring a deal and vanquishing the Gang That Couldn’t Coup Straight in early January.

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