House Dems plotting palace revolt against entrenched octogenarian leadership clique?

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

May as well start planning now, although House Democrats should have plenty of time in early 2023. It’s all but certain that they will be relieved of the duties of the majority, which not coincidentally is one reason why the rank and file have grown restive against caucus leadership. Even if Nancy Pelosi retires as expected in a loss of House control, The Hill reports, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn want to move up.

Their colleagues increasingly want them moved out:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) isn’t showing her cards, but the longtime Democratic leader has vowed that this year will be her last at the top of the party, auguring a fast-approaching power vacuum that younger lawmakers have been salivating to fill for more than a decade.

A new generation of ambitious Democrats is looking to push aside the old guard of octogenarians — Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) — but the veteran No. 2 and No. 3 leaders have been forecasting a different scenario, reaching out to their colleagues to gauge support about staying on, even if Pelosi calls it quits. …

“Clyburn is acting like he’s going to stay. I’m hearing he’s going to stay,” Yarmuth said.

Hoyer, too, likely would fight to stick around, Yarmuth predicted.

There are a couple of obvious problems with that strategy for House Democrats. For one thing, this leadership team will have twice led them into the political wilderness over the past dozen years, in both cases by overreaching on voter mandates. That may have been understandable in 2009-10 when voters gave Democrats large margins in both chambers of Congress and a near-landslide in the White House, although Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama had plenty of warning signs they ignored about voter discontent over the sharp left turn taken.

This time, there’s no such excuse. Democrats barely won control of all three Beltway levers, and Pelosi actually lost House seats in 2020 while Joe Biden barely skinned by Donald Trump. Despite the obvious implications of those results, Democratic leadership has pursued an even harder progressive line ever since takin office, which will result in yet another exile to the wilderness in the House, and perhaps the Senate as well.

Pelosi only has a single-digit majority as it is. If they lose a significant number of seats, they may end up handing Republicans a 25- to 30-seat majority. If that does happen, it might impact who wins a leadership fight. The alternatives might be worse than the status quo:

While there are sure to be others in the mix vying for leadership spots — some early speculation surrounds Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — some lawmakers are predicting “no wild cards” in the highest ranks next year.

And Jeffries, who would be the first Black Speaker in the nation’s history, appears to be the early favorite for the top spot.

“I think it’s pretty clear that our next tier of leadership is going to be Hakeem, Katherine and Pete,” said one moderate Democratic lawmaker, who like many sources spoke only anonymously to discuss a sensitive topic. “I think probably 80 percent of people here believe that.”

The narrowing of the House Democrats will likely take out its most moderate members, whose districts will be easier targets for the GOP. That will make the rump caucus even more progressive and even more inclined toward extremism and confrontation rather than engagement. That’s the dirty little secret of the all-or-nothing progressive Democrats like Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Cori Bush. They’re not risking anything and will see a purification as a net gain, even if it means losing control of the House. It’s the moderates in purple and red districts that will pay the price for their inflexibility, and Jayapal and her allies know it.

To a certain extent, then, it’s not going to matter a whole lot who gets the leadership positions. It may as well be Jayapal, because she’ll be running the show one way or the other. Jeffries is already a junior member of Pelosi’s clique and would make the easiest transition, but let’s not forget that Jayapal would also be a historical Speaker candidate as a woman of color, an intersectionality that could trump Jeffries with progressives in the caucus. Of course, that ideological strain of leadership would all but guarantee a very long time before either of them could win a Speaker election, because that leadership would do nothing more than signal a retreat for Democrats back to their coastal and urban cores while Republicans take the suburbs and everything else.

For a while, anyway, until the GOP leaders overreach and underdeliver, at which point the cycle will come back around again. Lather, rinse, repeat