In rare rebuke, Democrats shun Pelosi ally and back rival for committee leadership

Democrats are reportedly fuming over Nancy Pelosi’s decision to deny Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) a proxy vote in House elections for leadership posts and committee assignments. Duckworth, a heavily pregnant double amputee whose condition prevented her from traveling halfway across the country to cast her votes in person, nobly deferred to Pelosi’s decision. Those Democrats whom the minority leader purports to represent, however, did not.

Pelosi framed her rejection of Duckworth’s request for a proxy vote as a scuffle over process. To grant her a proxy, the long-time Democratic leader claimed, would be to set a problematic precedent. “You’re going to establish a situation where you’re going to determine who has a note from the doctor that’s valid,” she said, “it’s really a place we shouldn’t go down.” In a statement to reporters, Pelosi also insisted that she didn’t get what “all the fuss” was about.

But no rules needed to be amended. Pelosi could have offered Duckworth a special dispensation. She chose not to do that not because a precedent was at stake, but because Duckworth was a political problem for the leadership.

“[T]he decision was quickly criticized as political because of a contentious ranking member race,” Politico reported on Tuesday. “Duckworth backs Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) in his race against Rep. Anna Eshoo [(D-CA)] for the top Democratic spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Pelosi is Eshoo’s highest profile supporter and the race is expected to be close.”

Pelosi’s naked political maneuvering did not go over well with her colleagues. Some House Democrats, according to Roll Call’s sources, urged caucus members to send Pelosi a message. “Our party should be the party that stands up for women,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) reportedly told urged House Democrats in a Tuesday meeting. “We will pay a price for not doing this,” Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said of a decision to roll over for Pelosi’s display of favoritism.

On Wednesday, the fatal blow was delivered to Pelosi’s hand-picked choice for Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member. By a vote of 100 to 90, Democrats elected Pallone to serve as ranking member on that committee.

“He defeated Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a close Pelosi ally who won the steering committee vote for the position by a 30-19 margin one day earlier,” Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur reported.

Pallone was next in line for the position, with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) retiring in January. But Pelosi had been pushing for months to help Eshoo leapfrog the New Jersey Democrat. On November 10, she wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter endorsing Eshoo and urging Democrats to back her for the job.

According to Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel, his Democratic sources say that the vote was heavily influenced by a scolding Pelosi received from Comedy Central host Jon Stewart on Tuesday night. “On Tuesday night’s episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart devoted five minutes to an attack on Pelosi, titled “Petty Woman,” ending by muttering that it might be time for her to go,” Weigel reported.

Republicans, we were told, are controlled by what is said on a cable news network. Democrats, it seems, get their marching orders from Comedy Central. Advantage GOP.

One final thought: If you cannot control your caucus, are you really their leader? This was the question asked ad nauseam of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) when they were unable to corral the most rebellious elements in their caucuses. Will the same questions now be asked of Pelosi?