In the expectation game that is American politics, losing is the new winning.
Republicans are subjecting their prospective House Speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, to a grueling series of public tests, with his ultimate fate uncertain. So far, at least five Republicans have said they will oppose McCarthy’s bid when it is voted on in the full House in January. He needs 218 votes.
In contrast, the House Democrats have all but anointed their new leaders, a triumvirate of Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, and Pete Aguilar of California.
Towards the end of a process that took place largely privately over the course of months, the three lawmakers quietly garnered overwhelming support and eliminated potential rivals such as Representatives Adam Schiff of California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington. If the election or leadership change revealed major ideological cracks in the Democratic firmament of the House, they are not yet clear.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped aside, as did her lieutenants, Steny Hoyer of Maryland and James Clyburn of South Carolina. Assuming all goes according to plan, the average age of the Democratic House leadership trio will drop from 82 to 51.
To explain why the Democrats got in line and the Republicans didn’t, I talked to Julie Hirschfeld Davis, the congressional editor of The New York Times. This is what she said:
Democrats seem to have staged their transition to new House leaders with as little drama as possible, while Republicans may be in for a rough few weeks. What explains the difference?
You have to look at how different the personalities and political situations of the two parties are at the moment.
Republicans are coming off a historically disappointing midterm election that gave them a very slim majority and only one chamber of Congress, so they’re in point-and-blame mode, and that always adds to the division.
Democrats, on the other hand, are celebrating a much better-than-expected outcome, allowing them to retain control of the Senate and a strong enough minority in the House to make it quite difficult for Republicans if they can stick together — or even possibly. get things done they want – and now they have real incentive to do it.
Then you have these two leaders who couldn’t be less alike. McCarthy, the Republican nominee for speaker, has been in a pretty precarious position in his party for some time now. He’s had to strike this tricky balance between being a mainstream conservative leader and targeting the far right of his conference, who view him with suspicion and have really grown in influence and now feel very encouraged to shape what the new Republican majority looks like will see like. He has never been the type of leader capable of exercising any real discipline over his people, and is certainly not in a position to do so now.
Compare that to Pelosi, who is actually at the height of her power, even though her party just lost the majority. She’s been extremely effective at managing her caucus, including finding ways to manage a pretty restless progressive left, and has spent a lot of time and energy over the years negotiating to orchestrate exactly the outcome she wants. wants and thinks what is best for her party.
Also remember that Pelosi’s critics in the Democratic ranks have long been pushing for her to finally loosen the reins and allow a new generation of leaders to take off, so Democrats have the added benefit of a lot of pent-up appetite for this to happen.
That’s another reason you saw the other two leaders under her, Hoyer and Clyburn, step aside with relative ease. They knew that even if they didn’t want to follow Pelosi out of leadership, the grassroots really wanted this change. Without her freezing everything in place, as she has for many years, they wouldn’t be able to go against that tide.
Jeffries has big shoes to fill. Are there signs so far that he plans to run the Democratic caucus differently than Pelosi did?
It’s hard to imagine anyone running the Democratic Caucus the way Pelosi did, and she and Jeffries are very different.
He doesn’t have anywhere near the track record that she has, either in guiding big, complex pieces of legislation through the House, or raising the kind of money Pelosi has, so there’s going to be a pretty steep learning curve on both of those things . Jeffries also came up in New York City politics as an insurgent trying to turn the machine upside down so he’s less of a party boss type than Pelosi and he’s going to be under some grassroots pressure to take things in a less top-down way.
That said, he’s had a front row seat to Pelosi’s pretty masterful command of her people and the dividends that can pay out at critical moments, so the temptation will be to try and emulate some of that. Will he be able to? Unclear.
Pelosi has said she has no intention of offering unsolicited advice, even if she hasn’t resigned her seat. Are Democrats happy with the unusual arrangement, or are there concerns that it will overshadow the new team?
I think most Democrats will take her word for it that she wants to step back, but it will be interesting to see what that looks like. Those of us who have followed Pelosi closely over the years find it hard to imagine her as a backbencher. This is not a woman who likes to relinquish control.
But part of what we saw last week was a leader who is now very focused on exiting gracefully, on not being seen as clinging to power after she is no longer wanted, and on using her remaining time in public life to polish her legacy. So I suspect she’ll find a way to sit back and be present, but not overwhelming.
Life in the House minority can be quite daunting. Are the Democrats more inclined to fight the Republicans and take back power, or find ways to work with them over the next two years?
I think it depends on who you ask. There are many moderates who recognize that with a very slim Republican majority, there is an opportunity for the Democrats to potentially get things done and play quite a pivotal role, as their votes will be needed to defeat the hard-right vote for the Republican. side that just won’t be there for most major legislation.
And in the Senate, there’s a real desire to do as much of that as Republicans are willing, though it’s not clear how much political space there will be for that kind of collaboration.
But I would also say that there are a fair number of Democrats who will be very reluctant to partner with members of a party they consider utterly extreme and irredeemable, and will do whatever they can to fight the Republican agenda.
What to read tonight
Thanks for reading On Politics and for subscribing to The New York Times. —Blake
Read previous editions of the newsletter here.
If you enjoy what you read, consider recommending it to others. They can register here. Browse all of our subscriber newsletters here.
Do you have feedback? Ideas for coverage? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].
The post Why House Democrats Fell in Line and Republicans Failed appeared first on New York Times.