The general consensus seems to be that opposition within the Democratic caucus to re-electing Nancy Pelosi is hardening, making her quest to regain her position as Speaker of the House more difficult. According to reports, there are at least 10 members who have come out publicly to oppose Pelosi since last Tuesday’s election. That might be enough to stop Pelosi based on the midterm results we have now but Democrats are expected to pick up six additional seats when the votes are finally counted, potentially giving her just enough to become Speaker again.
The biggest problem for the anti-Pelosi faction is they are currently working in the negative, simply saying no to Pelosi. But they have yet to find anyone to become the standard bearer to replace her. Clearly, if they can’t find that person before late December, then Pelosi will find a way to become Speaker. And even if they do find that person, it is still hard to see how anyone but Pelosi will muster enough votes to get the job.
Pelosi may not be the best messenger but she has been extraordinarily effective at keeping her caucus remarkably unified. However, there is no doubt that Pelosi will need to seed younger Democratic talent, of which there is a plethora, into the leadership. That is presumably what the anti-Pelosi faction will demand and probably get. And that may also mean Pelosi may commit to not remaining Speaker after the 2020 election and putting in place a real succession strategy that should bypass other senior leaders, such as Hoyer and Clyburn who will be in their 80s by 2021, for some young blood.
But, while the focus is on Pelosi, I happen to believe the real weak link in the Democratic Congressional leadership is Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer has gotten badly played more than once over the last two years. He almost immediately folded after shutting down the government in order to protect DACA recipients, instead agreeing to fund the government in return for another worthless promise from McConnell to deal with the issue at a later date. To fold on the government shutdown within literally hours of starting it certainly infuriated the base, reeked of weakness, and made them wonder if Schumer really had any strategy at all.
In the fall of 2017, Schumer, with Trump’s backing, also agreed to a 3-month extension on passing the budget and raising the debt ceiling. That extension gave the Republicans time to make another run at repealing Obama care, which once again would have passed without a decisive stance from John McCain to kill it.
Schumer also inexplicably and infuriatingly agreed to fast-track 15 of Trump’s judicial nominees in late August apparently in order to let red-state Democrats get back to their home states to campaign. But Schumer could have forced McConnell to run through the full hours of debate that the Senate allows on each nominee and keep the opponents of those red-state Democrats in Washington to actually vote on them simply by leaving one Democratic Senator on the Senate floor to object to any nomination and force McConnell to round up 51 votes for cloture. Red-state Democrats could still be back in their home states campaigning, potentially with their opponents still in Washington. Instead, Schumer gave the Republicans a free pass, something that McConnell would have never done.
In hindsight, that agreement became even more indefensible when Chuck Grassley made the unprecedented move to keep on holding confirmation hearings on even more Trump judicial nominations during the October recess before the election. Those nominations included one who worked for a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group.
In other instances, Schumer never really tried to rally the Senate caucus to oppose GOP nominees and policies. He did nothing to stop Gina Haspel who oversaw torture under the Bush administration from becoming CIA director. He did not whip the caucus to support a bipartisan bill to halt US support for the criminal Saudi war in Yemen. He restrained Elizabeth Warren from criticizing recalcitrant Democrats in her quest to stop the GOP from rolling back pieces of Dodd-Frank.
Schumer’s own personal votes have hardly been inspiring either, especially when it comes to foreign policy in the Middle East. He supported Trump’s missile attacks on Syria as well as called the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem “long overdue”. At the beginning of Trump’s term, he voted to confirm Mike Pompeo as CIA director.
Yes, it’s understandable that Schumer was focused on protecting as many red-state Democrats as he could and that may have driven his conservative approach. Yet he still seems incapable of being able to lead an effective opposition in the era in which Trump and McConnell are constantly flouting the norms and rules of our democracy.
With far fewer red-state Senators to protect in 2020, Schumer may promise to become more aggressive in his opposition. But he is not well-suited to that role either as he is a terrible communicator. Peering over his glasses as he reads a statement, he looks like an old schoolmaster, not an inspiring leader. I don’t ever remember him giving a speech that actually roused the base. And the PR part of the job will become paramount as it will be required to constantly and consistently cast the GOP-controlled Senate as the reason that popular Democratic legislation passed in the House never makes it even to Trump’s desk. Sure, it’s not required to be a dynamic speaker to be a leader, but, if you’re not, you better be a vicious fighter and winner like McConnell and Pelosi. Schumer has shown neither.
As with Pelosi, Schumer would have to be replace by someone. Most of the most visible options, such as Booker, Harris, Klobuchar, Warren, Gillibrand, Murphy, and even Brown will be running for President and not interested in the job. Sanders is a technically an independent and will also be running for President. That leaves a only a bunch of older stalwarts like Leahy and Feinstein or young guns like Schatz and Duckworth who have made a national impression.
That would seem to leave only two possibilities to replace Schumer, namely Warner or Coons. Coons is younger, has acquitted himself well on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, and comes across well in the media. And both Warner and Coons seem to be able to work with other GOP members while still taking strong Democratic stands.
While the chances of replacing Schumer may be far less than replacing Pelosi, it seems like it’s worth a lot more discussion.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on November 12, 2018.