In The Media

What is Nancy Pelosi up to?

by Jonathan Bernstein (feat. Stephen Saideman)

February 8, 2018

Nancy Pelosi probably set a record for the longest speech on the House floor by talking for eight hours on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Thursday, as my Bloomberg View colleague Francis Wilkinson discussed. Here's my guess about what she's up to.

With Senate negotiators agreeing to a spending deal -- which includes quite a few Democratic priorities but nothing on immigration -- the House minority leader was in a difficult spot. The compromise bill is a classic middle-against-the-extremes compromise, which isn't a bad day's work for a party that doesn't have the White House or majorities in either chamber of Congress. It will presumably pass the Senate this morning. But with a lot of House conservatives looking to vote "no," Speaker Paul Ryan will need quite a few Democratic votes for the bill to pass.

That's tricky for Pelosi, because most of her caucus has pledged to vote against any further continuing resolutions that don't contain a DACA fix. And they probably suspect that Pelosi wouldn't mind seeing the compromise pass, then fighting for the Dreamers in the next round, despite the damage done in the meantime. 

Her speech, then, signaled several things. To House Democrats who care deeply about immigration, Pelosi was sending as strong a signal as she could that she's on their side. To Paul Ryan, she's making a serious pitch that her caucus cares deeply about the issue, and that if he really cares about avoiding a shutdown, he'll make the commitment she's asking for to allow a vote. And to the news media, she's arguing that if there is a shutdown, it's because Ryan (and President Donald Trump) failed to grant a vote -- not just failed to compromise, but wouldn't even permit a vote -- on a popular issue.

Her speech didn't make a shutdown more likely. Republicans already were asking for plenty of Democratic votes. All Pelosi was doing was signaling that those votes might not be available unless Ryan gives something in return -- and that just as he is catering to those Republicans who are most strongly against immigration, she has similar constraints on her side of the aisle. 

Of course, Ryan could avoid a lot of this if House Republicans were united on spending. But they are not, and that's what gives Democrats the leverage they have.

Most media analysts (not all) claimed that the Republicans "won" the January mini-shutdown. And yet it appears Democrats have a good chance of walking away from the continuing showdown with most of their priorities granted other than on immigration, and there's still about as good a chance they can get a DACA fix now as there's been at any other point. Of course, Congress isn't passing what a Democratic-authored spending package would look like; after all, they are in the minority. But I still don't see many flaws in what Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are doing. If they lose, it's probably because the votes just weren't there for them, not because they were outmaneuvered or didn't fight as hard as they could for the Democratic agenda. 

1. Marian Currinder on the state of the re-election incentive in the House. One thought: How big a difference is there by party? At the very least, Democrats don't have committee term limits. Democrats in 2007 through 2010 were quite a bit more centralized than they had been when Tom Foley was speaker, but I don't think the committee structure had atrophied nearly as much then as it has now. What's less clear is whether prospective Democratic committee chairs in 2019 would be as prepared for real legislating as their counterparts were last time around. 

2. Dan Drezner on the Devin Nunes memo

3. Sofia Fenner at the Monkey Cage on the upcoming election in Egypt.

4. Also at the Monkey Cage: Jason Jordan on what voters have learned about presidential candidates.

5. Excellent Matt Glassman item about member incentives and why Congress often doesn't do what seems to be the right thing.

6. Jacob Levy on the importance of Trump's words

7. "Building norms and institutions takes generations, but destroying them does not": Stephen Saideman on civilian-military relations. For what it's worth, I think there's a good chance that the news of Trump's parade was leaked by the Pentagon in hopes of killing it. The comments from Congress were pretty good; what's less clear is whether anyone will attempt to force a floor vote to prevent the parade, and if so, what would happen. 

8. And Ryan Goodman at Just Security on the Chuck Grassley-Lindsey Graham letter and the Nunes memo.

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