David Dayen is probably the sharpest observer of congressional politics I've ever spoken with. And now, as executive editor of the American Prospect he's regularly sharing his insights with the magazine's readers-- a bargain at twice the price! Yesterday, Dayen wondered aloud why there is no accountability from inside the caucus of the big tent party for a doddering, sclerotic House leadership no longer capable of leading anyone anywhere. Dubbing the Capitol an "accountability-free zone," he painted a cultural picture that is the polar opposite of Japanese seppuku.
With Utah Blue Dog Ben McAdams' concession yesterday, the House Democrats have now lost ten incumbents, all conservatives from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party:
Harley Rouda (New Dem-CA)
Gil Cisneros (New Dem-CA)
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell-Powell (New Dem-FL)
Donna Shalala (Relic-FL)
Abby Finkenauer (secret New Dem-IA)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Xochitl Torres Small (Blue Dog-NM)
Max Rose (Blue Dog-NY)
Kendra Horn (Blue Dog-OK)
Ben McAdams (Blue Dog-UT)
There are several uncalled races and it is unlikely that Anthony Brindisi (Blue Dog-NY) and perhaps TJ Cox (New Dem-CA) will be back in Congress in January. Of the two dozen Republican seats that were "in the bag," a far-fro- promising Democrat, Carolyn Bourdeaux, won one (GA-07) and an even worse worst-example-of-a-faux-Democrat, Christy Smith, may win one more (CA-25) when the counting is complete. The DCCC and it's affiliated House Majority PAC raised nearly half a billion dollars this cycle. They have nothing to show for it but a pile of ashes.
Like Dayen, OpenSecret's Karl Evers-Hillstrom wrote that the House Dems' "disastrous results" will results in no changes in House leadership. "The lack of a challenger this time around," he wrote, "signals that while House Democrats are stung by their 2020 losses, the caucus isn’t strong or united enough to choose a new leader. Then there’s Pelosi’s ability to bring in campaign cash. No other Democrat can say they’ve mustered anything close to the amount of money Pelosi raised for the party in 2020. That matters in an era where positions of power in Congress-- whether they’re leadership roles or committee assignments-- come at a price." Really? Or is that more party establishment bullshit? Virtually all the losing Democrats outraised all the victorious Republicans-- sometimes 2, 3, or even 4 fold! Here are just a few examples-- the 5 corporate-backed freshmen Blue Dogs... currently looking for new jobs:
Xochitl Torres Small (46.1%)- $7,509,987 vs Yvette Harrell's $2,498,130
Max Rose (42.1%)- $8,350,467 vs Nicole Malliotakis' $3,052,007
Anthony Brindisi (44.5%)- $5,359,636 vs Claudia Tenney's $2,053,931
Kendra Horn (47.9%)- $5,465,349 vs Stephanie Bice's $3,089,972
Ben McAdams (46.9%)- $5,137,258 vs Burgess Owens' $4,021,248
Evers-Hillstrom emphasized that "Pelosi’s joint fundraising committee, the Nancy Pelosi Victory Fund, raised a whopping $23.7 million through September 2020, up from $3.7 million through the entirety of the 2018 cycle. It transferred $20 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ campaign arm. Pelosi’s campaign committee transferred another $1.6 million to the DCCC. Then there’s Pelosi’s leadership PAC, PAC to the Future, which contributed the maximum $10,000 to nearly every House Democrat running in a remotely competitive race. Those are just committees with Pelosi’s name on them. Pelosi also hosted numerous high-dollar fundraisers that brought in millions of dollars for Democrats, including a June event for wealthy donors featuring celebrities including John Legend and Jennifer Lawrence. The committee for the event, Hold the House Victory Fund, raised $7.5 million for the DCCC and 30 frontline House members."
Dayen noted that what appeared to be a rare instance of personal responsibility-- DCCC chair Cheri Bustos' quick resignation-- was just another leadership scam, "a soft landing. She picked up a nomination for co-chair on the powerful Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, a secretive organization that primarily hands out committee assignments to all members. Nancy Pelosi pretty much runs Steering and Policy herself, and the co-chairs get a sinecure that makes them look important to their colleagues. For someone who blew a golden opportunity to build a lasting Democratic majority, it was a nice consolation."
Tomorrow and Thursday the House Dems will chose their "new" leadership team, basically by reconfirmed the failed old leadership team, "heading, noted Dayen, "into a dangerous midterm that could put the House in the minority. As of right now, the top three leaders, all of them over 80 years of age, who have been entrenched in their positions for 14 years, will run unopposed for another two-year term. The quick-strike leadership election, just a couple days after House members returned to Washington, is designed to frustrate any opportunity for opposition to form. But the fact that there are no challengers at all to Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn is still quite amazing, given what happened on Election Day... Because the House has been run like North Korea for the past decade and a half, with no successor groomed, there is no alternative to the past-its-prime leadership of the Pelosi era." Not many grassroots Democrats are paying attention to any of this, still celebrating the ascension of Joe Biden, a Republican-lite sack of corporatist crap. House leadership questions are not something many people are even remotely aware of. Here's what Dayan had to say about them:
Progressives and moderates have beat up on one another since the election. Centrists would rather talk about progressive ideas hurting their brand in swing districts, and progressives would rather talk about organizing and turnout in deep-blue areas saving Joe Biden’s skin. Neither of them want to address the issue of Nancy Pelosi, who has dictatorially controlled Congress since the pandemic began and is uniquely responsible for the work output and strategy since then. It’s easier to carp about ideology than deal with the actual problem.
House elections over the past decade have generally turned on whether Republicans completely alienated the electorate or not. House Democrats have been immaterial, because they’ve done next to nothing. For example, Democrats won a mandate in 2018 vowing to take on the cost of prescription drug prices. Pelosi commandeered the process and came up with a unworkable plan that alienated allies and tossed out work that had been done across the caucus’ ideological spectrum. Progressives had to credibly threaten to kill the bill to make it even marginally tolerable. After passage, it predictably generated no interest from Mitch McConnell, and no interest from a public health advocacy community that hated the end product, consigning it to the legislative dustbin.
The pandemic, similarly, saw Pelosi first create an economic relief package in the spring that didn’t last long enough, and then resist a second stimulus deal with Donald Trump to at least place the blame on McConnell directly for denying further relief. The unsatisfying result amazingly managed to tag Democrats as the party of both lockdowns and no economic help. The lack of meaningful oversight of the executive branch and the failure to take advantage of legislative opportunities left a caucus seeking power for little more than power’s sake.
This is how the House has been run for a decade, and it keeps failing in elections unless the GOP does something catastrophically wrong. Democrats didn’t have a counter to the usual conservative attacks about socialism because they literally didn’t run on anything tangible, hoping only that Donald Trump’s buffoonery would wear off on their opponents. That didn’t work.
Progressives claim to have better ideas on policy and messaging. But they’re making no play for the leadership positions that could push them forward, despite an even stronger position within the caucus (all of the losing candidates thus far were centrists). [Dayan insists on calling conservatives like Peterson and Rose and Horn "centrists." Whatever... at least he doesn't use the word "moderates."]
Because of a deal Pelosi made in 2018, she needs two-thirds support of the caucus to continue as speaker. A small contingent of progressives could force a new leader or at least concessions. That doesn’t appear to be happening.
...No progressive is in the running for the open DCCC position, though conversations are still taking place just days before the vote. According to my sources, several Progressive Caucus members have been asked to take a run at the spot and turned it down. Some cited family concerns and others that they didn’t want to be in charge in such a tumultuous cycle, when decennial redistricting and the usual midterm losses for the party of a new president could cost Democrats their majority.
That is fairly pathetic. There’s nothing preordained about the 2022 midterms that an actual strategy couldn’t fix. The fear of losing is preventing winning, once again. And now Bustos, who began her tenure by creating a blacklist for vendors who support primary challenges, immediately antagonizing (and paradoxically energizing) the left, is likely to be replaced by functionally the same person from a different district. The two leading candidates for the position are Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who was backing Republican mayors in his district as recently as last year and whose own race isn’t even called yet, and Tony Cardenas (D-CA), who ran the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLDPAC this election cycle, which was so successful that Latinos shifted in droves to Republicans.
By the way, I was one of Dayan's sources for the last two paragraphs and he happily used everything I told him except that Cardenas is a rapist of underage girls-- or at least one underage girl-- something that Republicans will be as eager to use against him as the Democrats are to cover it up.
There are several other leadership races this week as well. The current co-chairs of the Democratic Policy & Communications Committee (DPCC), Matt Cartwright, Debbie Dingell and Ted Lieu are all running for second terms and Joe Neguse (CO) is running for the seat being vacated by David Cicilline. On Thursday Dems will pick an Assistant Speaker (current Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark vs. current DPCC Chair David Cicilline, two progressives). That opens up the Caucus Vice Chair job and the two candidates are corrupt, conservative coke freak Pete Aguilar and moderate liberal Robin Kelly. I'm not 100% sure what the Caucus Representative does but none of the 3 candidates running for it are any good: Colin Allred (New Dem-TX), Jason Crow (New Dem-CO) and Brenda Lawrence (New Dem-MI).
Of course, the real play against Pelosi-- if the New Dems or even the progressives, are serious about ousting her-- is to vote for someone else for Speaker on Jan. 3-- and to keep doing so until the Caucus picks someone else.