Pelosi's Transition

[ Posted Monday, October 22nd, 2018 – 16:36 UTC ]

Nancy Pelosi is not on any ballot outside of San Francisco, but you certainly wouldn't know this fact from seeing all the Republican campaign ads currently running nationwide. Pelosi is pretty much the only demon the GOP has left to demonize, at this point. Barack Obama sailed off into the sunset, and Hillary Clinton is pretty old news these days as well. Until a Democratic frontrunner for the 2020 presidential contest emerges, Pelosi is the biggest target the GOP has to take potshots at. It helps (for them) that she's a "San Francisco liberal," which doesn't have as much negative weight as it used to (it used to be nothing short of a thinly-veiled anti-gay-rights slur), but still arouses a goodly amount of disgust in the Republican heartland. So they've been trying to tie her to just about every Democratic candidate running east of the Sierra Nevadas.

To deflect the charge of "being a Pelosi stooge" (and worse), many Democratic candidates have already stated that they will not vote for Pelosi to become speaker of the House if Democrats take back control of the chamber in November. This insulates them from the "stooge" charge, and shows they can be independent of their party.

Pelosi, for her part, has taken a "whatever it takes to win" attitude, freeing up Democratic candidates to make pledges not to vote for her second speakership. At the same time, she sounds pretty confident that should Democrats actually take back control, that she'll then be able to successfully marshal her caucus in line and will indeed be a repeat speaker. At times, her attitude even sounds rather entitled, which isn't much of a political danger to Pelosi right now (she's going to be re-elected to her House seat no matter what she says, in other words), but could become more so when House Democrats have to decide who will sit in the speaker's chair.

Pelosi already defied tradition once, and she hopes to again. After becoming the first woman elected speaker in the nation's history, she lost control of the House in 2010. Normally, a defeated speaker would have not only handed over the gavel to her incoming Republican replacement, but would also have immediately stepped down from her House seat. It's awfully tough to be demoted in such a fashion, so most defeated speakers choose to end their political career on a high note rather than dig back in and try to win their majority back. Pelosi is now on the brink of finishing this journey both into and out of the wilderness, so it's hard not to say she's earned another crack at the speaker's gavel, really. If she can round up the votes to once again be speaker after the election, then she certainly deserves the job.

Pelosi set off a round of speculation recently by talking about an eventual "transition" out of the speaker's chair, though. As many have noted, the Democrats' leadership in Congress in general is pretty... well... geriatric. There are very few "young guns" in positions of power, which is actually pretty normal because a big factor in who gets the plum leadership positions has always been seniority. The longer you spend in Congress, the more leadership positions will open up to you, in other words. This is much more pronounced in the Senate, though, where seniority carries a lot more weight.

However, the energy in the Democratic Party right now is a lot more youthful than its leadership, which has led many to call for some new blood in the party's upper ranks -- and not just new blood, but younger blood. Both Pelosi and the Democratic National Committee have taken some limited actions towards this goal, but neither has really gone far enough quickly enough. This is a big issue that will need to be resolved if Democrats do take the House back. How can younger Democrats be prepared to lead their party if they aren't given crucial experience now? Pelosi's probably going to have to wheel and deal for some speakership votes, and this will be a key way she can do so -- by elevating younger Democrats into committee chairmanships and other important leadership positions.

The most obvious step Pelosi could take would be to decide to retake the speaker's chair in January, and then announce she will only serve a single term in this position. This will, if Democrats can manage to keep the House in 2020, mean a transition of power will take place in an orderly fashion. This could quiet down the talk of challenging Pelosi's speakership right now among the rank and file of the Democratic Party.

There are risks involved in such a strategy, of course. The 2020 election is already shaping up to be a barnburner on the Democratic side, where as many as two dozen people may throw their hat in the presidential nomination ring. And, for all of this to work out properly, the Democrats will have to hold onto control of the House and work hard towards regaining a majority in the Senate (the 2020 Senate map makes it a lot easier for Democrats to pull this off than the 2018 map, it's worth mentioning).

The biggest question is who will be sitting in the White House in 2021, of course. Being a new speaker with a Democratic president would be a lot easier than being one with a re-elected Donald Trump, obviously. But a speaker has to be tough, and able to stand up to such a trial by fire. For the right up-and-coming candidate, opposing Trump even more strongly than Pelosi would be a big selling point.

Pelosi recently pointed out the biggest risk for her in announcing she'll step down in 2020 -- by doing so, she would instantly turn into a species of lame duck, in a way. Because Trump and the Republicans would know she was eventually leaving, they could try to just stall and run out the clock until that happens. But the "out" party in the House has such limited power that this may not be all that effective for them, in the end.

So far, Pelosi has been pretty coy about her plans. She can't really get specific until after the election happens, for obvious reasons (not counting her chickens before they hatch, in other words). She's already leery of the lame duck label, so she might continue to hold her cards to her vest and not confirm or deny plans to step down in 2020 for a long time to come. She can probably get away with this for at least another year before she'll have to commit one way or the other.

It is pretty hard to begrudge Pelosi a final victory lap as speaker. She did an extraordinarily good job at it before, and since then she's also done a masterful job of keeping her caucus together on key votes. This has proven crucial, because the Republicans can't seem to get much of anything done on their own, due to their own deep internal divisions (the Tea Party has pretty effectively blocked almost the entire Republican agenda in the House, which is pretty extraordinary -- but they couldn't have done so if Democrats had been defecting across the aisle at the same time). Pelosi really deserves another shot at being speaker just for how well she's led Democrats during the interim.

Pelosi is an incredibly effective leader -- she knows what she wants to do and she knows how to get it done. She's got a wealth of institutional memory that will benefit Democrats for the next two years, that's for sure. Pelosi has never been afraid to pass bold progressive bills out of the House -- President Obama's problem was always with the incrementalist Democrats in the Senate, not the House. While Obama was in the White House and Harry Reid was in control of the Senate, Pelosi passed literally hundreds of good bills that were never voted on in the Senate. She can do so again, and she should get her chance to do so if Democrats retake the House in two weeks. She would be able to shape the 2020 Democratic agenda better than anyone else, if she passes bill after bill that was wildly popular with the public, which would then go on to die in the Senate. That's a very powerful argument for electing more Democrats, in other words.

Pelosi will also be a strong counterweight to Trump, as well. She knows how to fight him, and she's already proven how much she can get under his skin (to say nothing of getting under the skin of the entire Republican Party, as evidenced by all those negative ads that demonize her). She will unleash House oversight committees to provide a serious check on Trump's presidency, which is exactly what all those fired-up Democratic voters dearly want to see.

Pelosi well deserves a triumphant return to the speaker's chair. She would be incredibly effective over the next two years, and provide the biggest brake possible on the Trump administration. But she should realize that the cries for younger leadership cannot be ignored, and immediately move several younger Democrats into prime leadership positions. That way, she could announce next year that she'll be stepping down after the 2020 election and have several possibilities for House Democrats to consider as her replacement. She's already talking about the eventuality of such a transition, and she has it within her power to assure that such a handover of power will be as smooth as possible.

Handing the reins over after 2020 will also reap another enormous benefit to Democratic candidates, because Republicans will no longer be able to effectively use Pelosi in campaign ads for that entire election cycle. There haven't been any Democratic ads demonizing Paul Ryan this time around for a very good reason -- he said he'd be stepping down early on, so the question of his leadership of the House became a moot point for Democratic candidates. Pelosi could achieve exactly the same thing in 2020.

Pelosi is right -- no matter how it happens and no matter when it happens, there will indeed be a transition of power in the House Democratic caucus. Sooner or later, Pelosi will head back to California and hang up her spurs. She could have a huge influence on how this happens, and she could engineer a very smooth transition should she decide to do so (rather than fight it). In my opinion, she deserves a two-year dance in the end zone, and Democrats shouldn't begrudge her this. She spent a very long time in the wilderness, and her leadership during that time was exemplary and incredibly effective. She should be allowed to reap the benefits now, but the best possible thing for the Democratic Party as a whole would be if she realized that it will soon be time for her to graciously hand the speakers' gavel off to an up-and-coming star within the Democratic Party.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


15 Comments on “Pelosi's Transition”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Sure pelosi could step down... OR she could embrace a new political wave and change the course of party and country in a sweeter direction. if you rearrange the letters of her name, you get, "Sol Pie" - have some soul, have some pie, pelosi. Perfect!


  2. [2] 
    neilm wrote:

    "Find a woman to demonize" is the great new game on the right. Perhaps the 30-40% of women who still support Republicans will wise up once they realize that this is gender warfare against them. Probably not however.

    Pelosi will be on all the right wingers lips for the next two years of the Dems win the House - announcing that she will step down in 2020 will cause utter confusion - Tucker Carlson will be left stumbling around, the one thought that he has in his head being taken away from him.

    Bring on the "War on Women" - vilifying the majority of voters seems an odd way to try to win an election, but if it all you have (apart from trying to call women and kids from Central America "Middle Eastern Terrorists"), then you play your hand.

  3. [3] 
    neilm wrote:

    Ignoring over 50% (a majority) of eligible voters that reject both choices seems an odd, unproductive and unsustainable way to win an election

    You do understand how democracies work, right Don? If you don't show up to vote, you don't get a say.

    Let's take your premise that 50% of people don't vote because candidates take more than $20 or whatever your limit is. How does that explain the fact that these same people don't vote for other positions where there is no egregious financing? Or propositions?

    The 50% you have set your heart on aren't skipping voting because some of the choices that have to make are off putting, they are not voting because they are lazy, or don't see the purpose, or don't think their vote counts.

    Your premise is incorrect.

  4. [4] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    [5]Your premise is incorrect.

    I second that.

  5. [5] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Re CW's column:

    Once again, I categorically agree on all points. One reason Republicans hate her is that she does her job very very well. I hope she stays at least until 2020.

  6. [6] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Best Huffpost opinion piece today:

    The Death of Shame by Talia Lavin

    Not included in the article: Trump calling himself a Nationalist, a political moniker as loaded as an upscale baked potato.

    But at least he's finally dropping the pretense of respectability. Associating himself with an ideology that is itself associated with words like 'holocaust' has the virtue of being a very rare bit of honesty.

  7. [7] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    Anyone that criticizes a Democrat that is a woman is attacking her because she is a woman, not because she is a Democrat or her position in the leadership of the party.

    Obviously they're demonizing women that are Democrats, and your straw man argument is an epic fail, Don, that no one here said except you. But if you haven't yet clued in to the fact that the GOP/Trumplicans are playing to the fear of white males that they are under attack by women and the "others," then you're the one ignoring reality.

    Ignoring over 50% (a majority) of eligible voters that reject both choices seems an odd, unproductive and unsustainable way to win an election, but if all you have is the other choice is worse and your goal is maintaining the status quo- then you play your hand.

    Who are you accusing of ignoring eligible voters? Who are you accusing of being unproductive? Seems to me like you've got it completely and totally "bass ackwards."

  8. [8] 
    Kick wrote:


    You do understand how democracies work, right Don? If you don't show up to vote, you don't get a say.

    Exactly. Choosing not to vote -- for whatever reason -- is a valid option in this country. If somebody wants a person's vote or support for their political venture, it's up to that person to garner that vote or support. If they're unable to do that, it's nobody's fault but their own. Refusing to vote is a person relinquishing their say in democracy. Refusing to take "no" as an answer to one's political venture and continuing to troll others and accuse them for your own shortcomings is on Don and no one else.

    Don keeps continually whining on this blog about what is wrong with everyone else and offering up his supposed "words of wisdom" without seemingly even bothering to consider how they might apply to himself.

    If the "Big Money Republicans" and "Big Money Democrats" -- Don's terms -- are such failures, where does that leave his political venture on the scale of success?

    Let's take your premise that 50% of people don't vote because candidates take more than $20 or whatever your limit is. How does that explain the fact that these same people don't vote for other positions where there is no egregious financing? Or propositions?


    The 50% you have set your heart on aren't skipping voting because some of the choices that have to make are off putting, they are not voting because they are lazy, or don't see the purpose, or don't think their vote counts.

    Yes! And some people truly do not give a shit about any of it, as is their right in our democracy.

    Your premise is incorrect.

    Totally incorrect! And by that I mean Neil is totally correct. :)

  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    Could that be the real reason behind your opposition to One Demand?

    "One Demand" is the proverbial dead horse wallowing in fetid stench that you keep flogging. Anyone having an "opposition to One Demand" would mean they gave a shit one way or the other. I don't, and I would wager at this point that no one else does either.

  10. [10] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    neilm, Balthy, & Kick

    If they are not going to vote for Big Money Democrats or Republicans anyway, what harm is there in offering them another choice besides not voting?…Maybe some of these citizens would put in their say if they knew they had another option to say they want something different.

    Don believes that One Demand actually does something — giving voters “another choice”. His belief is not based in reality, but seems to focus on what he thinks it “could be”. You are in a debate with someone whose arguments are not based on how things are now with OneDemand (sometimes referred to as “facts”), but what he dreams them to be if only CW would make OneDemand the talk of the town!

    It’s a no win situation, which is why I had to just throw my hands up in frustration and drop conversing with Don over the subject. You have to realize that he isn’t debating the same subject matter that you are, even though you are both talking about OneDemand.

  11. [11] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i believe that pie does something, specifically taste really good. that's why i think voting based on pie is a far superior political strategy. you may not win, but hey, at least you had a yummy dessert.

  12. [12] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    nypoet22 [1] -

    You can also get "Ole psi" or "ie. pols" out of it. Heh.

    Don Harris [2] -

    What I hear from your posts: "blah blah blah..."

    neilm [3] -

    Good point. My wife constantly reminds me of the misogyny out there in the electorate, and you're right -- the GOP taps into that as much as they can, these days.

    Don Harris [4] -

    Blah blah blah.

    Balthasar [7] -

    My point exactly. If she was ineffective, she wouldn't be appearing in so many ads... "San Francsico liberal" or not...

    Don Harris [10] -

    You are completely ignoring what is projected to be a record turnout for a midterm, of course.

    Oh, and also: blah blah blah.

    Kick [11] -

    To quote Rush (Canadians, please take note!):

    "If you choose not to decide
    You still have made a choice"

    nypoet22 [14] -

    Didn't I write about this before?

    Heh. Happy Pi(e) Day to all!



  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    why do you refuse to address the real issue? just because you have written about pi the mathematical expression does NOT mean you've addressed the new political strategy based on pie the dessert food! as a supposedly reality-based blogger you are neglecting your responsibility to inform the people about the opportunity to change politics in our country. "pi day" is not a legitimate response to the question i've been asking for over a week now. you really should read back through the last week or two of comments sections and address the real issue. your silence on the matter is very disappointing.


  14. [14] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    nypoet22 -

    Have I fallen into a Bizarro cartoon? Heh. He likes the surrealistic aspects of pie as well...

    OK, I have fallen behind on addressing comments, you're right about that. I'll review and get back to you, how's that?


    But I make no predictions about pie in the sky or anything...



  15. [15] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, I seem to have traced things back to their origins, and can only quote:

    Make the pie higher!



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