House Democrats could hurt party’s chances
The first important event of the 2020 presidential cycle will not take place in Iowa or New Hampshire. It will not be the first round of fundraising reports next spring or spikes on the applause metre at the first few cattle calls for prospective Democratic candidates.
Instead it will unfold in the nation’s capital in the test of wills between the leader of the new Democratic-controlled House and U.S. President Donald Trump.
That leader could well be Nancy Pelosi, the current House minority leader and former House speaker. She was the star of many Republican ads run during the election this fall and a favourite foil of the president.
She is said by Republicans to be a toxic political figure to the GOP base. She is also a tough and shrewd politician and a skilled legislator who led her party to victory last Tuesday.
Many Democratic candidates ran away from her during the campaign, however, vowing not to support her for another term as Democratic leader.
She mostly ignored that during the campaign, urging candidates to do whatever they needed, but to “just win, baby,” as she put it during an appearance at Harvard’s Institute of Politics in October.
Her post-election moves have signalled no concern on her part that she will not be elected speaker. The day after the election, she held a news conference immediately after the president’s encounter with the White House press corps.
She followed that with a prime-time interview on CNN and with steps and announcements about House business.
She continues to be the face of a Democratic Party that now has power to confront the president in ways they could not during the past two years. Pelosi plays her cards close. The moment of truth for those in her party who would like not to see her as speaker will come soon. As early as this week there could be a better indication of just how real the threat to her bid for speaker is.
At this point, there is no challenger who has stepped forward, only names bandied about. Her allies continue to express near-total confidence that she will prevail.
The coming days will reveal whether she underestimates the desire for new leadership in a new House.
No matter the outcome of the leadership elections, what the Democratic leaders do with the power they now have could enhance the chances of the party’s 2020 presidential nominee of winning the White House, or it could diminish them and give Trump a head start on re-election.
There is precedent for the latter that provides lessons for the new Democratic majority in the House.
Pelosi has set out an agenda for House Democrats, starting with a package that would include reforms in campaign finance, voting rights and government operations.
The agenda includes health care and infrastructure. On health care and infrastructure, the president might be prepared to deal with the Democrats, a mutually beneficial coming together that could happen if the stars align.
But it’s the other part of the Democrats’ agenda that will complicate the relationship with Trump, as he made clear in his post-election news conference.
House Democrats will have the power to exercise oversight of the administration, which the current Republican majority has failed to do.
How far and how aggressively it goes is the question that will set the tone for the next year, perhaps more.
Trump warned of total war if Democrats go down that road, without specifying his red lines.
Pelosi has been careful and cautious in her comments about the investigative powers, particularly on the question of opening an impeachment inquiry. She has been in regular communication with the lawmakers who will oversee the key committees. She has said repeatedly that there should be no effort to impeach a president for political reasons.
If special counsel Robert Mueller comes forward with a report that involves crimes or constitutional violations, the House almost certainly would move to impeach. But it is the grey area in between oversight of this or that agency and an investigation focused on the president that will require the exercise of judgment by the leader of the Democrats in the House.
No matter the outcome of the leadership elections, what the Democratic leaders do with their newfound power could harm or enhance the chances of the party’s 2020 presidential nominee.