House Democrats could hurt party’s chances

Toronto Star - - WORLD - DAN BALZ

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.

DOUG MILLS THE NEW YORK TIMES FILE PHOTO

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.

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