Now is time for Dems to be the grown-ups

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— I watched from the

House gallery Thurs­day af­ter­noon when the Democrats’ so­cial­ist sen­sa­tion, Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio­Cortez, in suf­frag­ist white, rose to an­nounce her vote for speaker.

“Nancy Pelosi,” the 29-year-old fire­brand de­clared.

From the Repub­li­can back­benches came boos and de­ri­sive groans.

Oca­sio-Cortez, D-N.Y., later com­plained about be­ing sin­gled out. “Over 200 mem­bers voted for Nancy Pelosi to­day, yet the GOP only booed one: me,” she tweeted. “Don’t hate me cause you ain’t me, fel­las.”

Ac­tu­ally, the Repub­li­cans love Oca­sio-Cortez, in the same way Democrats love Mark Mead­ows and oth­ers among the Repub­li­cans’ far-right Free­dom Cau­cus. They hate her pol­i­tics, but they hope the young rep­re­sen­ta­tive will sow divi­sion among Democrats. They were boo­ing her be­cause, this time, she didn’t.

The de­ci­sion by Oca­sio-Cortez and oth­ers on the far left about whether to work with or against their party will de­ter­mine the fate of the new ma­jor­ity and of the resur­gent pro­gres­sive move­ment. The Democrats’ re­turn to power af­ter wan­der­ing in the wilder­ness for eight years — and 20 of the past 24 — holds both great promise and great peril for them.

If they can stay uni­fied, they will be an ef­fec­tive coun­ter­weight to the Trump lu­nacy, es­tab­lish­ing the Democrats as the party to be en­trusted with gov­ern­ing. But if they are split by in­ter­nal di­vi­sions, they could be­come an easy foil for Pres­i­dent Trump, lose sub­ur­ban seats that gave them the House ma­jor­ity, and pos­si­bly hand Trump a sec­ond term.

The coun­try is on fire. This is the time for Democrats to be the grown-ups vot­ers want.

It’s not the time for Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., with­out wait­ing for the Mueller re­port, to an­nounce plans to in­tro­duce ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against Trump.

Pro­gres­sives aren’t solely to blame. Even af­ter a re­bel­lion by mod­er­ates got Pelosi to ac­cept lead­er­ship term lim­its, 15 Democrats re­fused to vote for her on the floor — in­clud­ing fresh­man Rep. Jeff Van Drew (N.J.).

“No,” he called out when the clerk asked who he was vot­ing for. Dr. No?

Be­cause “No” is not a per­son. Van Drew’s vote — dis­sent for the sake of dis­sent — was switched to “present.”

At the ful­crum be­tween Demo­cratic unity and divi­sion is Oca­sio­Cortez, a so­cial me­dia sen­sa­tion who has en­dured hys­ter­i­cal at­tacks from the right.

A few hours af­ter her vote for Pelosi, Oca­sio-Cortez swung the other way on the first sub­stan­tive vote: She op­posed a res­o­lu­tion


setting out new House rules, pain­stak­ingly ne­go­ti­ated by the en­tire Demo­cratic cau­cus.

Her ob­jec­tion: a bit of ac­count­ing ar­cana known as “paygo.” She ac­cused her Demo­cratic col­leagues of “a dark po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­ver de­signed to ham­string progress” on health care and other leg­is­la­tion. The pas­sion­ate dis­sent was cu­ri­ous, given that the pro­posed rule is al­ready cur­rent law, was a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment over the Repub­li­can rule and, any­way, is rou­tinely dis­re­garded. Only two Democrats joined her re­bel­lion.

Oca­sio-Cortez has be­come known for such stands. She joined a sit-in at Pelosi’s of­fice de­mand­ing a se­lect com­mit­tee on cli­mate change — though Pelosi had said two weeks ear­lier that she fa­vored such a com­mit­tee.

Later, Politico re­ported that Oca­sio-Cortez was seek­ing a 2020 pri­mary chal­lenger to Rep. Ha­keem Jef­fries, D-N.Y., a pop­u­lar African Amer­i­can pro­gres­sive and House leader. She de­nied it.

She and other left-wing new­com­ers can have a salu­tary ef­fect. Their protest over lob­by­ists’ pres­ence at an un­of­fi­cial ori­en­ta­tion at Har­vard for new mem­bers led to a re­think­ing of the event. Their ad­vo­cacy for Medi­care-for-all health cov­er­age has nudged Pelosi to ac­cept hear­ings.

But now comes de­ci­sion time. Will Oca­sio-Cortez and fel­low hard-lin­ers be­come the left’s ver­sion of the Free­dom Cau­cus? Will they ob­ject to H.R. 1, the Democrats’ ethics and vot­ing-rights pack­age, be­cause it doesn’t go far enough in ban­ning cor­po­rate money? Will they with­hold sup­port for bills un­less they can force votes on Medi­care-for-all and abol­ish­ing Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment? Or will the fire­brands build sup­port for their causes with­out forc­ing vul­ner­a­ble col­leagues to cast sui­ci­dal votes on bills that won’t be­come law?

Demo­cratic unity is what gives them the up­per hand in the shut­down bat­tle, as some Repub­li­cans openly ques­tion Trump’s strat­egy. Demo­cratic unity also al­lows them to ap­peal to the large ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans dis­gusted with Trump, as Pelosi did dur­ing her ac­cep­tance speech, ut­ter­ing “bi­par­ti­san” seven times, prais­ing George H.W. Bush and ap­prov­ingly quot­ing Ron­ald Rea­gan on im­mi­gra­tion.

There was si­lence on the Repub­li­can side, now a shrunken sea of old white men. “You don’t ap­plaud for Ron­ald Rea­gan?,” Pelosi taunted.

A dis­as­trous pres­i­dency has given mem­bers of the pro­gres­sive move­ment an ex­tra­or­di­nary op­por­tu­nity — if they don’t blow it by fight­ing among them­selves.

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