Speaker of the House? Pelosi the only choice

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY ELAINE KAMARCK New York Times Elaine C. Kamarck is a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and a lec­turer at the Har­vard Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment.

Nancy Pelosi cleared the first hur­dle in her quest to be­come speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives when the Demo­cratic Cau­cus voted over­whelm­ingly to nom­i­nate her for that position.

The fi­nal vote will not come un­til Jan. 3, when 218 mem­bers of Con­gress will have to vote for the new speaker. Pelosi will need 218 Demo­cratic votes. This week, 32 Democrats voted no on her nom­i­na­tion.

So be­tween now and 2019, Pelosi has some work to do. But the sim­ple fact is, at the mo­ment, there is no one in the Demo­cratic cau­cus bet­ter for the job. And it’s not even close.

The pri­mary role of a leg­isla­tive leader has rarely been to serve as the “face” of the party. She is not run­ning for pres­i­dent. It is in­stead the unglam­orous and com­plex job of mak­ing some sub­set of 435 in­di­vid­ual po­lit­i­cal en­trepreneurs come to­gether in the name of a po­lit­i­cal party.

Pelosi has al­ready said that she’d give oth­ers the spot­light when it came to the pub­lic part of the job. In the past, she has not been a reg­u­lar on TV news shows, in­clud­ing the pres­ti­gious Sun­day shows. Since 2007, when she be­came speaker of the House, she has had a cou­ple of chances to give the re­sponse to the pres­i­dent’s State of the Union ad­dress, one of the most cov­eted tele­vi­sion spots in pol­i­tics, but she took nei­ther one. Those spots went to two men: Sen. Jim Webb of Vir­ginia in 2007 and, in 2018, Rep. Joseph Kennedy III of Mas­sachusetts.

Even her de­trac­tors say that she’s best at one of the most crit­i­cal, if not most crit­i­cal, roles of speaker, which is to court votes and count votes. Count­ing is a lot more com­pli­cated than con­duct­ing a sur­vey. It in­volves un­der­stand­ing the po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges of each and ev­ery mem­ber of Con­gress and then de­vis­ing a leg­isla­tive pack­age that can pass. Some­times this en­tails com­pro­mise; some­times this en­tails struc­tur­ing the vote so that a mem­ber can cast a vote against an amend­ment and some­times this en­tails al­low­ing a mem­ber to vote against their party – if it al­ready has the votes to pre­vail.

Pelosi has shown her tough­ness over and over. For in­stance, in 2005, she played a cen­tral role in the bat­tle against pri­va­tiz­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity. For the Af­ford­able Care Act, she united both the left and right wings of her cau­cus. Later, as mi­nor­ity leader, she man­aged to keep the cau­cus to­gether enough to pre­vent the Repub­li­can Con­gress from chip­ping away at Oba­macare.

Fi­nally, a speaker has to be able to win ma­jori­ties. In the midterms, Pelosi and her lead­er­ship part­ner Steny Hoyer of Mary­land were a very big part of the rea­son that the party gained 40 seats. Hoyer re­cruited and cam­paigned with can­di­dates from the pur­ple or red dis­tricts where Pelosi was viewed as too lib­eral. She helped raise the mil­lions to make it all hap­pen. They both im­posed a stern mes­sage of dis­ci­pline on their can­di­dates, down­play­ing talk of im­peach­ment and fo­cus­ing Democrats on pock­et­book is­sues like health care.

Pelosi will need to con­vince about 17 Democrats to vote with her. If I had to bet, we’ll be say­ing “Madam Speaker” for the sec­ond time in Amer­i­can his­tory.

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