San­ders’ rise fu­els Dems’ angst; Pelosi won’t in­ter­vene

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Alan Fram and Lisa Mas­caro

WASH­ING­TON » Sen. Bernie San­ders’ as­cen­dancy as Democrats’ lead­ing pres­i­den­tial hope­ful fu­eled grow­ing un­ease as law­mak­ers openly ex­pressed anx­i­ety that the self-pro­claimed demo­cratic so­cial­ist could cost them House con­trol and ques­tions abounded over what party lead­ers should do.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, DCalif., Wash­ing­ton’s most pow­er­ful Demo­crat, sig­naled Thurs­day it’s not her role to try thwart­ing San­ders to pro­tect the House Democrats’ ma­jor­ity.

“Our re­spon­si­bil­ity is to win the House,” Pelosi told re­porters at the Capi­tol. “My re­spon­si­bil­ity is to make sure that those we elected last time re­turn to Congress, keep the ma­jor­ity and add to our num­bers. The pres­i­den­tial is its own race.”

The speaker down­played a meet­ing later Thurs­day at Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee for law­mak­ers to re­view the party’s rules for the July nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion in Mil­wau­kee. This sum­mer the elected of­fi­cials could play an over-sized role as del­e­gates help­ing to choose the party’s nom­i­nee if no pres­i­den­tial can­di­date emerges with the ma­jor­ity.

While San­ders sug­gested re­cently that a plu­ral­ity was enough to se­cure the nom­i­na­tion, Pelosi re­it­er­ated the party rules that say the nom­i­nee needs the ma­jor­ity plus one.

“Who­ever the nom­i­nee is of our party we will whole­heart­edly support,” she said. “Our gospel is one of unity, unity, unity.”

Yet with San­ders, I-Vt., rid­ing high after early nom­i­nat­ing con­test wins in New Hamp­shire and Ne­vada and a vir­tual first-place tie in Iowa, other House Democrats were less san­guine.

Time was grow­ing short to head San­ders off. South Carolina holds its pri­mary Satur­day, fol­lowed three days later by Su­per Tues­day, when con­tests in 14 states and one ter­ri­tory will de­cide one-third of the del­e­gates to this sum­mer’s Demo­cratic con­ven­tion.

Rep. Tom Mali­nowski, a fresh­man from a closely di­vided New Jer­sey district, said Democrats have “a sim­ple path” to de­feat­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump by fo­cus­ing on health care, the econ­omy and a prom­ise that their pres­i­den­tial can­di­date won’t lie. “I don’t want to squan­der that op­por­tu­nity” by nom­i­nat­ing a con­tender who di­vides Democrats, he said in an un­spo­ken ref­er­ence to San­ders.

Fresh­man Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., who de­feated an in­cum­bent Repub­li­can in 2018 in a swing district in coastal Vir­ginia, said a San­ders can­di­dacy would be “in­cred­i­bly di­vi­sive” and en­dan­ger more cen­trist law­mak­ers like her­self. The for­mer Navy com­man­der said of GOP ef­forts to paint all Democrats as so­cial­ists, “Bernie San­ders just adds fuel to that fire.”

Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., a leader of his party’s House moder­ates, said there is widespread con­cern among law­mak­ers from com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts “that a San­ders can­di­dacy would sink their re­elec­tions.”

Peters, whose San Diego district is safely Demo­cratic, said San­ders would com­pli­cate moder­ates’ re­elec­tion bids be­cause “the face of the Demo­cratic Party might be spout­ing things that are ab­so­lutely anath­ema to your vot­ers.” San­ders ad­vo­cacy for “Medi­care for All,” the Green New Deal and stu­dent loan for­give­ness has alien­ated many moder­ates.

Asked what Pelosi was do­ing about San­ders, Peters said, “I hope that we do have a con­ver­sa­tion as a party” about his impact on en­dan­gered Democrats.

Try­ing to halt San­ders’ rise, one cen­trist can­di­date, Pete But­tigieg, ar­rived on Capi­tol Hill on Thurs­day to meet with law­mak­ers. He pitched his own electabil­ity to the Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus’ po­lit­i­cal arm, ac­cord­ing a se­nior Demo­cratic aide fa­mil­iar with the pri­vate morn­ing meet­ing.

But­tigieg didn’t rail specif­i­cally against San­ders, as he has on the de­bate stage, but made a case for support to about a dozen Latino law­mak­ers, the aide said.

Of the 42 House seats Democrats gained in 2018 when they cap­tured the ma­jor­ity, 29 are from dis­tricts that Trump ei­ther won in 2016 or lost by a nar­row 5 per­cent­age points or less. Most of them are moder­ates.

Repub­li­cans will need to gain 18 seats in Novem­ber’s elec­tions to win House con­trol, as­sum­ing they re­tain three va­cant seats held pre­vi­ously by the GOP.

Pelosi said House Democrats won last time with an agenda rooted in low­er­ing health care costs that re­mains the top pri­or­ity head­ing into 2020.

She was more pointed in re­marks to re­porters Wed­nes­day. “We’re not go­ing to lose the House,” Pelosi said. “We’re go­ing to be united by whomever is the can­di­date for pres­i­dent. But we are tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for win­ning the House, and we’re not as­sum­ing any­thing. But we feel very con­fi­dent.”

Hours after No. 3 House Demo­cratic leader James Cly­burn en­dorsed for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den for the Demo­cratic nod, Cly­burn de­clined to say Wed­nes­day whether it was time for Pelosi to speak up. “I don’t tell peo­ple what to do po­lit­i­cally,” Cly­burn, from South Carolina, told re­porters.

Asked if San­ders would cost Democrats the House, Cly­burn said, “I don’t know if he will or not. It’s not a chance I want to take.”

Speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, one Demo­cratic law­maker from a com­pet­i­tive district said many party moder­ates were ea­ger for Pelosi to do some­thing to hin­der San­ders’ drive to­ward the nom­i­na­tion.

No law­mak­ers in­ter­viewed spec­i­fied what lead­ers could do to help side­track San­ders. Any ac­tion they took would risk back­fir­ing by an­tag­o­niz­ing lib­eral vot­ers who all Democrats will need this fall.

San­ders’ rise has put many Democrats in a del­i­cate sit­u­a­tion sim­i­lar to what many Repub­li­cans faced four years ago. As Trump roared to­ward the GOP nom­i­na­tion, his anti-im­mi­grant views and per­sonal foibles soured Repub­li­can con­gres­sional can­di­dates, but many chose not to aban­don him and risk alien­at­ing their party’s base, con­ser­va­tive vot­ers.

Un­der­scor­ing the tricky po­lit­i­cal ter­rain they face, sev­eral vul­ner­a­ble Democrats said Wed­nes­day that they would back who­ever their party’s nom­i­nee is, but stopped short of say­ing they would cam­paign with San­ders.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks dur­ing a news conference on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, Thurs­day.

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