In the last month the GOP’s issues around Trump and their Senate majority’s uneasy alliance with the President has been overshadowed by Democratic strife in the their House majority. While Democrats remained united in their first big test in January and February over the government shutdown, the party’s Congressional wings are increasingly at each others throats.
Let’s me back up a second to explain. The Democratic majority’s ranks were bolstered in 2018 by not just centrist Democrats representing formerly red turf, but also a number of progressives, primarily women, elected in majority-minority districts or heavily white and affluent districts. While centrists in 2018 ran on protecting healthcare their progressive colleagues ran on impeaching Trump.
For the most part, centrists moderate progressives let’s call them, managed to maintain power in the House with the election of Pelosi as Speaker. But, younger, and more progressive members, still chafed. On a host of issues they have tried to push Pelosi left while on the other hand, endangered freshman have tried to have Pelosi moderate the party agenda.
For the most part, Pelosi has sided with her centrist wing as they are why Democrats have a majority in Congress. But, this has only added to the angst of progressive rabble-rousers.
These members have already gone toe to toe with Pelosi before. First, there were anti-semitic comments made by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. If that was not bad enough, Raashida Tlaib got embroiled in a tit-for-tat with several Jewish Democratic chairmen when she suggested donations to Israel meant they had dual loyalty. Then, Pelosi publicly rebuked the idea of impeaching Trump. Finally, tensions boiled over on immigration.
A few months before the Trump administration requested additional funding for border security and handling the influx of illegal children at the border. Democratic leadership and centrists generally went along with the request but they added some restrictions. In order to appease her most progressive members, Pelosi added in a number of progressive items including strengthening Congressional oversight. The bill passed. But, the Senate passed their own, more conservative version, and dared Pelosi to oppose it. She didn’t and the bill passed.
But more than half of Democratic leadership oppose the bill. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez publicly lambasted the speaker while a literal shouting match occurred on the House floor where Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) accused his fellow Democrats who voted for the bill, to child abusers.
When Pelosi fired back that she is responsible for the entire Caucus and singled out AOC by name for her opposition to the deal, the result was instantaneous. AOC and the progressive caucus fired back this would not happen if AOC was not a “woman of color.” Ironically, several members of the CBB have called the idea ludicrous.
The divide in the Caucus could not have come at a worse time for the party. It boils over right before Robert Mueller is set to testify on his report, Trump is attempting to ratify his replacement for NAFTA, and difficult negotiations over the budget and debt ceiling are upcoming.
It also comes in the heat of a Presidential nominating process where virtually every major Democrat with a chance of winning has moved leftward. More centrist candidates are shouting warnings to the party and failing to gain traction in the polls.
While there are certainly legitimate issues around the border, the monster the party has made around gender and racial identity was sure to surface at some point. But, it unnerves party leadership and distracts from the party’s efforts to show they can govern. Far from being different from their GOP predecessors, the Democratic majority is just as fractured and divided. When combined with a GOP Senate and President, once the symbolic votes are complete, they are not able to compromise even among themselves.
Mostly likely, the impact of this divide will not be at the electoral level next year. The Presidential contest is likely to help or hinder Congressional candidates, especially freshman lawmakers. Rather, from a policy perspective, it means lots of soundbites, cat-fights and internal tension without anything meaningful really coming out of Congress. This is likely to only further gridlock government.
Much as Trump caused the GOP to evolve and adapt so has he done the same for the opposing party. Democrats never truly settled around a single idea of how to beat Trump or Republicans and took a scatter-shot approach. It certainly worked at the Congressional level but now the political fallout is clear. A divided Congressional majority and a fractured Presidential field. Right now, Democrats are making Republicans look good.
It should be noted Trump injected more fuel into this fire on Sunday when he suggested AOC, Tlaib and Omar all should go back to their failing states. It unified Democrats once again against the President but also shows there is little uniting the Caucus other than opposition to the President. Not a winning strategy to govern.