Changing leadership with Pelosi at the helm by Marjorie Arons-Barron

Congressional leadership of the Democratic Party is going to change. It’s not a question of whether but how and when.  Despite the best efforts of North Shore Congressman Seth Moulton, who is spearheading the movement to depose former and probably future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, she won overwhelming support of the Democratic caucus, with 203 voting for her, 32 voting no, and three blanking the race.  The final vote will be on the House floor in January, and much of the Democratic Party agenda depends on her ability to hold the party together and use her not inconsiderable leadership skills to restore the balance of power in Washington.

The 78-year-old Congresswoman has led the party since 2002. We can argue that objections to Pelosi are exacerbated because many people still object to “strong women.” There is a bias despite the fact that she has been an extraordinary leader, incomparable fund raiser, and the single most important person in getting the Affordable Care Act passed (It should be called PelosiCare more than ObamaCare.) She is also expected to play a key role in preserving it, especially protections to restricted coverage of pre-existing conditions.

But her top leadership team are also “of a certain age.”   (Some highly qualified legislators have left the House because they saw no path to upward mobility.)  She’ll need 218 votes of the House, if everyone votes. If Democrats in tight races who pledged to oppose her and voted against her in the caucus simply vote present in January, she’ll need fewer votes.

So far, Moulton has been unable to outplay Pelosi strategically. He couldn’t even find someone to run against her.  She shrewdly gave Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, whom Moulton had urged to mount the challenge,  chairmanship of a new subcommittee on voting reform.  It’s an important responsibility, at which Judge should do well.  There are other younger Reps whom Pelosi is moving up.

Moulton seems disinclined to run for Speaker himself, perhaps (when not courting Presidential buzz) preferring to position himself to run against Senator Ed Markey in 2020.  He supported a national network of veterans running for office, and clearly demonstrates he has an eye on a larger future. One hopes he hasn’t so ticked off Pelosi that it will reduce his effectiveness in Congress for the next two years. That would be bad for Massachusetts.  Moulton has been an outspoken proponent of the North-South rail link underneath Boston, connecting North Station with South Station, and linking Maine with destinations along the east coast.  Like the Big Dig, it can’t be built without significant federal support, something that would have been easier to achieve if Ayanna Pressley hadn’t defeated Michael Capuano, positioned to become chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the next Congress.  Now, Moulton might not even get Capuano’s seat on the committee.

He has drawn criticism for spearheading the opposition to Pelosi, but let’s give him credit for pressing the reform issue.  New rules are in the offing, giving more opportunities for bipartisanship, requiring hearings on bills, taking testimony, moving proposals through the process and actually holding votes.  He was independent and brave, but he seems to have gravely miscalculated Pelosi’s strength and the dangers of achieving a Pyrrhic victory.  Now he hints he’d back off if she publicly gives a date certain for stepping down.  Though she speaks of being a transitional Speaker, she has not given a firm date – and with good reason.

Once Paul Ryan announced he’d step down at the end of this term, he became a lame duck Speaker of the US House of Representatives, unable to advance a productive agenda.  Nancy Pelosi is working hard to avoid becoming irrelevant. One problem is the Democrats who tipped marginal districts blue and have pledged not to vote for Pelosi for Speaker.  They should be given breathing space to honor their pledge to constituents, lest they lose their districts in 2020. But, if Democrats coming from safe districts also insist on toppling the Speaker, digging in their heels and  sowing discord, it could be a blown opportunity to turn things around in Washington. The intra-party bloodbath could be dangerous now through 2020.

The insurgents should consider the move by MA Congressman Steve Lynch, one of the 16 signatories to a Moulton-inspired letter opposing Pelosi.  Notwithstanding his friendship with fellow signatory Tim Ryan of Ohio, Lynch has recently said he will not, in fact, oppose Pelosi. Doubtless he doesn’t want the kind of chaos created by the Freedom Party when it toppled Republican Speaker John Boehner. Watch Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter and similar Pelosi “no” votes  work behind the scenes in a not-readily transparent strategy to effect a quiet transition plan with consequences for failure to honor it.

Without a rigid exit plan,  Pelosi can remain effective while laying the groundwork for the younger generation, providing them opportunities to show what they’re capable of.  Too little attention has been paid to building a bench, in effect the bridge to the future.  More than anyone in the House at this time, Pelosi has a chance to break gridlock around immigration, health care, infrastructure and other policy changes while restoring the balance of power in Washington and holding the President accountable for his stewardship, or lack thereof.   It seems a deal worth making.