COMMENTARY: Pelosi’s bid for speaker puts Democrats in disarray

COMMENTARY | Ruben Navarrette Jr.

To the victor goes the mayhem. Democrats in Congress are learning that lesson as they manage their way through hard feelings and even harder choices.

It’s always more fun to lead the resistance than to actually have to lead. And sometimes the first decision is the toughest, like who gets to hold the gavel.

On Monday, 16 House Democrats signed a letter declaring that they would oppose Nancy Pelosi’s bid to once again serve as House speaker.

The theme of the rebellion? One word: change.

“Democrats ran and won on a message of change,” they wrote. “Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-won districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington. We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise.”

The pro-Pelosi faction pointed out that the rebels included Utah’s Ben McAdams, whose race against incumbent Rep. Mia Love was still too close to call as of late Tuesday.

The anti-Pelosi crowd responded that there were still more Democratic lawmakers who had said they were opposed to Pelosi becoming speaker who hadn’t signed the letter.

One thing is beyond dispute: The California Democrat is in trouble. Pelosi needs every vote she can get if she hopes to continue what she accomplished during her first stint — from 2007 to 2011.

Remind me. What did Pelosi accomplish the first time around? She helped President Obama round up the Democratic votes to pass the Affordable Care Act, and certainly that was no small thing. But hardline liberals did not get everything they wanted from Obamacare, and Obama himself deserves much of the credit for last-minute arm-twisting.

Besides, Pelosi took a pass on other major issues: immigration reform, entitlement reform and education reform to name just a few.

It’s true that Pelosi is highly skilled in the only language that many members of Congress understand: fundraising. She is also the Democrat whom Republicans love to hate, which feeds the legend that she is also the one they fear the most.

Of course, some Democrats may look askance at Pelosi for snagging the not-so-coveted endorsement of President Trump — a blessing that isn’t so surprising when you consider that Trump was, up until a few years ago, a liberal Manhattan Democrat who had given Democrats lots of campaign contributions. According to some political observers, those contributions helped Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in 2006 — which, of course, led to Pelosi being named speaker. But Pelosi’s backers could also argue that she is in the best position to forge compromises with the White House on common-ground issues, such as repairing America’s infrastructure.

However, while Pelosi definitely has her attributes, they were not enough to quell the uprising among Democrats.

Pelosi’s defenders glibly claim that those who say she shouldn’t be speaker can’t say exactly why that is.

Really? I can say.

For one thing, it’s not about ageism or sexism — or any -ism in fact.

Under normal circumstances, the fact that Pelosi is 78 might disqualify her. But, as you have probably noticed, these days, nothing about politics is normal.

For baby boomers, the 70s are the new 40s. Republicans are rallying around a 72-year-old commander in chief. In 2020, Democrats might have to choose between a 73-year-old Hillary Clinton and a 78-year-old Joe Biden.

Then, of course, you have those Pelosi supporters who can’t help but play the gender card and insist this latest rebellion is about men not wanting to answer to powerful women. But that argument works better when the glass ceiling is still intact; Pelosi shattered this one 11 years ago, when she became the first female House speaker. Back then, sexism didn’t stand a chance. And it wouldn’t fare much better now.

There are three better reasons as to why Pelosi shouldn’t re-claim the gavel.

>> Geography. She’s from San Francisco, California — a liberal city in a dark-blue state. She would do more to broaden her party’s appeal if she were from Saginaw, Michigan, or Marion, Ohio.

>> Novelty. Democrats have played this game before, and it didn’t end well. Pelosi had her turn at bat, and it’s hard to imagine that she has a whole new set of legislative priorities to address in the new Congress.

>> Consistency. Democrats have been bragging about how they brought into the process young people and minorities, and it would serve them well to elect leaders who reflect that diversity.

Face it, Congressional Democrats are a hot mess. And if they don’t choose new and better leaders from this point on, things will only get worse.


Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. His email is ruben@rubennavarrette. com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available on apps.