Cottle: Can Nancy Pelosi keep the Democrats in line?

Cottle: Can Nancy Pelosi keep the Democrats in line?

May 14th, 2019 by Michelle Cottle / New York Times News Service in Opinion Times Commentary

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, meets with reporters the day after the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, escalating the legal battle with the Trump administration over access to special counsel Robert Mueller's report, at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington last Thursday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

"Own the center-left. Own the mainstream."

This is the advice — some might even call it a warning — that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been drilling into her caucus of late. If Democrats want to send President Donald Trump packing in 2020, she told The New York Times recently, they must resist being pulled toward the hard, partisan fringes in ways likely to turn off the middle.

Along with a slow and steady course on oversight — no impeachment talk, please! — the speaker is pressing a policy agenda more evolutionary than revolutionary. Democrats dominated the midterms, she said, with a "simple message" of better health care, better jobs and less swampy politics. "We did not engage in some of the other exuberances that exist in our party."

For a clearer definition of "exuberances," see: the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Pelosi's is a cautious prescription — one that, in addition to frustrating the less patient elements of her party, clashes with her long-standing image as a crusading San Francisco liberal. This incongruity flows partly from the fact that her caricature was always just that, a partisan construct Republicans used to fire up their base.

Count it among the ironies of the Trump era: After years of being vilified as the embodiment of "San Francisco values," Pelosi has become the ambassador for political moderation and mainstream policy.

The speaker's politics are progressive, but she's never been a purist. She was born into an old-school Democratic political dynasty in Baltimore. Her father, Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., served in Congress and as the mayor of Baltimore; her brother Thomas III also had a stint as mayor. Deal-cutting and constituent-tending are in her blood — and were crucial as she sweated, charmed and slashed her way to the head of the congressional boys' club.

Pelosi, to be sure, has always had an edge. In 2002, The Washington Post noted that she'd been in Congress over a decade before trying for a leadership post. "In part it is temperament," The Post wrote. "Pelosi is an unabashed advocate, less comfortable as a conciliator finding a middle road."

But with the energy in today's Democratic Party flowing from the left, Pelosi often finds herself herding her team back toward the center. Whatever her ideological sympathies, she does not intend to let woke progressives damage members from more competitive districts and imperil her majority. The bigger and more diverse the caucus, the harder she has to work to keep it in balance.

Pelosi remains dismissive, in that grandmotherly way of hers, of some of the bolder ideas backed by caucus rabble-rousers. This month, she oversaw the passage of environmental legislation focused on keeping the United States in the Paris agreement on climate change — a far cry from what she dismissed as the "Green Dream or whatever" championed by freshman phenom Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Most delicately, Pelosi keeps pumping the brakes on impeachment. In the past week, she has repeatedly charged that the president is "goading" Democrats to go down that politically treacherous road.

Caught between an outrageous president and her outraged base, Pelosi increasingly resembles less a "San Francisco" crusader than the staid grown-up in the room.

All this adulting is playing well with the public. Since Election Day last fall, the speaker's favorability numbers have ticked up, up, up. She has gained 10 points in Civiqs' tracking polls, with similar gains in other surveys.

If this keeps up, Republicans may soon need to experiment with a different line of attack — or find a new nemesis altogether.

The New York Times

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315