Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

Breaking Nancy

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 5, 2009

pelosiNancy Pelosi’s autocratic streak is, to be modest, several miles wide. The Speaker is very proud of the coalition she has built that catapulted her to power and she is not afraid to drive legislation down that broad avenue at breakneck speeds. Unfortunately for the Speaker, her speeding Congressional Cadillac seems to have struck a Blue Dog in the road.

Regular Order is the lifeblood of most legislative bodies; it is the full process by which a bill makes its way through the subcommittee-committee-floor process, with amendments and rewrites attached by the Members. Through Regular Order a bill is, in the best cases, refined and improved through numerous changes and the introduction of differing viewpoints into its fabric. In the worst cases, it turns a good and concise bill into a bloated disaster of contradiction and fat. Running bills through Regular Order is the most inclusive, fair way of moving legislation– it takes some power out of the hands of leadership and allows the rank and file to have input on a bill. It also adds time to the progression of a bill and causes leadership aides to age prematurely and drink copiously.

Regular Order is also something that was dispensed with out of hand by the former Republican Majority and also something which Ms.Pelosi had promised time and again to redress and reinstate as a part of a return to bipartisanship in the House. There’s a little glitch, though– running outside of Regular Order is really fun for Leadership– no annoying amendments offered by Members whom they don’t totally control, program bills fly through mark up and reach the floor when the Speaker wants them to, the Speaker’s vision being not only the only one that reaches the floor but also is the only one that even is allowed to exist within the limestone walls.

Now, someone has called the Speaker’s bluff and demanded a return to Regular Order. Worse from Ms. Pelosi’s point of view, they have found a champion, and that champion is possibly the only person in the entire city that she fears, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

The Blue Dog Coalition, the group of conservative Democrats who are a consistent pain in the ass of the far left of the Democratic Caucus, were, well, mildly disturbed by the process in which the stimulus package was shoved down their canine gullets. The package was shot through the process with very little opportunity for input from the rank and file (read: no chance of input) to the point that most legislators were forced to vote without so much as a chance to have staff read the thing in any meaningful way. Pelosi insisted that this was done at the behest of the President and the nation– the stim package was needed and needed quickly with no time for legislative detours. This may or may not be true according to your personal beliefs, but Pelosi had the protective cover and she was damned well going to use it.

The Blue Dogs saw it somewhat differently, as just another broken promise from Leadership that resulted in a flawed bill full of the Speaker’s fondest wishes and lacking the gravitas of a bill to deal with an emergency situation. The lack of input from those in the building feeling the crisis most acutely– the individual CongressCritters whose office phones were ringing off the hook and who were watching interns spontaneously combust after reading through their seven thousandth email on the topic– is a death blow in the opinion of the Blue Dogs, who always bring a sense of having been disrespected to everything they do.

Having endured one indignity too many on the one bill too important to screw up, the Blue Dogs penned a letter demanding a return to Regular Order as being integral to the Congress being able to correctly do the people’s business. Moreover, they backhanded Pelosi across the chops with a reminder that if she failed to do this, she’d be no better than the Republican Congress that caused so much of the mess we’re in to begin with due to their fiscal irresponsibility as fostered by the Speaker’s ramming bills through the House with no input from the Minority or dissenters within the Majority. That, as they say, is going to leave a mark.

Nancy Pelosi might be the most powerful Speaker we’ve seen in decades in terms of her ability to rule by fiat and the fear she’s instilled in much of her Caucus. Nobody has been willing to take her on directly in a meaningful way; for the most part the best we’ve seen are pinprcks from people like Kirsten Gillibrand and the like trying to buck seniority in committee placements and against Leadership wishes. The Blue Dogs circulating this letter, which as of tonight is starting to get a lot of support from other groups within the Majority, is the first crack in Nancy’s dam.

Yet the letter isn’t addressed to her as Speaker. And that is where this gets very, very interesting from a tactical point of view.

Calling for a change to the way bills are moved is a serious business, no matter how you cut it. Doing so by very publicly appealing to a power outside of the Speaker’s office– particularly this Speaker’s office– seems shocking to me. The Blue Dogs, bless their cyanotic little hearts, are involved in something that they’re hoping is going to be much bigger– they addressed the letter to the Speaker’s number one frien-emy, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Worse, Hoyer publicly supported the letter. Very publicly.

Hoyer came out strong in talking to reporters about the letter, being careful not to criticize Czar Nancy but also leaving no doubt at all that she was in the wrong and he was championing the cause against her, implicitly signing on to the “you’re no better than Coach Denny” snark of the letter. The only question at this point is if he’s being opportunistic or if he drafted the thing in the first place. The Blue Dogs, for their part, aren’t making any bones about why they chose to send the letter to Hoyer– “… because this group has no better friend in this fight”, said a widely quoted yet markedly anonymous aide to a Blue Dog.

There’s no love lost between Hoyer, who wanted to be Speaker, and Pelosi, who acceded to the job in 2006. Steny has been a good soldier for these past few years, doing as Pelosi required, but there’s been a palpable sense that he’s doing it out of duty, not belief. Pelosi is the manager-as-king type– hell, she’s freezing her own people out of the process, much less the Republicans– whereas Hoyer is a “Member’s Leader” in much the same way you’ll hear a baseball manager referred to as a “Player’s Manager”. As anger coalesces around Pelosi’s freezing out of even senior Democrats, the Blue Dogs and Hoyer may have just broken the reign of terror that Nancy has used to keep her people in line and quiet despite her excesses. Many of her Democratic Members were appalled — outraged may be an even better word– at how the Speaker, at the helm of a wildly unpopular institution with Members who were going to have to run in a mid-term, publicly kicked the crap out of a Patrick Fitzgerald-gagged Rahm Emmanuel and by extension then President-Elect Obama a couple of months back. Telling Emmanuel that his opinions were not needed in selecting members of the House leadership and that if Obama himself wanted to talk to a Democratic Congressman he was to call her first for permission and then call her afterwards for a debrief were not wise and were not well received by a Membership that wants to grab as much of the Obama glow as they can for their own re-election purposes. It showed the Speaker at her very worst, deluded into thinking that she is the only powerbroker in DC with any claim to leadership of the Democratic Party and thus the nation. You know and I know that doing that to Obama, and especially doing it to Obama through the baddest bad ass in all the land, Mr. Emmanuel, would not go unnoticed and unpunished.

As I wrote last month, that punishment started with the snub of Pelosi-pal Diane Feinstein when the Intelligence leadership was named without consulting her as the incoming Chair of Senate Select Intelligence despite conferring with her rank and file committeemen. As I see it, that was the opening shot. This Blue Dog maneuver needed a boost from somewhere in its defiance of Nancy, especially now that we’re seeing so many others signing on to it– they must, absolutely must, have been assured cover from someone who they believed could cover them. That someone has a funny shaped office just down Pennsylvania Avenue and employs the dissed Mr. Emmanuel.

Tonight Pelosi is coquettishly running up the white flag– she’s making all the right noises about returning to Regular Order and is trying to save face by claiming that’s what she intended all along, just as she’s been saying for the last two years… but not acting on. She’s between a rock and a hard place, which could make her very dangerous or could make her a squishy paste of CongressCritter roadkill in a few months time.

No matter how you cut it, the power dynamic within the House has changed dramatically within the last 48 hours, most likely for the benefit of the nation at a time when we truly need to step past rhetoric and work together, a lesson which the current Speaker is unwilling to take to heart.

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5 Responses to “Breaking Nancy”

  1. Katuko said

    Is Nancy Pelosi Stupid, or Does She Think We Are?

    The House has passed an amendment prohibiting the use of federal funds to seize private property for private economic development projects. In its report on the bill, the LAT quotes the Runaway-Bride-Eyed minority leader’s reason for opposing it. She said she doesn’t want to withhold federal dollars “for the enforcement of any decision of the Supreme Court, no matter how opposed I am to that decision.”

    This is, of course, a complete non sequitur. The Supreme Court’s Kelo decision in no way said that cities must take private property or that Congress should encourage takings. It said those takings weren’t constitutional prohibited. If anything, the House bill enforces Kelo, which requires legislative, rather than constitutional, protections at the federal level. Either Pelosi is an idiot or this is an ass-covering attempt to justify her support of takings by vaguely associating it with her support for Roe v. Wade.

    The LAT report also mentions that “California and at least eight other states have laws on the books that forbid the use of the eminent domain power to condemn private property for economic development, except in ‘blighted’ areas.” Does Pelosi oppose her own state’s laws as well?

  2. Sharptalons said

    Brilliant piece, Bob. I never though Pelosi and Obama could co-exist together. She’s far too abrasive to his calm demeanor. Apparently, the blue dogs have the president’s support in the ousting of Madame Speaker. So the question that needs to be ask, when does she become expendable? Its apparent that she’s rapidly approaching that threshold. LOL

  3. Chancellor said

    Great photo. I think it needs the caption “Have you had enough, or are you thirsty for more?”

    TheHill.com doesn’t back up your assertation that Hastert tossed Regular Order for any extended period of time – would you have a link on that?

    I’d have loved to have seen Hoyer win the battle for Speaker back in ’06; in fact, I think that’s something we agreed on in a RJ discussion. Given the situation today, both the nation and the president would certainly be better off with Hoyer as Speaker.

    I love the money quote:

    “You know and I know that doing that to Obama, and especially doing it to Obama through the baddest bad ass in all the land, Mr. Emmanuel, would not go unnoticed and unpunished.”

    Hell may hath no fury like a woman scorned, but I think Rahm’s in perfect touch with his feminine side on this one. 😉

  4. I need eye bleach to get that image of Pelosi with a whip out of my head. Thanks a lot!

  5. Bob Kohm said

    She gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Majority Whip”.

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