So far, 2019 has been kind to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. After the Democrats’ 41-seat gain last year, Pelosi overcame internal opposition to become the first person in more than half a century to regain the speaker’s gavel after losing it. She outmaneuvered the White House over the showdown over the government shutdown. Neither were small accomplishments and Speaker Pelosi deserves credit for her political acumen.
With the left now reeling after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report failed to deliver the knockout blow for President Trump, Pelosi faces the biggest challenge of her young regime: keeping her impeachment caucus at bay. She was wise to take the air of out of that balloon before. Now she will face an immense amount of pressure to blow it back up.
News broke in Politico Playbook Tuesday that Rep. Rashida Tlaib. D-Mich., was circulating a letter to colleagues seeking support in re-upping the impeachment push. Hours later, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., reiterated that “impeachment is something that I openly support.”
Tlaib has never been shy about her disdain for her Speaker. After emerging from a crowded, Democratic primary last year, she declared that Pelosi, “doesn’t speak about the issues that are important to the families of the 13th Congressional District, and they are a priority for me.”
True, Tlaib was one of the 66 wavering Democrats who ended up backing Pelosi for speaker, but she owes her nothing. The only political threat she faces in her deep blue Michigan district is a primary challenge from her left.
From the moment Democrats roared back into the majority last fall, Pelosi’s critics – on both the left and right – were predicting her political demise. She was forced into accepting a two-term limit on the speaker’s gavel in order to quell the revolt.
While the energy of the grassroots lives on the left, the keys to Pelosi’s House majority runs up the middle, and she knows it. The reason she holds the speaker’s gavel today is 31 districts that went for Trump in 2016 before going blue two years later. Many of these seats were in Republican hands for decades. These are not voters in Queens or San Francisco. They’re in the suburbs of Florida and Virginia and Iowa. They could just as easily revert back should voters – who were willing to give Trump a shot before – decide that the Democrats have overplayed their hand.
In this era of social media, the upstart freshmen class have a mega platform to push their ideas. As National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar wrote, “media are typically drawn to the loudest and craziest voices, regardless of their power.” Ocasio-Cortez has become the left’s version of Trump – capable of driving and directing news cycles with 280 characters or less.
This new class of emboldened freshman has no sense of obligation to a denizen of Washington like Nancy Pelosi. They swept into power by combining blanket opposition to Trump with socialist schemes to re-make America’s economy, and the belief that voters handed them a governing mandate.
Like John Boehner and Paul Ryan before her, Pelosi has the unenviable task of trying to govern a group of outsiders more interested in disrupting the system than fitting in with it.
Even if Pelosi can put out the impeachment brushfire, thorny items like "Medicare-for-all" and the Green New Deal wait in the wings. It’s doubtful Ocasio-Cortez appreciated Pelosi’s dismissing her brainchild as “the green dream or whatever they call it.”
While the Speaker told her members that impeachment is “not on the table until it is on the table,” it is very much an open question if her restless caucus agrees, especially as President Trump’s victory lap continues. Desperate to deny him political momentum, House Democrats will be seeking new ways to obstruct and impede – a process that will put Speaker Pelosi’s leadership to its most serious stress test.