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Why House Democrats fell in line and Republicans didn’t


In the game of expectations that is American politics, losing is the new winner.

The Republicans are putting their future Speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, through a grueling series of public tests, with his ultimate fate uncertain. So far, at least five Republicans have said they will oppose McCarthy’s candidacy when it comes to a full House vote in January. He needs 218 votes.

By contrast, House Democrats nearly anointed their new leaders, a triumvirate of Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar of California.

At the end of a process that took place largely in private, over the months the three lawmakers quietly won overwhelming support and eliminated possible rivals, such as Representatives Adam Schiff of California and Pramila Jayapal. from Washington. If the election or leadership transition has exposed any major ideological cracks in the House Democratic firmament, they are not yet evident.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped down, as did her lieutenants, Steny Hoyer of Maryland and James Clyburn of South Carolina. Assuming all goes according to plan, the average age of the House Democrats’ leadership trio will drop from 82 to 51.

To understand why the Democrats aligned while the Republicans did not, I spoke with Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Congressional Editor at The New York Times. Here is what she said:

Democrats appear to have staged their transition to new House leaders with as little drama as possible, while Republicans could experience a turbulent few weeks. What explains the difference?

You have to see how different the personalities and political situations of the two parties currently are.

Republicans are coming off of a historically disappointing midterm election that gave them a slim majority and only one house of Congress, so they’re in finger-pointing and recrimination mode, and it’s still exacerbating divisions.

Democrats, on the other hand, are celebrating a much better-than-expected result that allows them to retain control of the Senate and a strong enough minority in the House to make life difficult enough for Republicans if they can hold together — or even potentially getting the things they want done – and now they have a real incentive to do it.

Then you have these two rulers who couldn’t be less similar. McCarthy, the Republican presidential candidate, has been in a pretty precarious position within his party for some time now. He had to walk that delicate balance between being a traditional conservative leader and serving the far right in his conference, who view him with suspicion and have really gained influence and now feel very emboldened to shape what the new Republican majority will look like. As. He was never the type of leader capable of exercising true discipline over his people, and certainly isn’t able to do so now.

Contrast that with Pelosi, who is basically at the peak of his power even though his party just lost a majority. She’s been extremely good at controlling her caucus, including finding ways to deal with a fairly restless progressive left, and has spent a lot of time and energy and negotiating over the years to orchestrate exactly the outcome she wants and thinks he is the best for his party.

Also remember that Pelosi’s critics within the Democratic ranks have long been calling for her to finally let go of the reins and allow another generation of leaders to rise, so Democrats have the added advantage of having plenty of suppressed appetite for this to happen.

This is another reason why you saw the other two leaders below her, Hoyer and Clyburn, retire relatively easily. They knew that while they didn’t want to follow Pelosi out of leadership, the base really wanted this change. Without her freezing everything in place, as she has done for many years, they wouldn’t have been able to push against the tide.

Jeffries has big shoes to fill. Are there any signs so far that he intends to lead the Democratic caucus differently from Pelosi?

It’s hard to imagine anyone leading the Democratic caucus the way Pelosi did, and she and Jeffries are quite different.

He’s got nowhere near the track record that she has, whether it’s driving major, complex bills through the House or raising the kind of money that Pelosi has, so there’s going to be a Pretty steep learning curve on those two things. Jeffries also came into politics in New York as an insurgent trying to shake up the machine, so he’s less of a party leader than Pelosi, and he’ll come under some pressure from below to run things in a less top-down way. .

That said, he’s had a front row seat to Pelosi’s fairly masterful command over his people and dividends that can pay off at critical times, so there will be a temptation to try and emulate some of that. Will he be able to? Not clear.

Pelosi said she did not intend to give unsolicited advice, although she did not resign from her seat. Are Democrats happy with this unusual arrangement or are they worried it will overshadow the new team?

I think most Democrats take her word for it that she wants to step back, but it will be interesting to see what that looks like. Those of us who have covered Pelosi closely over the years have a hard time imagining him in the backbenches. She’s not a woman who likes to give up control.

But part of what we saw last week was a leader who is now very focused on a graceful exit, on not being seen as clinging to power after she is no longer wanted and on the using his remaining time in public life to restore his legacy. So I guess she’ll find a way to hang back and be a presence, but not overwhelming.

Life in the House minority can be quite daunting. Are Democrats more willing to fight Republicans and regain power or try to find ways to work with them over the next two years?

I think it depends on who you ask. There are a lot of moderates who recognize that with a very small Republican majority, there is an opportunity for the Democrats to get things done and play a fairly central role, since their votes will be needed to offset the extreme votes. right on the Republican side that just won’t be there for most major bills.

And in the Senate, there’s a real desire to do as much as Republicans are willing to do, though it’s unclear what political space there will be for that kind of cooperation.

But I would also say that there are a good number of Democrats who will be very reluctant to work with members of a party that they consider completely extreme and irredeemable, and who will do whatever they can to fight the Republican agenda.


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