That defeat was the election by the Democratic Caucus of New Jersey’s Frank Pallone to be ranking minority member of the Energy and Commerce Committee over Pelosi’s choice, California’s Anna Eshoo. The election was conducted by secret ballot, and the vote was 100–90.
Those numbers are a vivid contrast to the totals in what was probably the most dramatic leadership vote in the Democratic caucus, the contest for majority leader in 1976, 38 years ago. The winner was Texas’s Jim Wright, who would go on to become speaker after Tip O’Neill retired ten years later. The loser was California’s Phil Burton. The vote was 148–147. Burton spent the rest of his life — he died suddenly in 1983, at 56 — trying to track down those who had committed to him but cast their secret ballot for Wright.
Do the arithmetic. There were 295 House Democrats voting in the caucus that year. This year there were 190.Seniority once determined chairmanships, but liberal Democrats in the 1970s shifted the decision to the Democratic Caucus. Republicans did something similar when they took over in 1994. Now anybody who wants to chair a committee has to raise a lot of money for the party. For years, Pelosi thrived in this system.
But in November 2010, Democrats lost 63 seats and their House majority. Democratic moderates virtually disappeared. Pelosi’s hold on the leadership remained strong. But this year she stumbled.
She pushed hard for Californian Eshoo, a close personal friend, though Pallone had more seniority. Black Caucus members, many with seniority, didn’t like that. Some resented Pelosi’s refusal to allow a pregnant and disabled member to vote by proxy.
Burton’s reform made the House Democratic Caucus more liberal — but also much smaller. Now Pelosi’s grip seems to have weakened just a little.Peter Nicholas, Siohhan Hughes and Byron Tau report at The Wall Street Journal:
“You’re going to get a fight within the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), as the progressive wing of the party splits from centrists, who fear that liberal economic policy proposals are unpalatable to most voters. “There is a substantial disagreement coming up.”
Democratic infighting has largely been out of public view for the last half-dozen years. Since Mr. Obama took office, Republicans have been the ones dealing with rifts. A conservative Tea Party wing clashed with mainstream Republicans in primary contests this year, jockeying for sway over the party’s ideological compass. That debate remains unsettled and is likely to play out in the 2016 Republican primaries.
Now, it is the Democrats who are looking increasingly fractious. Unusual as it was to see Mr. Schumer part ways with Mr. Obama on policy, it was even more extraordinary for himto target the Affordable Care Act, a law so tied to the Obama legacy.
Democrats, Mr. Schumer said, “blew the opportunity the American people gave them” by focusing “on the wrong problem—health care.” Key provisions of the health law, he said, affected relatively few voters. Instead, the party should have pressed for programs that would have raised wages and helped more of the middle class, he said.
Mr. Schumer’s comments drew angry responses from Obama loyalists. They said Mr. Obama had promised to break from a politics-as-usual attitude in Washington, while echoing the president’s argument that making health care more widely available boosted many Americans’ economic security.
David Axelrod, a top strategist in both of Mr. Obama’s presidential races, said: “If your calculus is solely how to win elections, and that is your abiding principle, it leads you to Sen. Schumer’s position. But that’s precisely why big, difficult problems often don’t get addressed in Washington, and why people have become so cynical about that town and its politics.”