Fury: Liberals and Moderates Rage at Each Other at Closed-Door Meeting of House Democrats

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Posted: Mar 01, 2019 1:05 PM
Fury: Liberals and Moderates Rage at Each Other at Closed-Door Meeting of House Democrats

Earlier this week, House Republicans scored a second surprise victory on a 'motion to recommit,' one of the lower chamber minority's few procedural tactics.  During a legislative battle over gun control legislation, more than two dozen Democrats backed a GOP proposal to require that ICE be notified whenever an illegal immigrant is flagged attempting to purchase a firearm.  Republicans succeeded in another MTR gambit several weeks ago, adding language condemning anti-semitism to a foreign policy vote, a move clearly designed to isolate and shame Rep. Ilhan Omar.  Following these losses, Democratic leadership is reeling, leading to a fiery closed-door party meeting, during which various factions of the party reportedly sniped at each other:

House Democrats exploded in recriminations Thursday over moderates bucking the party, with liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threatening to put those voting with Republicans “on a list” for a primary challenge. In a closed-door session, a frustrated Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lashed out at about two dozen moderates and pressured them to get on board. “We are either a team or we’re not, and we have to make that decision,” Pelosi said, according to two people present but not authorized to discuss the remarks publicly. But Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the unquestioned media superstar of the freshman class, upped the ante, admonishing the moderates and indicating she would help liberal activists unseat them in the 2020 election. Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, said she told her colleagues that Democrats who side with Republicans “are putting themselves on a list.”

Moderate-leaning Democrats did not take kindly to such threats, reminding more left-wing members that the new majority was built by freshmen who were able to win purple and even red-tinted districts:

They insist they are not going to be dissuaded from voting with their districts, and many are warning that majority control is at stake...Inside the Democratic meeting, one of those freshmen — Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.) — reacted sharply to Ocasio-Cortez’s comments and rose to urge her colleagues to respect the political reality of representing a swing district, according to multiple people present. A spokesman for Torres Small did not respond to a request for comment.

According to reports, Speaker Pelosi lashed out at wayward members, demanding that they stop voting with Republicans on procedural motions -- even musing about the party withholding campaign assistance to those who aren't sufficiently loyal to the team.  House leadership is now debating whether to avoid these internecine fights moving forward by changing the rules in such a way that limits MTR's effectiveness as a tactic:

Democratic leaders are considering changing House rules to make it harder for Republicans to spring surprise procedural votes on the majority after several embarrassing incidents on the floor in recent weeks. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other top Democrats are weighing revising the House rules to require Republicans give them more notice on specific procedural votes, known as a “motion to recommit,” a wonky tactic that the GOP has used to force Democrats to vote on a range of controversial issues since January...The debate over whether to change the House rules to limit the minority party’s influence is expected to come up Thursday when Democrats huddle for the weekly whip meeting, led by Clyburn. Multiple Democratic aides cautioned that the discussions of modifying House rules are still in the early stages and nothing has been agreed to or endorsed by leadership.

Ironically, what to do about Republican efforts to divide Democrats on these votes is simultaneously opening up a schism within Democratic leadership:

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Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn have watched with alarm for weeks as Republicans have continued to win Democratic support for their controversial amendments, often from freshmen who have privately expressed concerns about the GOP using these votes against them in campaign ads...Pelosi again restated her belief that Democrats should stay unified on these votes...But Hoyer and Clyburn have embraced a different strategy, saying some vulnerable members should be free to vote with Republicans if they feel it will benefit their district. A senior Democratic aide put the onus on Hoyer and Clyburn for the ongoing problem, saying the two leaders are not communicating with each other about which members they have cut loose to vote with the GOP, creating a problem that is difficult to fix.