When the 112th Congress convened on Wednesday and the clerk called the roll to elect a new Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, still the leader of the decimated Democratic Caucus, sat by as a full one in ten of her colleagues abandoned her.
The Nineteen Democratic Reps. who refused to vote for her were more “Pelosi defectors than anticipated,” tweeted Josh Krushaar of National Journal’s “Hotline.”
A testament to how cohesive, and liberal, the Democrats’ drubbing has left their caucus is the fact the Pelosi remains at the helm of the caucus. She easily survived a challenge by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) and retained leadership of House Democrats by a 150-43 split. Many of the frustrated moderate Democrats in marginal districts that might have voted to topple her lost their seats in November. Most of the survivors were never in serious danger, reelected in solidly Democratic seats, and pleased as punch with Pelosi’s vigorous Speakership.
Krushaar is right about one point: it was surprising for so many of Pelosi’s colleagues to abandon her on a speaker’s election. It was the most a party’s official candidate for speaker had lost since eight Republicans rebelled against an ethics-challenged Newt Gingrich 1997, when House Republicans were reelected to a second consecutive majority. And considering the Democrats’ shrunken caucus, the bloc’s numbers amplifies the act of discontent.
Though the number of defectors was - Krushaar’s tweet - “more than anticipated,” none of the defections themselves were real shockers. Each of “Nancy’s 19” has exhibited an independent streak, or doesn’t buy into the entire Democratic agenda.
Krushaar cited three names in his tweet - Dem. Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (AZ), Sanford Bishop (GA) and Ron Kind (WI) - that surprised him. They were all indeed votes in favor of health care, but they’ve all been discontent with the caucus before. Blue Dog Bishop has compiled the most conservative voting record of any Congressional Black Caucus member ever. Kind has been an outspoken deficit hawk since he was first elected to Congress. And Giffords - a member of both the Blue Dogs and the trade-friendly New Democrat Coalition - scored near the bottom of party unity scores in the 111th Congress.
(UPDATE: This post was filed Fri. evening before the shooting of Rep. Giffords in Tuscon. As has been amply noted after the tragedy, Giffords has been a consistent and ardent supporter of gun rights, even supporting overturning of the District of Columbia' s gun control laws.)
The rest of the dissenters were also Blue Dogs except for Rep. Dan Lipinski of Chicago, who voted against health care reform on its first vote, but came around on final passage. Lipinski voted for Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), a fellow economic populist from a Catholic, Rust Belt urban ethnic district with a socially conservative bent. Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC) has not formally joined The Coalition, but his voting record has trended in a conservative direction as the 111th Congress progressed.
Liberal commentators can’t dismiss “Nancy’s 19” as the final harrumph of a dying breed of cranky white male conservative Democrats. (Fmr. Dem. Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi refused to back Pelosi on the speaker vote in the past and fit that stereotype perfectly. Taylor survived 1994, but finally went down in 2010. Blue Dog Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) must have considered that when he voted for his Peach State colleague and civil rights movement veteran Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in lieu of Pelosi.)
In addition to CBC member Bishop and EMILY’s List favorite Giffords, two Hispanic Reps. from California’s agricultural heartland - Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza - voted for each other. And, “Nancy’s 19” hail from all over the country: they’re not just from the rural South. They’re turf stretches from Dem. Reps. Mike Michaud of Maine to Kurt Schrader of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
If the various defectors of “Nancy’s 19” weren’t all that surprising on the individual level, the fact that they banded together and rebelled against the famously powerful ex-Speaker is noteworthy.
We will see if Rep. Pelosi learns her lesson in the 112th Congress and reaches out her entire caucus or she chooses to exact retribution, making more enemies and eroding her base to its rump.