"The Nancy Problem"
-- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had just finished a typically
discursive floor speech shortly before the year-end adjournment
when a very liberal member approached her second-in-command, Minority
Whip Steny Hoyer, and whispered in his ear: "Steny, is it
not time for a coup?"
was not time to oust Pelosi and replace her with Hoyer. House
Democrats do not get rid of their leaders with coups, as Republicans
have during the last half-century. Nevertheless, dissatisfaction
with Pelosi's performance is pervasive across the ideological
spectrum. Her colleagues grumble that under her leadership, the
party lacks focus and a clear agenda necessary to take advantage
of Republican disarray.
is referred to by some House Democrats as "the Nancy problem,"
but it really transcends failings of their party leader. They
remain tied to obsolete practices that freeze in place aged committee
leaders. Their rhetoric betrays inability to free themselves from
New Deal tax-and-spend policies. The Republican majority looks
divided, out of gas and threatened by serious scandals. But Democrats
fear they are ill-equipped to seize their opportunity.
Caucus vote that propelled Pelosi to power was cast Oct. 10, 2001,
when Pelosi defeated Hoyer for party whip, 118 to 95. But the
authenticity of that outcome always has been questioned inside
the caucus because of the exaggerated influence by Pelosi's fellow
Californians. Thirty of the outsized California delegation's 31
Democrats voted for Pelosi, some reluctantly. Minus them, Hoyer
had a clear edge over Pelosi of 95 to 88.
inside and outside of Congress see the wrong person elevated as
their House leader by accident of geography. It is hard to deny
that Hoyer surpasses Pelosi in backroom strategy sessions, in
floor debate or in television interviews. The man from southern
Maryland seems a better voice for a party trying to expand its
base than the woman from San Francisco.
gap between minority leader and minority whip is wide and visible.
Hoyer is no conservative and delivers the partisan stemwinders
expected of a party leader. But he also is unapologetically pro-business
and pro-national defense, while Pelosi consistently runs in the
opposite direction. Hoyer voted to go to war and for bankruptcy
reform, while Pelosi was against both.
John Murtha in effect called for immediate U.S. military withdrawal
from Iraq, Pelosi in the secrecy of the party caucus embraced
that dangerous political course. After two weeks of internal debate,
Pelosi backed down to Hoyer's position of effectively letting
the House members individually pick their own way.
It is not
ideology, however, that makes many Democrats yearn for Hoyer.
The congressman who whispered about a coup in Hoyer's ear is much
closer to Pelosi ideologically. He and other Democrats are simply
appalled by Pelosi's image as a party leader. While she got by
delivering 60-second speeches as an ordinary congresswoman, she
seems distracted and lost in making four-minute Democratic closing
arguments on a bill.
sets an agenda nor offers inspiring messages, but she cannot be
held wholly responsible for the superficial quality of Democratic
rhetoric from the House floor. Debate on bills ordinarily is led
by the senior committee member, who is bound by cliches and stereotypes.
One of the best and longest lasting of Newt Gingrich's reforms
when he became House speaker in 1995 was to institute term limits
for Republican committee heads. The Democrats keep their leaders
as long as they live.
management of legislation in the House is handled by the likes
of John Dingell, 79, Energy and Commerce Committee (25 terms);
Tom Lantos, 77, International Relations (13 terms); John Conyers,
76, Judiciary (21 terms); David Obey, 67, Appropriations (18 terms);
and John Spratt, 63, Budget (12 terms). These are men who generally
talk about moving the previous question more than moving the nation.
of such senior citizens and the 65-year-old Pelosi produce a mind-numbing
product that is not calculated to take advantage of an unpopular
war and a climate of scandal. Pelosi is reported fearful that
if Democrats do not finally regain control of the House this year,
she may be replaced by Hoyer. There are House Democrats who feel
that change ought to come sooner to prevent another election defeat.
2005 Creators Syndicate