by Keaton Weiss
At the start of the House session (January 3), Democrats will hold the narrowest majority by either party in modern American history. It’s still unclear at this writing what the exact makeup will be at the swearing in ceremony, as one House race is still too close to call, and some members are stuck in quarantine. Jimmy Dore’s initial estimate that 15 Democrats would be needed to withhold their vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House unless she agrees to bring Medicare For All to the floor, seems off by about a factor of 3; turns out, if current projections hold, around 5 Democratic defectors would suffice. Furthermore, conservative Democrat Elissa Slotkin has already pledged to vote against Pelosi for other reasons. Assuming she keeps her word, we’ve got one vote already that we didn’t even ask for.
However the precise math works out, it’s safe to say that the number of progressives needed to deny Pelosi the Speakership is somewhere in the mid-single digits, which gives the Squad and their allies tremendous power in the negotiation.
Still, some on the Left oppose this #forcethevote proposal. Common among people’s reservations is the issue of timing. Cenk Uygur called the idea “mistimed.” Democratic Socialists of America’s Medicare For All spokesperson Michael Lighty says “the time frame is tough.” AOC herself admitted she wants Pelosi out, but is concerned that no one is ready to replace her at the moment.
Of course, this is all nonsense. The “timing” for this is exactly right. Even setting aside the urgency of a “which side are you on” type of reckoning on this critical issue, the political composition of the House in early 2021 creates a uniquely perfect time to at least turn the screws on Pelosi, if not vote against her outright and vow to only replace her with a pro M4A Speaker.
It’s probably safe to assume that most of #forcethevote’s detractors have some understanding of the leverage a narrow majority hands to progressive House members. But what they seemingly fail to grasp is that this narrow Democratic majority won’t last forever. In two short years, it will almost certainly be gone, one way or another.
What will probably happen in 2022 is that Democrats will get clobbered and lose the House altogether. This is what usually happens to the incumbent president’s party in midterm elections, and Democrats’ miserable down-ballot performance in 2020 indicates that their beating will likely be particularly bloody next time around. Once that happens, the Left’s leverage within the party vanishes. Any intra-party battle at that point would merely be to determine House minority leadership. There’d be literally no path toward passing any progressive legislation in that scenario, making any challenge to the party establishment far less meaningful than it would be now.
But let’s suppose for a moment that the tide turns, and, somehow, Democrats make gains in the 2022 midterms. This also compromises progressives’ leverage, because at that point, we would need more House Democrats on board with such a pressure campaign in order to make it successful.
In other words, every seat a Democrat gains in the House means one more progressive would be needed to help execute this strategy, and if the Democrats lose their majority altogether, then there is no leverage strategy of any importance anyway.
So not only has there never been a better time for this pressure campaign, it’s overwhelmingly likely that there never will be again. Now is not the time for slow and steady movement building. Now is the time to take advantage of the fleeting opportunity we have to force a showdown with party leadership, who by the way, has no claim to legitimacy to begin with.
Nancy Pelosi is consistently opposed from within her own caucus by a handful of conservative Democrats. She now faces mounting ideological opposition from her left as well. Her nationwide favorability ratings are abysmal. She represents no one besides the archetypical wealthy coastal elitists most responsible for Democrats’ branding problem and their down-ballot losses in the first place.
Therefore, even if the Squad and other progressive House members are scared of the backlash from party bosses that forcing the vote could bring upon them, they also have to realize that time is running out to avert the aforementioned disaster that awaits the Democrats in two years. Add to this the fact that Republican control of state legislatures in a post-Census year means Congressional districts are about to get re-gerrymandered even worse than they already are, and we could be looking at a Democratic Party that, past 2022, has no national relevance at all for at least the next decade. If this doesn’t create a sense of urgency for even the most Democrat-adjacent progressives, what will?
I personally feel that no matter how this #forcethevote effort plays out, the Democratic Party will remain useless at best for years to come. Democrats just this past week voted overwhelmingly to fund the Pentagon to the tune of $740 billion, despite Bernie Sanders’ effort to stall the vote until $2,000 stimulus checks got their vote on the Senate floor. To me, this looks like a party that’s broken beyond repair. But if progressives in the House who choose to work within the system want to prove me wrong, and convince me that an inside-the-party strategy is worth pursuing, now is almost certainly their best and final chance to do it.
Photo: DIMITRI RODRIGUEZ