Professor: Pelosi risks losing House if she fails to keep ‘novice firebrands’ in check

March 11, 2019 by Ben Marquis

What began as an attempt by Democrats to specifically condemn Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) for her anti-Semitism ended up being a watered down and essentially meaningless condemnation of “hate” and bigotry in general that didn’t reference Omar at all.

But despite the fact that Omar hasn’t faced any real punishment for her offensive comments, there are some who understand that Omar’s behavior could pose a threat to the Democratic majority in the House — and they are calling on Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take substantial action to save that majority from the potential threat.

Pelosi’s majority at risk

In an op-ed column for USAToday, Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker wrote that it is incumbent on Pelosi to use the incredible power her position holds to bring the several upstart young freshmen members of her caucus into line, lest their progressive leftist shenanigans lead to backlash from voters against more moderate Democrats in swing districts.

Baker pointed out the oft-overlooked fact that Pelosi’s House majority was delivered not by the elections of “novice firebrands” like Omar, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — all hailing from deep blue districts considered safe for Democrats — but by moderate Democrats who managed to claim victory in traditionally red or purple districts.

As such, those barely-held seats in swing districts are threatened if the moderates who now fill them are ultimately held accountable by outraged voters for the anti-Semitic antics of Omar, or for the ridiculously absurd and implausible proposals put forward by Ocasio-Cortez and others like her.

Control via committee assignment

That sort of outcome, which could easily result in Republicans regaining control of the House, could conceivably be avoided if Pelosi were to take firm action against the young rabble-rousers in her party, action that would whip those individual members into shape and send a message to others that falling out of line and causing trouble for her will not be tolerated.

Arguably the most effective means of punishment at Pelosi’s disposal, as Baker points out, is her control over committee assignments for members of her party, given that obtaining certain committee assignments is akin to “political life or death” for many members.

Another method of punishment wielded by Pelosi is control over the Rules Committee, responsible for deciding which proposed bills will be considered by other committees and which are sent to the floor for a vote.

In the case of Omar, Pelosi could potentially save her majority and prevent future trouble from the young upstarts by removing the Minnesota congresswoman from the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee and placing her somewhere far less impactful, such as the House Administration Committee, which deals with such mundane things as managing the portraits and statuary on Capitol Hill.

Time is of the essence

“Pelosi cannot allow herself to be pushed around by junior members who run no political risk by making comments and proposals that threaten the very colleagues whose courage to fight on uncertain terrain brought the Democrats to power,” wrote Baker.

“She needs to kick butt and take names, and do it fast,” he concluded.

It remains to be seen if Pelosi will ever take significant action against members like Omar, or if her fear of a backlash from her own members and party base will compel more inaction from the ostensible leader of the Democratic Party.