WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has earned her reputation as a Washington powerbroker through decades of tactful negotiating, a prowess that has made her both a Democratic champion and, to critics, the face of the Establishment.
When a new wave of progressive Democrats with Twitter megaphones and massive followings entered the House this year, it came as no surprise to Pelosi’s supporters that she was able to quickly win them over as allies and forge powerful political relationships, even landing on the cover of Rolling Stone smiling alongside the leaders of the new Democratic House resistance.
But Pelosi’s honeymoon period with the insurgent freshmen in her caucus could be near an end, following the rollout of a controversial Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee policy.
The policy change, implemented last month, states the DCCC “will not conduct business with … any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting member.” It’s a decision that has touched a nerve with progressives who won their seats by beating out incumbents in primaries, including big-star names like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Ro Khanna. Ultimately, it has pitted the establishment against new blood.
And the policy change came with Pelosi’s stamp of approval, said Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, chair of the DCCC. Asked if she had spoken to Pelosi before the policy going into effect, Bustos said, “Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I talked with the entire leadership team. I can tell you the caucus is behind this. They were supportive of it.” (A senior Democratic aide confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the “entire [D]em leadership supports this policy.”)
Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley sounded the alarm on Twitter over the weekend, attacking the DCCC and thrusting the conversation into the spotlight. Yet Pelosi has so far stayed above the fray, and progressive members who are working to overturn the rule change, including Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley, have been loath to criticize her for it.
“We’re trying to resolve it before taking it to Speaker Pelosi. We’re really trying to have these discussions in the family and just to get a resolution to it because we think it’s a big problem for unifying our base,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told BuzzFeed News.
As Rep. Mark Pocan, a cochair of the caucus, put it in an interview with BuzzFeed News, “You can get things done effectively, quietly, and among friends rather than pissing in every corner of the room,” adding that the situation is “being hugely overblown in some ways.”
When asked about other progressives criticizing the rule change on Twitter, Pocan said, “I think there’s more effective ways to get it done that I’m trying to focus on.”
Jayapal, who along with Pocan and Khanna met with Bustos last week about the policy, said that “blackballing everybody, I think, that might take on somebody who is challenging someone causes great concerns for a whole bunch of — both political and policy — reasons. So we’re just trying to resolve it as quickly as we can, as quietly as we can, and hopefully be able to move on from this story.”
But she warned it could rise to the level of the speaker.
“If we can’t resolve it, then she’s the leader of our party. She’s the Speaker. And then we would have to take it to her. But you know I’m hoping that we can resolve it. And that’s what I’ve been working on.”
Bustos has been firm on her position, increasing the likelihood that if the conversation keeps its momentum, Pelosi could get dragged in. In an exchange with reporters Tuesday, Pelosi largely demurred on her thoughts on the policy, saying she’s “for winning the election.”
Khanna told BuzzFeed News the Progressive Caucus attempted to come to some agreement in its meeting with the DCCC, but that Bustos “is very dug in to her position.” (A DCCC aide confirmed Bustos “stood firm in her commitment in the position that the DCCC has taken.”)
“It goes against the very idea of competition, and of competition of ideas. That’s the heart of democracy. It’s protecting the status quo and entrenched power against potential outside voices,” Khanna told BuzzFeed News, pointing out that members who are more moderate have also won their seats through primaries. “What unites I think all these cases is the view that you should have a healthy competition of ideas and welcome spirited elections. And trying to squelch that is why this has struck such a nerve.”
“But I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to have constructive conversation and come to an agreement.”
Over the weekend, Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley both took their case to Twitter, where they argued that the policy would keep people of color, women, and other marginalized groups from being able to enter mainstream politics. Ocasio-Cortez called for pausing donations to the DCCC and donating directly to “swing candidates instead.”
“This prevents so many from accessing institutions of power, but also this is bad for the entire party,” Ocasio-Cortez told BuzzFeed News this week. “Primaries is where we find the next generation of leadership, and it’s where people cut their teeth on this system, and the idea that we’re only going to support people that have been cherry-picked by a dark, backroom process is so anti-democratic with a small d and the big D.”
Asked whether she would want to talk to Pelosi about the policy, Ocasio-Cortez said, “I hope so, I hope so,” but deferred to the cochairs of the Progressive Caucus on negotiations.
Pressley, who had a lengthy Twitter thread on the matter, said she was worried her concerns “haven’t been received by those calling the shots at the DCCC.”
Asked Monday whether she included Pelosi in her sentiment, Pressley said, “It wasn’t directed to anyone specifically.”
“I make no assumptions of any bad intent in the policy,” Pressley said. “And I look forward to having a conversation with my colleagues and with Democratic leadership to further discuss what I consider to be adverse consequences of such a policy.”