Nancy Pelosi’s Failure to Launch

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill, January 10, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

How was your day? It was probably better than Nancy Pelosi’s. The speaker of the House has spent the last 24 hours cleaning up after another of her freshmen congresswomen. This time it was Representative Ilhan Omar, who ascribed congressional support for Israel to “Benjamins” showered on elected officials by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Pelosi — along with the other Democratic leaders in the House and Senate — has called on Omar to apologize (barely). She finally did on Monday afternoon.

Actually, you most likely also enjoyed your weekend more than Pelosi. Democrats spent days responding to the Green New Deal proposed by another House freshman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of two members of the Democratic Socialists of America in the 116th Congress. Pelosi dismissed the Green New Deal as the “green dream” and did not appoint Ocasio-Cortez to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t gotten the message.

Climate change is the least of Pelosi’s problems. The failure of the Democratic House majority to make a good first impression should worry her more. Pelosi took the speaker’s gavel on January 3. The days since have not gone according to plan.

The new Democratic House majority has been overshadowed by larger developments. It assumed power during a government shutdown over border security. Pelosi has had to compete for headlines with Democratic presidential aspirants, with another hopeful declaring her presidential candidacy every other day. Not even congressional oversight has gone according to plan. Michael Cohen’s hearing was postponed until the end of this month. Last week’s interrogation of acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker came across as petty and mean-spirited.

When Congress is in the headlines, the story is not Pelosi’s agenda. The news is driven instead by the extremism of some of the most closely watched freshmen. Rashida Tlaib’s “impeach the mother — ” on the first day of Congress set the tone. The aspirations of the Democratic leadership are being dragged down by the latest hijinks of Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Tlaib. Whether it is by insinuating that Senate Republicans put the interests of Israel ahead of the United States, or by cheering Jeremy Corbyn, or by vowing eternal enmity toward cow flatulence, or by being unable to log off Twitter, the Democratic ladies of the moment are a continual source of controversy and distraction.

Pelosi scored a tactical victory when President Trump agreed to re-open the government until February 15 without additional funding for barriers along the southern border. But that advantage pales in comparison to the strategic damage that the freshmen radicals are causing her party.

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