Encouraging words for Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, “…has emerged as a dogged fighter for party principles and against conservative GOP policies” according to UPI Congressional and Policy Correspondent Christian Bourge. The article isn’t half bad, giving her good praise for keeping the oft-wandering Democratic sheep in the House (well, those of the ilk of Ralph Hall) together.

Great job, Nancy! Hopefully we’ll be calling you MAJORITY leader of the House after the 2004 elections!Analysis: Pelosi’s leadership praised
By Christian Bourge
UPI Congressional and Policy Correspondent
Published 1/7/2004 11:28 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 (UPI) — A year into her leadership of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi has emerged as a dogged fighter for party principles and against conservative GOP policies.

Although her tenure has been marked by few concrete policy or political successes, Pelosi, who represents California’s 8th District including San Francisco, has shown that she can bridge the ideological divide within a diverse caucus while being politically tough-minded in the fight against the House Republican leaders and the Bush administration.

Norman J. Ornstein, a political expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that Pelosi is the kind of leader the minority party in the House of Representatives needs because of the tough partisan divisions that currently regulate Washington politics.

“A considerable part of what she has done underscores that for the party in the minority now, she is really in the right place at the right time,” Ornstein told United Press International. “She is the kind of leader the Democrats in the House needed. They are being significantly abused by the majority party and they need a proactive, tough-minded leader who is going to try and keep the party agenda together.”

The choice of Pelosi, a 63-year-old liberal from San Francisco, as minority leader was lamented by many who felt that she didn’t possess the gumption needed to be leader in a political environment where conservative Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress with nearly unrestrained control and zeal.

The varied caucus she oversees demonstrates the increasing diverse makeup of the Democratic Party, with members running the gambit from traditional Northeastern liberals to fiscally conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats and socially conservatives Southern representatives to more liberal-minded, but business-oriented members from California’s high-tech region, not to mention Hispanic and African-American interests.

In a sign of the kind of cohesion that Pelosi has been able to engender, not one House Democrat voted for the GOP-backed fiscal 2002 budget plan. It was the first time since the Republicans took over the House in 1995 that this has occurred.

In the most significant sign of Pelosi’s strength as a leader, she ended her first year by forcing GOP leaders to keep the final vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill — a cornerstone of President Bush’s domestic policy agenda — open for three hours instead of the traditional 15 minutes.

During that time Republican leaders scrambled to secure votes among rank-and-file members of their party and some on the fence Democrats.

In the end, the House Republican leadership was able to cajole enough votes to ensure passage, but the vote secured the reputation of Pelosi as a tough political animal and effective leader of the minority party in the House.

She proved that she was able to largely keep her party’s members largely in line by turning the vote into a referendum on party loyalty. This was accomplished with warnings to those who broke ranks by voting for the bill that they faced tough repercussions for making such a move.

At one point during the lengthy vote, a majority of members had actually voted against the measure. But in the end 16 Democrats supported the bill, balancing out some conservative Republicans who remained opposed.

“We had hoped the Republicans would want to win this vote fair and square, ” Pelosi said after the vote. “They didn’t. We won it fair and square, so they stole it by hook or crook.”

Several GOP aides said the saw the move to define the vote as a make-or-break issue for House democrats as a surprising display of her power.

Political insiders have compared Pelosi’s rule over her party’s political and policy efforts with the early leadership efforts of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich bought his party together in ideological opposition to the Democratic agenda as minority leader, ultimately bringing the GOP to power in the House in the 1994 elections.

Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of the New Democrat Network, told UPI that Pelosi has been a solid, hands-on leader.

“Nancy is really running the show for the Democrats,” said Rosenberg. “She has been a very strong, effective leader.”

Pelosi is not without her critics, both within, but mostly outside, her party. Many Republicans are delighted by what they view are her liberal politics.

“She is exactly the sort of person we want in a top (Democratic) leadership role (in Congress),”said one prominent GOP strategist. “She pulls the conference way to the left. She may be capable in a variety of difference ways, but ultimately she pulls the conference so far to the left that she appeases the (party voter) base but at the expense of the middle.”

GOP insiders and Republican House aides focus on her lack of any major success, failing to kill off any major GOP bills including a failed attempt to derail the controversial GOP energy bill in the House.

They also joke privately that GOP leadership and member news conferences should be rescheduled when they coincide with a scheduled address by the minority leader because her statements actually help their party’s cause.

Ornstein, Rosenberg and others dismissed this thinking and stress that minority part in either house of Congress have historically had limited policy or political successes.

“I am very skeptical of that (description),” said Ornstein. “I don’t see that (staunch liberalism) in her politics as leader. Some of her individual positions have followed that approach, but she has always staked out issues as a liberal.”

He also noted that the initial misgivings the conservative coalition of Blue Dog Democrats had about Pelosi’s leadership have largely disappeared and that she has acted in ways that have been every inclusive of the diversity of the House Democratic caucus.

But on Friday Rep. Ralph Hall, a representative from the 4th District in Northern Texas, switched parties.

Hall, who was elected to the House as a conservative Democrat in 1980, has filed for re-election as a Republican, bringing the number of Democrats in the House down to 205 with 228 Republicans, one independent and one vacancy.

Although some analysts have suggested that Hall left the Democratic Party because of Pelosi’s liberal leadership, Hall is representative of a dwindling class of conservative Democrats from the South who ran under the party’s banner at a time when Democrats still dominated politics in the region.

A spokesman for Hall noted that the congressmen’s voting record has aligned with the GOP for some time and that the 11th-hour decision was in the best interest of his district and under consideration for some time.

For his part, Hall said in a statement that he had no ill will toward the Democrats.

Pelosi has worked to bridge the differences between the party’s factions, supporting the election of her rival in the race to replace former Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, to the second-ranking Democratic leadership post in the House.

In addition, she supported the election of conservative South Carolina Rep. John Spratt and his fellow member of the state’s delegation, Rep. James Clyburn, a black man, to the House leadership ranks.

New Jersey Rep. Robert Menendez, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, was also elected to the House Democratic hierarchy with her support.

Rosenberg also dismissed talk of a swing to the left in the House Democratic caucus, but stressed that Pelosi along with all other party members have to spend more time “developing a powerful, populist agenda.”

“We still do not have a lot of power, so all Democrats have to a lot of work to do to better define a positive agenda for the country,” said Rosenberg. “I think Nancy is in the same situation that many Democrats are in, we are more clearly in touch with what we are against than what we are for.”

Pelosi has shown a determination to portray her party’s agenda as the real populist choice for voters in the face of a GOP agenda that helps a choice few, hammering the Bush administration and GOP policy agenda over the loss of 3 million jobs in the last three years, for failing to extend expiring federal welfare benefits, and severely under funding Bush’s education bill.

The move is a bit of a gamble based on Democratic Party polling showing them having an advantage on issues of importance to “ordinary Americans” and it remains unclear if voters will take notice.

Defining a populist political agenda in the House at this time presents a particularly difficult proposition.

Both Pelosi and her GOP counterpart, House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, face a challenging dynamic because of the way House district have come to be shaped in states across the country.

This is especially true in states like Texas and Pennsylvania where the GOP controls the legislature and has sought to gerrymander congressional districts.

GOP leaders in those states and others have taken the reshaping congressional districts in favor of one party — a longtime practice following the federal census — to what many critics categorize as new heights of partisan control.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in a Democrat challenge of Pennsylvania’s redistricting in early December.

The GOP’s moves have established districts in most states that reflect a voting block of 80 percent to 85 percent for one party. The result is elections not decided in the general election, but during the primary process, where leftist or right-wing candidates from either party force moderate politicians to move either direction politically to shore up support.

As more left and right of center candidates make it into office in such districts, it make governing a political coalitions in the House that much more difficult.

“That tends to push the two caucuses either farther to the left or farther to the right,” said one Republican Party political analyst. “But it is the people in the middle who actually decide whether you have the speakership or not. That is the dynamic that both Hastert and Pelosi face. How do you keep the extreme of your party happy along with creating a majority coalition and a sound political message?”

Copyright © 2001-2004 United Press International

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