Under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Democrats caved spectacularly badly on Thursday, abandoning legislative demands that the Trump administration be held to account for what amounts to the torture of children and their families in detention camps on the border. Pelosi was forced to pass the Senate bill that did not secure those restrictions on Trump. It’s not all on Pelosi, however.
There was an ominous premonition of a “moderate” revolt earlier in the week, when a chunk of Democrats did the most stupid thing a Democrat can do in 2019 and gave the Republicans another win on a poison-pill motion to recommit on an important bill, in this case bolstering Trump’s irrational provocation of Iran. A motion to recommit is a procedural allowance for the minority party in the House, its last chance to either derail or amend a piece of legislation. Republicans have always used them to embarrass the majority, to attach poison pills. It should be standard operating procedure for Democrats to reject them unanimously, but the Blue Dog and “Problem Solver” wing of the Democratic caucus still labor under the inexplicable delusion that if they vote with Republicans on some of these things, they won’t be attacked by Republicans for being too close to Pelosi. As if.
Pelosi’s most immediate problem comes from her leadership team, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, who encourage those Blue Dog Problem Creators to have these defections. In the case of the Iran win for Republicans this week, Hoyer excused them, saying that they felt they had to support it, when in fact they were supporting Republicans and supporting Trump. It was a repeat of Republicans successfully manipulating those same Democrats on signature gun safety legislation the House passed back in February. That Republicans are putting these things in just to poison bills isn’t in question—they never vote for final passage of the bills they succeed in attaching MTRs to; the MTRs never make a difference in their support. But enough Democrats will keep falling for it, and the result will always be undermining Pelosi’s power.
In this case, though, the real culprit in hamstringing Pelosi was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his fellow Democrats—all but six of whom gave Mitch McConnell a huge majority vote for his bill, enough of a majority that he could refuse to even consider negotiating with Pelosi and enough of a majority to bolster the problem Democrats in the House.
That’s how Pelosi’s left flank in the House sees it: “Senate Democrats did us a huge disservice,” Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal said afterward. A senior Democratic aide in the House told Politico, “Pelosi acknowledged privately from the start that this was a difficult situation given that the Senate bill was reasonable but lacked key protections. Schumer threw all of House Democrats under the bus and he will pay a heavy price for that.” And he did: He gave her no assistance at all. He could and should have forced McConnell to pass his bill with no Democratic support, if for no other reason than to present a united front with Pelosi, but he let it go.
If Schumer wants to become majority leader—and he should, because taking the majority away from McConnell is as critical to saving the nation as getting rid of Trump—he’s going to have to do a hell of a lot better than this. He’s got to show us that he’s worthy of us giving him that majority.