John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Trump inspires temporary House Democratic unity

Posted on July 16, 2019
Archie Bunker couldn’t have said it better himself.

When President Trump tweeted that his most bitter congressional critics should go back to where they came from, he was channeling the most infamous blue-collar grouch in sitcom history.

I have long chosen to ignore what the president tweets, spending my time focusing on what his administration actually does, most of which I find to be agreeable.

But the media and his political opposition can’t help themselves. They focus on the president’s rhetoric, not his results.

Trump’s tweets about members of “the squad” came at a particularly interesting moment for the House Democratic Caucus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was engaged with her own battle with four of the most outspoken and controversial of the newly elected class of the 116th Congress.

One could make the case that Trump was violating the old Napoleon dictum about interfering with your enemy when they are engaged in self-destructive behavior.

But what if the president’s end goal of his tweets was to inspire Democratic unity? What if the president didn’t want Pelosi to succeed in her drive to make AOC and her friends irrelevant? If that was the case, mission accomplished.

Pelosi’s battle with the mod “squad” promised to be her most dramatic fight yet. But that war has been put on hold, at least temporarily, perhaps permanently, thanks to the Trump tweet.

“The squad” — four women of color, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts – are the personification of the new Democratic majority. They are all talented politicians, gifted at the sound bite, experts at the selfie, troubadours of Twitter, who communicate at a level rarely seen in the House of Representatives.

Sadly for “the squad,” while they may have been the face of the 2018 revolution, they don’t have the power to achieve their revolutionary goals.

In 1994, Newt Gingrich was the heart and soul of the Republican revolution. He was the one who inspired the base, he was the communications innovator, he was the face of the insurrection. But he also was the one calling the shots and he could put his legislative strategy where his revolutionary rhetoric was. Hence, the Contract with America.

Nancy Pelosi has no Contract with America.

She is notably short of any kind of legislative accomplishments, or of any kind of legislative agenda. Pelosi has been playing the long game in this session of the 116th Congress.

And as Pelosi has rightfully concluded, “the squad’s” political impulses are toxic to the long-term survival of the House Democratic majority.

But that strategy is coming to an end because if she wants to preserve her majority, she has to give her majority-makers some solid accomplishments that they can tout back home.

Pelosi knows that AOC, as talented as she is, doesn’t play well in the 30 Democratically-held districts that Trump won in 2016.

If Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar, and Pressley are the face of the Democratic Party in, let’s say the 14th District of Illinois, Republicans take that seat back, along with 29 others of a similar ilk.

So Pelosi, to be successful, has to make the Mod Squad irrelevant. She cannot allow them to dictate the terms of the debate. They are just four lonely votes, out in the wilderness, an annoyance, not an impediment to legislation.

But they have a huge Twitter following, and the potential to make trouble with the progressive base that is not only woke but not particularly interested in giving moderates in the Democratic Party the time of day, let alone the ability to shape the legislative agenda.

Nancy Pelosi is good at internal knife-fights. Ask House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) if you don’t believe me. But this is not just a knife-fight. It is a generational battle between the old and the new.

Donald Trump has temporarily unified House Democrats. But I don’t think that unity can or will last very long.