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Trio of new House Democrats knock party off message

Published: Wednesday, March 06, 2019 @ 8:07 PM

Democrats in the Congress on Wednesday spent another day grappling among themselves over how best to put out political fires sparked by several of their new members, wrestling with perceived anti-Semitic statements by one, promises by another to force action on impeachment of the President, and continued fallout from the climate change proposals of a third new member of the House.

As the U.S. House began debate Wednesday afternoon on a sweeping bill chock full of reforms in elections, voting, and government ethics, Democratic lawmakers were fielding questions instead about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whose statements with regards to Israel have repeatedly put her colleagues on the defensive in recent weeks, spurring talk of a House vote designed to admonish Omar.

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But with no agreement on what kind of resolution to draw up - and with some Democrats pushing back against the idea of punishing Omar - House Democrats engaged in a vigorous closed door tussle over Omar on Wednesday morning, emerging with no consensus on how best to move forward, as Republicans lobbed verbal grenades with glee from the sidelines.

"There is no room for anti-Semitism anywhere in this chamber," said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who has gone after Omar on social media over her statements, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders struggled to figure out their next step.

Worried by public bickering among Democrats over Omar on social media, senior lawmakers used their Wednesday meeting to urge their newer members to talk to each other directly, as a way to defuse tension over Omar.

"Stay off Twitter," was the advice from Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

"Everybody is against the bigotry," said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL). "There's just some difference of opinion on how to move forward," as Democrats acknowledged that the issue was getting in the way of their legislative message.

"What do we do when we have this robust public agenda, and then we are also asked to superintend all of these comments breaking out all over the country of an objectionable nature?" asked Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who rattled off to reporters a series of high profile issues like voting rights and the cost of prescription drugs which were being shoved into the background.

While Omar's future was in limbo, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) was back in the impeachment business, as she announced she would file impeachment articles in coming weeks against President Trump.

Tlaib - whose previous call to impeach President Trump landed her in hot water because of her choice to add in a certain vulgar term - joined with more liberal activists who were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words, "TICK TOCK INDIVIDUAL 1," using the reference to President Trump in legal documents about the Russia investigation. 

"The people at home are frustrated and want the criminal schemes to stop, especially those from the Oval Office," Tlaib argued.

"Our democracy must be protected," Tlaib said, as some party activists openly worry that Speaker Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are going to take no action at all against the President.

Under the rules of the House, any member can offer impeachment articles against a President - as there's no guarantee that any hearings or vote must be taken on those type of charges.

But with the current atmosphere surrounding President Trump, Tlaib's promise to file impeachment charges was another reminder to party leaders that the "I-word" remains a potent force, even as House Democratic leaders are nowhere near making such a politically explosive decision.

The third thorn in the side for Democratic leaders has been the "Green New Deal" unveiled several weeks ago on climate change, as Republicans around the nation have quickly made it into boilerplate attack on Democrats at all levels of government.

The proposal - a simple non-binding resolution on climate change - wasn't really the source of the problem; instead it was a separate document posted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) containing all sorts of climate policy changes, which has energized Republicans in both the House and Senate.

"Braun Compares 'Green New Deal' to 'Unaffordable Care Act,'" read the headline happily put out on social media by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN).

"The Green New Deal is not serious policy; it’s a fantasy," said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).

"The more you look at the Green New Deal, the worse it looks," said Sen. John Thune (R-SD). 

Those statements hit Twitter in just a 15 minute span on Wednesday, as the Green New Deal has swiftly become Republican shorthand for budget busting, big Government, tree-hugging, climate-change-crazed, liberal Democrats.

The various troubles over Omar, impeachment, and the Green New Deal might not seem like much from outside - but on Capitol Hill, the combination threatens to overshadow the legislative achievements of Democrats.

By the end of Wednesday, the Speaker's office was trying to get back on message, slamming the President for refusing to turn over documents to a series of House committees, and trying to stay ahead of restless supporters back home.

"What is President Trump Hiding?" Pelosi asked in a statement, defending the investigations launched in recent days by Democrats, and their legislative agenda.

"House Democrats will be relentless in our pursuit to get the answers the American people deserve, clean up the corruption in Washington, and enact reforms that address the most pressing challenges facing our nation," Pelosi said.

A few hours earlier, the Speaker had been on the House floor to back H.R. 1, the signature reform package of House Democrats.

But out in the Speaker’s Lobby, reporters were mainly asking about other topics, as the energized progressive wing of the party makes waves on Capitol Hill.

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