Nancy Pelosi Has Leverage By Jim Newell MARCH 28 2017 5:13 PM


She also has a plan on how to use it.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, along with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Eric Swalwell, holds a news conference Friday in Washington, D.C.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The failure of the American Health Care Act last week was obviously great news for Democrats. But it wasn’t just because a remarkably bad health care bill died in the House before it got the chance to die in the Senate. The GOP loss was also confirmation that dysfunctional patterns of Republican Congresses past have been grandfathered into the present era of unified Republican governance. House Republicans still cannot agree on anything, even with a White House trying to chart a unified path forward.

And this means leverage for Nancy Pelosi.

“Needless to say,” the House minority leader said during a roundtable conference with reporters Tuesday afternoon, “our appropriators are on high alert—high alert—for opportunities.” She was describing possibilities for members of her caucus—on the Appropriations Committee and elsewhere—to influence the upcoming government spending bill, which may need House Democratic votes to pass if their Republican counterparts can’t get their acts together.

Had Trump been able to unify House Republicans in support of his agenda, House Democrats would have no real leverage going forward beyond messaging against wildly unpopular Republican initiatives. Instead, intraparty Republican fault lines of the Obama era reasserted themselves, presenting Pelosi’s caucus with that opportunity she mentioned. There are still a few dozen hard-line conservatives in the Freedom Caucus on whom presidential arm-twisting does not appear to work. The further a bill is moved rightward for these hard-liners, meanwhile, the fewer votes it has among House moderates or in the Senate. If this dynamic reasserts itself in fights over upcoming must-pass bills—the government funding measures due at the end of April and again at the end of September, along with the debt ceiling increase in late summer—Speaker Paul Ryan will need to come to Pelosi for Democratic votes.

“You hear all kinds of things—I don’t know if any of them are true, do you?” she said. “That they’re going to need many more Democrats to pass the [April government funding bill] than anybody ever thought. I don’t know if that’s true. I guess it depends on what’s happening in their caucus.”

A quick glance at the news suggests that what’s happening in the House Republican caucus is disunity about fundamental questions of what the government should and should not do. Conservatives, for example, do not believe that the government should be involved in the business of giving Planned Parenthood federal dollars. Defunding Planned Parenthood was a plank of the AHCA, which is now dead. The same Freedom Caucus members who refused to support that bill, then, are mullinganother push to defund Planned Parenthood through the April spending bill. Though Speaker Paul Ryan said this morning that defunding Planned Parenthood is better done in a reconciliation bill than in a spending bill, that might not satisfy conservatives. (Also, which reconciliation bill? The still-dead one?) If Ryan doesn’t yield and conservatives don’t budge—perhaps realizing that the Senate would prevent such a measure from passing—he would need Democratic votes to stop a government shutdown by a party in unified control of said government.

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