Pelosi Ignores Constituents on Afghanistan - But Quietly This Time

Pretty much the only thing different about this year's San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (SFDCCC) Afghanistan resolution was that there was no fight coming from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's corner this time. Like last year, the SFDCCC called upon the city's Representatives and Senators to sign on to legislation directing the Administration to provide Congress with an exit strategy for US troops in Afghanistan. And, like last year, by the time the resolution passed, Representative Jackie Speier had already signed on. (The Senate actually voted down the legislation - in the form of an amendment to the latest war funding bill - just hours before the SFDCCC meeting, Dianne Feinstein voting with the majority and Barbara Boxer joining Russ Feingold as the only Senate co-sponsors.) Pelosi will more than likely ignore the resolution again, but this time she appears to be doing so silently.

Over the past several years, Pelosi's office, currently represented on the Committee by one staffer who sits as her proxy and another who holds an elected seat, has vigorously fought a number of SFDCCC foreign policy directives on Iraq and Afghanistan. Her representatives argued that the city's official party constituency body ought not to tell her what to do and certainly shouldn't "call her out" by name - even though she is the only Representative whose district lies entirely within San Francisco.

This year though, on the night of the resolution, the Pelosi staffer who has served as her proxy on the Committee and led the fight against the previous resolutions was chairing a panel discussion on the health reform law at a local Democratic club meeting across town; the one who had last time argued (incorrectly) that the Speaker didn't actually file legislation just quietly abstained this time around.

In speculating as to why Pelosi's staff finally dropped the fight this year, we can presumably dismiss the idea that she's finally decided to heed the Committee's advice - there's been no news thus far of her signature appearing on the bill. A more likely possibility seems to be that a staff decision was made that they might as well save their breath since Pelosi would ignore the resolution regardless. The most interesting possibility, though, is that there's been a realization that a fight might have been detrimental to the interests of the SFDCCC candidates that Pelosi's office hopes to see elected to the body in the June 8 California primary.

In San Francisco, the DCCC election is treated with a seriousness perhaps unmatched in local party races anywhere else in the country. The fact that the city's stringent campaign finance laws do not cover this race means that while candidates for the Board of Supervisors (the governing body of the City and County of San Francisco) cannot accept donations higher than $500 in that race, there are no such limits in this race and some have received $10,000 contributions.

What's so important about this obscure, non-paying, and generally thankless office? As the party's official voice on the local level, it issues the most significant endorsement to be had in mayoral and supervisorial races - that of the Democratic Party. And while Greens have had their moment in the city, electing two Supervisors, two School Board members, a Community College Board member and nearly a mayor, all of these individuals have left the Green Party and a tacit understanding has been reached on the city's left that the fight for control of city government lies within the Democratic Party.

To be sure, the Speaker herself is probably not spending any time thinking about this race and the fact is that politics can get awfully tangled on the local level. For instance, the Pelosi staffer currently sitting on the Committee is actually running on the slate of "ultra-liberals" that San Francisco Examiner columnist Ken Garcia fears will "take over the mayor's office and the board [of Supervisors]" and leave you "pining for the days when Dianne Feinstein ran a centrist city and corporations such as the Gap and Bank of America were not considered evil."

It is also a fact, though, that the left's victory in the last SFDCCC election two years ago resulted in the ouster of the previous Pelosi-backed committee chair - who regularly offered amendments designed to shield the Speaker from any unwanted foreign policy advice from the hoi polloi - in favor of the current chair, who has cosponsored the resolutions. But this time around, the lack of objection from Pelosi's office relieved that previous chair - who still sits on the body and is running for reelection, with Pelosi's support - of the burden of having to publicly carry her water so close to the election. (He is, by the way, one of the recipients of a $10,000 contribution.) And given that ninety two Representatives have signed on to Jim McGovern's House version of the exit strategy bill, you can see that arguing that San Francisco's Representative ought not to become number ninety three might not be considered an electoral plus.

As far as victories go, that of getting the Speaker of the House to simply ignore her constituents' views on Afghanistan silently rather than vocally hardly ranks high. But given how hard it has been to make any ground against this seemingly endless, eight years-and-counting war, combined with the fact that representing her district is obviously not the Speaker's priority in this area - well, sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Senator Barbara Boxer had voted against the Feingold Amendment.

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