Why did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) not defend Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) by name recently when she was attacked by President Trump? Why did Speaker Pelosi attend a dinner with Democratic donors where they discussed how to thwart Senator Sanders, arguably the most progressive person in Congress? Why did Pelosi minimize the progressives in Congress by saying there are just five of them?
I’ll solve the big mystery for you: She isn't a progressive. Not even close. In fact, she works against every progressive priority in Congress. The only people who still buy into the fiction that she is a progressive are her friends in the Democratic Party and the Washington media.
Republicans often run campaign ads featuring Pelosi that sometimes are so effective that the Democratic candidate in the race has to denounce her. The mainstream media makes the mistake of thinking this is because the American people find her to be too liberal. In reality, they have a completely different problem with her — they find her to be too elitist. That’s why it was so tone-deaf of her to answer, when asked why she should be House speaker, that she is “the biggest fundraiser in the country.” Yes, that’s exactly the problem: To regular people, that signals she’s working with the elites to rip them off.
People in Washington might find that to be unfair: Politicians are just listening to the rich, not following their orders; they're honorable people, not unduly influenced by the money they receive. No one outside of Washington believes this. In fact, 93 percent of Americans believe that politicians serve their donors over their voters. This is an uncomfortable fact for people in Washington, but a fact nonetheless. So, when Democrats and the Washington media see that Pelosi has raised $568 million for the Democratic Party since 2002, they see a superstar. Voters, on the other hand, see corruption. No one outside Washington believes that people give half a billion dollars to a politician and that the politician doesn’t deliver for those donors.
In Washington, it is heresy to speak ill of Pelosi, let alone suggest she is not a progressive. She has been described as the “strongest and most effective speaker of modern times” and a “masterful legislative tactician.” And, oh yes, a “master legislator”—the author of that last quote being—Nancy Pelosi.
In the rest of the country, she is deeply unpopular. That, too, is a fact. A RealClearPolitics average of polls has her at 15 points under water and arguably less popular than Donald Trump. To be fair, people in Congress usually do worse than the president on average – you should see Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) ratings. However, it is fair to conclude that the country finds her less than masterful.
One of the first things Pelosi absolutely insisted in putting into the House rules was pay-go; that’s a rule that says you must raise taxes or cut spending if you propose any legislation that adds to the deficit. Progressives despise that rule.
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It’s one thing to prove she is unpopular and that she takes a lot of money from the top donors in the country; it’s another to show she is not a progressive champion. What decides if someone is a progressive or not? The answer is obvious – the policies do. For example, one of the first things Pelosi absolutely insisted in putting into the House rules was pay-go; that’s a rule that says you must raise taxes or cut spending if you propose any legislation that adds to the deficit. Progressives despise that rule. It threatens to block every major progressive priority in Congress. Why would a progressive fight for that rule? There’s a very simple answer to that: They wouldn’t.
What about her brilliant progressive success of getting "RomneyCare" passed? With a supermajority, she got a Heritage Foundation plan passed! Yes, the Affordable Care Act was originally conceived by a conservative think tank and passed in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Mitt Romney. Progressives couldn’t even get a public option inserted into what used to be a right-wing proposal. Master legislator, indeed.
Now, let’s get to the main event — progressive priorities for the next two years. Would anyone doubt that the progressive base clearly wants "Medicare for All," Green New Deal and "College for All"? Will Speaker Pelosi fight for any of these? No, in reality, she very likely will fight against all of them. She disagrees with the progressive base, and that’s why she is not a progressive.
If it isn’t clear enough, she further clarified by repeating a Republican talking point on Medicare for All by asking “how are you going to pay for that?” Then she sent one of her top aides to assure the health insurance industry that they would be working against Medicare for All. (Any chance Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) would have done that?) Then she went on to say this about the Green New Deal: “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?” Mitch McConnell would have had trouble being so condescending to a progressive proposal.
Finally, some could make the argument that she is secretly in favor of these proposals but thinks she can’t get them passed because of moderate Democrats. This is Speaker Pelosi's most common trick: playing to the most conservative denominator. She is proud of keeping her caucus together, but how does she do that? By browbeating progressives to back down, by saying that Democrats in purple districts must be protected, so everyone must vote for the version of the bill least offensive to conservative, corporate-friendly Democrats.
She will not propose or fight for or pass any of those huge progressive priorities. In fact, she will work hard to block them. She’s not a progressive and she’ll prove it over the next two years.