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For all of the talk about Democrats’ frustration with the filibuster and the perils of a 50-50 Senate, there’s not been as much attention to the narrow tight rope that Speaker Pelosi has to walk to get legislation passed in the House.
On paper, Democrats have a 222-213 margin in the House. But, just 219 Democrats are currently serving in Congress. Three Democrats — Reps. Cedric Richmond (LA-02), Deb Haaland (NM-01), and Marcia Fudge (OH-11) — have been tapped to serve in the Biden Administration. All three represent safe Democratic seats. But, only one (LA-02) will be filled before May (two Democrats face off in an April 24 run-off). The New Mexico special election isn’t until June 1. In Ohio, the special election to fill the Cleveland-based 11th doesn’t occur until November 2.
There’s also the possibility that some other Democratic House members are plucked for political positions around the country. In California, for example, Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-28) is in the mix to replace HHS Sec. Xavier Beccera as the state’s Attorney General.
This means that at least until November, House Democratic leadership can afford to lose just two to four Democratic votes. In other words, while Sen. Joe Manchin gets outsized attention for his single-handed ability to stymie Democrats’ agenda, less attention has been given to the three to five Democrats who could hold up legislation from even getting to the Senate.
Thus far, only Rep. Jared Golden (ME-02) has been a consistent defector. He was the one Democrat to vote against the American Recovery Act. Most recently, he was the only Democrat to vote against a Democratic immigration bill.
There are six other Democrats who, like Golden, sit in districts that Donald Trump won in 2020. Those include Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Cindy Axne (IA-03), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Andy Kim (NJ-03), and Ron Kind (WI-03). Another 18 Democrats won in 2020 with less than 52 percent of the vote.
Redistricting may help shore up the districts of some of these Democrats — like Bustos in western Illinois. But, new lines could also put those like Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01) in an even more competitive or challenging CD.
But, while some of the moderate members have raised concerns about topics ranging from ‘defund the police’ to the possibility of a floor vote to overturn the results of a narrow GOP victory in Iowa’s 2nd district, they are not the thorn in the side of leadership in the way that Freedom Caucus members were to Republican House Speakers. One longtime Democratic strategist I was speaking with the other day remarked that Pelosi has a finger on the pulse of the caucus that few can match. Moreover, as the number of true swing seat members dwindles, there are simply very few ‘outliers’ left. Back in 2009, for example, Democrats had a whopping 40-seat majority, but 22 of them represented conservative districts in deep-red states like Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia and Mississippi. The ideological make-up of the caucus is much more homogenous now. That makes it easier for Pelosi to keep everyone on the same page.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Pool via AP