Wrapping up the week: why a Democratic House majority almost certainly means Nancy Pelosi will be speaker of the House again, why the world needs to get tougher with China, and an allegedly paranoid memo in the White House that . . . doesn’t really seem all that paranoid, considering recent history.
Nancy Pelosi’s Iron Grip on House Democrats
Make no mistake: If Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives this fall, it is extremely likely that Nancy Pelosi will become speaker again. Not only is there a lack of consensus among Democrats about an alternative candidate for speaker, but Pelosi herself is pledging to crush any opposition. And she dismisses the 57 House Democratic incumbents and challengers who are currently pledging to support someone else as mere “politics.”
“This is not anything to make a big fuss over, it’s politics,” Pelosi said in a 35-minute phone interview with The Associated Press. “I can take the heat and that’s why I stay in the kitchen.”
Pushing back on those who say her leadership position is in jeopardy, Pelosi all but dared her doubters to envision any other House Democrat sitting across the table to negotiate with Trump.
“I have a following in the country that’s unsurpassed by anybody, unless they’re running for president,” Pelosi said.
Trump and the Republicans are eager to see her go, she said, “and I’m just not going to let them do that.”
The New York Times dryly notes that Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn have both expressed a quiet interest in running, but “replacing 78-year-old Pelosi with 79-year-old Hoyer or 78-year-old Clyburn is not the generational change that the Democratic caucus wants.”
Fifty-seven Democratic incumbents or challengers pledging to support someone else sounds like a lot . . . until you remember that Pelosi beat Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan, 134 to 61 after the 2016 election. Anti-Pelosi sentiment among House Democrats is probably leveling off, not rising.
Democrats will need at least 218 seats to take control of the House of Representatives. Let’s take FiveThirtyEight.com’s latest projection and say the Democrats win 228. Not all of those 57 anti-Pelosi Democrats will win, but let’s say nine out of every ten do. That gives you 51 of the 228 Democrats pushing for someone else . . . and 177 House Democrats comfortable with putting Pelosi back in the speaker’s chair.
(Let’s also note that those anti-Pelosi voices might not be intractable. Danny O’Connor is that House Democratic candidate who appears to have lost the recent special-House election in Ohio by a narrow margin. Back in July, Chris Matthews pushed O’Connor, asking whether he would vote for a Republican over Pelosi in the vote for speaker. O’Connor conceded the obvious: “I’d vote for whoever the Democratic party puts forward.” Republicans charge that’s inconsistent with O’Connor’s past statements that “we need change on both sides.” Balderson and O’Connor face off again in November’s general election.
Based on past precedent and tradition, Pelosi just needs more than half of the caucus to vote for her; almost everyone falls in line for their party’s nominee in the full chamber. If there are 228 House Democrats in January, Pelosi needs 115 of them to support her. Theoretically, if eleven House Democrats felt particularly intransigent about Pelosi, they could vote with the Republicans to make the GOP pick the next speaker (most likely Kevin McCarthy). But that unlikely scenario would be one of the most epic betrayals in recent history — Democrats finally win back the House and then have about a dozen members keep Republicans in charge.
Could some House Democrat unite those 51 or so rebels and win over many of those currently pro-Pelosi Democrats? Sure, but that’s an exceptionally tall order. If a Democrat isn’t abandoning Pelosi now, on the campaign trail and taking flak for the association from a Republican rival, why would he or she abandon her after the election? Backing Pelosi now means you’ll probably get rewarded for the loyalty if she becomes speaker. If she doesn’t become speaker, you took all that flak for nothing.
It’s Time for the World to Take a Tougher Look at China
Earlier in the week, I noted the sheer amount of consequential foreign news that is largely ignored, or at least under-covered, by the mainstream American media. This partially stems from the fact that “can you believe what Trump said?!?” is the top priority of news organizations and tends to be substance of the most-read articles on their websites.
The editors of NR call for the world’s attention to focus on the Chinese government’s ever-widening oppression of the Uyghurs. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve grown used to seeing China’s government as a bunch of brutal thugs since Tiananmen Square, if not earlier. But when a million people get forced into “reeducation camps,” we should sit up and take notice.
Now authorities are using this surveillance apparatus to round up and incarcerate Uyghurs suspected of dissident activity or excessive religiosity. Reporters and international officials have been barred from the reeducation camps and, in the case of BuzzFeed reporter Megha Rajagopalan, ejected from the country, so the information that is available is piecemeal. But we know from researchers and eyewitnesses that conditions are dire: Prisoners are made to recite political propaganda and renounce Islam, some have been tortured, and others have died soon after being released. The family members of those incarcerated have not been able to contact them. The scale of the detention campaign is only growing.
Veteran China scholars worry that conditions could deteriorate. If Uyghurs begin to resist or protest, would the PRC respond with deadly force? Regardless, Chinese authorities are engaged in the mass, arbitrary detention of an ethno-religious minority group as part of a deliberate effort to stamp out their way of life. This is a precarious situation that demands a robust international response.
Trump doesn’t sound like much of a sentimentalist about human rights, but he also appeared genuinely moved by the tragic case of Otto Warmbier, and his administration has been loud and uncompromising on the case of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Turkish government. And Trump’s certainly been a loud critic of China in the past.
Also last night, Senator Marco Rubio discussed the issue with . . . Tucker Carlson.
Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t after You
The latest bombshell from Ronan Farrow . . . doesn’t feel like that much of a bombshell:
The memo claimed that the “communications infrastructure” that the Obama White House used to “sell Obamacare and the Iran Deal to the public” had been moved to the private sector, now that the former aides were out of government. It called the network the Echo Chamber and accused its members of mounting a coordinated effort “to undermine President Trump’s foreign policy” through organized attacks in the press against Trump and his advisers. “These are the Obama loyalists who are probably among those coordinating the daily/weekly battle rhythm,” the memo said, adding that they likely operated a “virtual war room.” The memo lists Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national-security adviser to President Obama, as “likely the brain behind this operation” and Colin Kahl, Vice-President Joe Biden’s former national-security adviser, as its “likely ops chief.” Rhodes and Kahl both said in interviews that the allegations are false and no such organization exists.
I guess we’re supposed to find this terrifyingly paranoid, but . . . remember everything that Ben Rhodes openly discussed with the New York Times:
Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
In this environment, Rhodes has become adept at ventriloquizing many people at once. Ned Price, Rhodes’s assistant, gave me a primer on how it’s done. The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. “But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn’t want to name them — ”
“I can name them,” I said, ticking off a few names of prominent Washington reporters and columnists who often tweet in sync with White House messaging.
Price laughed. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, look, some people are spinning this narrative that this is a sign of American weakness,’ ” he continued, “but — ”
“In fact it’s a sign of strength!” I said, chuckling.
“And I’ll give them some color,” Price continued, “and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”
(That short description from Rhodes is the sort of thing that should have sent shockwaves around Washington and spurred intense chaos in the country’s major news institutions — do our reporters know nothing? Are they easily spun and led by the administration? Are they now a willing echo chamber and ventriloquist’s dummies for the Obama message of the day? But you notice we didn’t see an intense period of navel-gazing and self-analysis, marking one of the few times the national news media didn’t want to talk about itself.)
Do you think Ben Rhodes stopped talking to reporters and columnists after he left the White House? Do you think he didn’t feel any motivation to spin the Obama record as a series of great successes and the Trump administration as dangerous, blundering oafs reversing all of Obama’s progress and accomplishments?
We’re supposed to find it surprising that the Trump White House officials believed their predecessors were attempting to orchestrate hostile press coverage of them*, but . . . wouldn’t it have been more surprising if Obama officials hadn’t been attempting to orchestrate hostile press coverage of them?
*Honestly, doesn’t the Trump White House team do a good enough job orchestrating hostile press coverage of itself?
ADDENDUM: Summer is fast fading. College football begins in a matter of days, the starters’ portion of the NFL preseason ends this weekend and opening weekend looms in a few weeks, baseball teams are already writing off the season, and some kids are already back in school. We’re probably just days away from pumpkin spice everything. Enjoy the weekend, because long sleeves and jeans weather is not far away.