Dem generation gap widens

Dem generation gap widens
© Greg Nash

Some septuagenarian House Democrats have a message for their younger colleagues clamoring for a spot at the leadership table: Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.

Democrats in their 70s have started pushing back against some of the more youthful members of the House Democratic Caucus who are making noise about launching leadership bids in the wake of caucus Chairman Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyThe Democrats' generational battle Ocasio-Cortez apologizes for blocking ex-politician on Twitter, settles lawsuit Ocasio-Cortez on public life: 'Sometimes I just want to be a human being' MORE’s stunning primary loss last week to 28-year-old democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York.

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Older lawmakers argue that just because House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Key GOP senator: 'We need a breakthrough' on spending talks Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran MORE (Calif.), 78, and her top lieutenants are getting up there in years doesn’t mean they’re not progressive or effective. Instead, they say it’s their decades of experience fighting in the trenches on a range of issues — from the gender pay gap and gun control to LGBT rights — that make them the right ones to lead the fight against President TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE and the Republicans.

“If we get back the House, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be the speaker,” said Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelUS must lead the charge on global reproductive rights — not stand in the way Charlize Theron: We didn't want the politics to overshadow 'Bombshell' Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort MORE (D-Fla.), a Pelosi ally. “She is leading this effort to get these candidates elected. She is barnstorming the country. She is helping to fashion the message.”

Frankel, who turned 70 in May, noted that septuagenarians of all stripes are some of the most popular politicians in the country today: former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Democrats release two new transcripts ahead of next public impeachment hearings Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage MORE, 75; Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersRahm Emanuel: Bloomberg, Patrick entering race will allow Democrats to have 'ideas primary' Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Jayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' MORE (I-Vt.), 76; and President Trump, who is 72.

“This should not be a generational fight at all,” Frankel added. “And people who want to make it into a generational fight are, quite frankly, people who don’t like seniority because they want power.”

Because House Democrats' top three leaders — Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThis week: Round 2 of House impeachment inquiry hearings Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms The Hill's 12:30 Report: Former Ukraine envoy offers dramatic testimony MORE (Md.), 79, and Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (S.C.), 77 — have held a firm grip on power in the caucus for more than a decade, it’s created a bottleneck for other ambitious senior members looking to rise through the ranks.

Seasoned veterans have been waiting patiently in line, so the leadership scramble triggered by the defeat of Crowley, 56, last week has many of them now raising their hand and saying they are ready to lead, while some of their younger colleagues also vie for power.

One of those veteran lawmakers is Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeHouse to hold markup Wednesday on marijuana decriminalization bill US must lead the charge on global reproductive rights — not stand in the way Congress should lift the ban on medical cannabis access for military veterans MORE (D-Calif.), 71, a former chair of both the Congressional Black Caucus and Progressive Caucus who represents a district across the San Francisco Bay from Pelosi’s. Lee made waves in 2001 when she became the only member of Congress to vote against granting President George W. Bush authorization to use military force after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Lee is exploring a bid for Crowley’s No. 4 leadership post and has spent the past few days reaching out to colleagues to gauge support, even as she makes clear that the “first priority” is winning back the House in the November midterm elections.

“I think I can bring a lot to the caucus, but I’m talking to members to make an assessment as to what direction they would want a caucus chair to go in and what the agenda should be, and if they think I can represent their interest,” Lee told reporters. “I’m a coalition builder, a unifier. And even as a progressive … I never challenge people on their views and hit below the belt. If people don’t agree with me — that’s fine. This is a democracy.”

After Democrats’ disastrous 2016 performance, Pelosi faced an insurgent challenge from Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanThe Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field Tim Ryan endorses Biden for president Strategists say Warren 'Medicare for All' plan could appeal to centrists MORE (Ohio), who’s now 44, for the top Democratic leadership post. Pelosi prevailed, but Ryan notched 63 votes in the secret-ballot election, underscoring the frustration many in the caucus felt about the existing, entrenched leadership structure.

To quell the internal revolt, Pelosi expanded her leadership team to include several more slots that could be filled by more junior Democrats. Three relative newcomers — Reps. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi accuses Trump of 'bribery' in Ukraine dealings DCCC adds senior staffers after summer departures DCCC raises more than M in October MORE (Ill.), 56; David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Top antitrust Dem presses DOJ, FTC on Google's Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: California AG reveals Facebook investigation | McConnell criticizes Twitter's political ad ban | Lawmakers raise concerns over Google takeover of Fitbit | Dem pushes FCC to secure 5G networks MORE (R.I.), 56; and Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesUSMCA deal close, but not 'imminent,' Democrats say House Democrat's Halloween display mourns passed bills that die in McConnell's 'legislative graveyard' Democrats unveil impeachment procedures MORE (N.Y.), 47 — were elected to head the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

Additionally, Pelosi appointed 37-year-old Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellTrump attacks Pence aide who called Ukraine call 'inappropriate' Top Pence aide told lawmakers Trump's Ukraine call was 'inappropriate' in closed-door testimony New witness claims firsthand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes MORE, a close ally and fellow Bay Area lawmaker, as one of two leaders of House Democrats' Steering and Policy Committee.

With Crowley’s loss to a millennial upstart, many of those new additions to leadership are looking to climb the final rungs of the ladder.

Bustos, Cicilline, Jeffries and Swalwell have all been approached by colleagues about running for other leadership spots after the midterms, as have others like Rep. Grace MengGrace MengHillicon Valley: Ocasio-Cortez clashes with former Dem senator over gig worker bill | Software engineer indicted over Capital One breach | Lawmakers push Amazon to remove unsafe products Lawmakers call on Amazon to safeguard against unsafe products Lawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator MORE (N.Y.), 42, a top Democratic National Committee official; Reps. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyThe Hill's 12:30 Report: What we learned from first impeachment transcripts Democrats unifying against Joe Kennedy Senate bid Ocasio-Cortez points to California fires: 'This is what climate change looks like' MORE III, 37, and Seth MoultonSeth MoultonPardoning war crimes dishonors the military The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing We still owe LGBT veterans for their patriotism and service MORE, 39, both from Massachusetts; and Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalJayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' Progressive House Democrat unveils bill to allow state-based 'Medicare for All' Progressives press Democrats to rethink Israel policy MORE (Wash.), a former civil rights activist who was among 600 people arrested Thursday at the Capitol during protests against Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

“It’s the Wild West,” one senior Democratic aide said of the coming fall leadership races.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDemocratic lawmaker: It 'defies logic' for Trump to push Ukraine to investigate Biden Overnight Health Care: CDC links vitamin E oil to vaping illnesses | White House calls Pelosi drug price plan 'unworkable' | Dem offers bill for state-based 'Medicare for All' Justice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability MORE (D), another Bay Area liberal who endorsed both Crowley and Ocasio-Cortez in the New York primary, has been perhaps the most explicit about the need for generational change in the Democratic Party. 

The 41-year-old lawmaker told The Hill that Democrats have to find a way to include “talented,” young progressives like House candidates Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Brent Welder in Kansas.

“They know how to inspire,” Khanna said, noting that they’re organizers both online and in their communities. “The new generation is going to lead us to a fairer and freer America, fulfilling FDR and Martin Luther King’s vision.”

Progressive Caucus co-Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), 70, said the generational fight has already arrived in his party. He said he’s more concerned that the people who end up replacing Pelosi and her team in the future hail from the liberal wing of the party rather than the center.

“Robert F. Kennedy once said youth is not about time; it’s about the mind,” said Grijalva, who has served with Pelosi in the House for the past 15 years. “And I think you should judge people by their record. You need to judge people by where they stand on the issues that are important right now.” 

“I want someone who’s going to stand for where this party is heading in the future, not necessarily concerned about a career move,” he said.