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) CrowleyCrowley says he 'didn’t underestimate' Ocasio-Cortez in primary challenge Ocasio-Cortez on 2020: ‘I don’t want to be placated as a progressive’ Ocasio-Cortez holds call with UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiConstitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration Why don't we build a wall with Canada? 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 TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery MORE and the Republicans.

“If we get back the House, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be the speaker,” said Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelLawmakers wear white to State of the Union to show solidarity with women Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents Democratic group asks women to wear white to State of the Union 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 BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenNewsom endorses Kamala Harris for president Trump, Biden in dead heat in hypothetical 2020 matchup among Texas voters Biden calls for reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act MORE, 75; Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersNewsom endorses Kamala Harris for president Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration Poll: Sanders, Biden seen as most popular second choices in Dem primary 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 HoyerWinners and losers in the border security deal Overnight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents On The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration 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 LeeNewsom endorses Kamala Harris for president Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president Barbara Lee endorses Kamala Harris's 2020 bid 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) John RyanTim Ryan ‘seriously considering’ 2020 bid Baseball legend Frank Robinson, first black manager in MLB, dies at 83 House Democrat warns ethics committee about Steve King promoting white nationalism website 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 BustosAssault weapons ban push tests Dem support House Dems unveil initial GOP targets in 2020 Progressives to target Dem reps in 2020 primary fights MORE (Ill.), 56; David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineForeign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' Greedy tort bar tarts up the CREATES Act Whitaker takes grilling from House lawmakers MORE (R.I.), 56; and Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? Congress hits gas on border deal Trump: 'Shutdown would be a terrible thing' MORE (N.Y.), 47 — were elected to head the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

Additionally, Pelosi appointed 37-year-old Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocratic donors stuck in shopping phase of primary Five takeaways from acting AG's fiery House hearing Top Judiciary Republican to Swalwell: 'Stop running for president' 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 MengFeminine hygiene products to be available to House lawmakers using congressional funds First DACA recipient to become Rhodes scholar to attend State of the Union 'Remain in Mexico' is another brick in Trump’s invisible wall MORE (N.Y.), 42, a top Democratic National Committee official; Reps. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyJoe Kennedy introduces resolution rejecting Trump’s transgender military ban Warren launches White House bid with call for 'structural change' Joe Kennedy to endorse Warren during campaign announcement MORE III, 37, and Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonDem lawmaker: 'Trump's presidency is the real national emergency' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - All eyes on Trump after lawmakers reach spending deal Overnight Defense: Acting Pentagon chief visits Afghanistan | US, Taliban peace talks intensify | Trump tweets in Persian to send message to Iran | Defense world pays tribute to Walter Jones MORE, 39, both from Massachusetts; and Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Push for cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill | Court lets Dems defend ObamaCare | Flu season not as severe as last year, CDC says Democrats seek cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Utah tests Trump on Medicaid expansion | Dems roll out Medicare buy-in proposal | Medicare for all could get hearing next month | Doctors group faces political risks on guns 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) KhannaOvernight Defense: House votes to end US support for Saudis in Yemen | Vote puts Trump in veto bind | Survey finds hazards in military housing | Senators offer new bill on Russia sanctions House passes bill to end US support for Saudi war in Yemen Congress poised to put Trump in veto bind 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.