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 joins coalition to pass Trump's new NAFTA Crowley, Shuster moving to K Street GOP lawmaker: Amazon would be moving into NY if Ocasio-Cortez wasn't elected 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 PelosiKids confront Feinstein over Green New Deal Can progressives govern? Dems plan hearing on emergency declaration's impact on military 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 TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE and the Republicans.

“If we get back the House, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be the speaker,” said Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelDems call on Trump to fire Acosta Lawmakers wear white to State of the Union to show solidarity with women Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents 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 BidenDem strategist says Clinton ‘absolutely’ has a role to play in 2020 It's Bernie Sanders vs. Elizabeth Warren in New Hampshire Harry Reid says he won’t make 2020 endorsement until after Nevada caucus MORE, 75; Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders endorses Oakland teachers strike Dem strategist says Clinton ‘absolutely’ has a role to play in 2020 News media has sought to 'delegitimize' Tulsi Gabbard, says liberal journalist 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 HoyerHouse to vote on background check bills next week Why Omar’s views are dangerous On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 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 LeeBetting against Bernie? Dems assess the risk Kamala Harris: 'I am not a democratic socialist' The 10 Dems most likely to win the 2020 presidential nomination 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 CicillineDem lawmaker: Mueller report ‘belongs to the American people’ White House braces for Mueller report Ex-GOP congressional candidate charged with wire fraud, violating election law MORE (R.I.), 56; and Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesWhy Omar’s views are dangerous The 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 MORE (N.Y.), 47 — were elected to head the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

Additionally, Pelosi appointed 37-year-old Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDems seize on Times bombshell to push allegations of Trump obstruction Democratic donors stuck in shopping phase of primary Five takeaways from acting AG's fiery House hearing 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 JayapalGoogle to allow employees to sue over discrimination, harassment Overnight 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 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) KhannaSanders campaign announces two women co-chairs after sexual harassment allegations Venezuela puts spotlight on Rubio Overnight 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 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.