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) CrowleyFor Capuano in Massachusetts, demography was destiny Carper fends off progressive challenger in Delaware primary Election Countdown: Fallout from Massachusetts stunner | In Delaware, Carper looks to avoid next progressive upset | Dem 2020 primary already in full swing | How a Dem ex-governor hopes to take red-state Tennessee | GOP challengers hit Dems over tax votes 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 PelosiDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act 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 TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE and the Republicans.

“If we get back the House, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be the speaker,” said Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelHouse Dems push to delay Kavanaugh vote for investigation Overnight Health Care: Drug price fight heats up | Skepticism over drug companies' pledges | Ads target HHS secretary over child separations | Senate confirms VA pick United States should capitalize — literally — on the #MeToo moment 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 BidenBiden to campaign for Stacey Abrams next week Dems with political experience could have edge in 2020 primary, says pollster Ford taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing MORE, 75; Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states 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 HoyerDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Dems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash 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 LeeRussia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Overnight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel Dems plan resolution to withdraw US forces from Yemen civil war 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 RyanDemocrats get early start in Iowa Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her 11 Dems float anti-Pelosi leadership plan: reports 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 BustosDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems Dems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching MORE (Ill.), 56; David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHillicon Valley: Manafort to cooperate with Mueller probe | North Korea blasts US over cyber complaint | Lawmakers grill Google over China censorship | Bezos to reveal HQ2 location by year's end Bipartisan House group presses Google over China censorship The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested MORE (R.I.), 56; and Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesMeek Mill: I now feel a responsibility to 'help change the world' Connect Beltway to America to get federal criminal justice reform done Dem lawmaker labels Trump the ‘Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave’ MORE (N.Y.), 47 — were elected to head the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

Additionally, Pelosi appointed 37-year-old Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Kavanaugh fight roils an already ugly political climate Dem rep apologizes for tweet downplaying threats against Collins' office 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 MengColorado city to vote on lowering voting age to 16 Dem lawmaker seeks to lower voting age to 16 House passes 'menstrual equality' measure to allow tampon, pad purchases with health spending accounts MORE (N.Y.), 42, a top Democratic National Committee official; Reps. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her Ex-GOP donor urges support for Dems in midterms: 'Democracy is at stake' Joe Kennedy: Trump's math counts black and brown lives less than white lives MORE III, 37, and Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonDemocrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her 11 Dems float anti-Pelosi leadership plan: reports To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE, 39, both from Massachusetts; and Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems Dem rep: Why shouldn’t Americans believe Trump is as corrupt as his friends? 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) KhannaBlue wave poses governing risks for Dems The realities of workplace violence for emergency nurses Shrapnel in Yemen strikes links US-made bombs to 63 civilian deaths: report 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.