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) CrowleyA vacuum being filled by the inexperienced Ocasio-Cortez quotes Rorschach from 'Watchmen' in response to Dem criticism Top House Dem to Ocasio-Cortez: ‘Don’t attack your own people’ 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 PelosiOn The Money: Trump teases 'major announcement' Saturday on shutdown | Fight with Dems intensifies | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking trip to Afghanistan | Mnuchin refuses to testify on shutdown impacts Ellen DeGeneres buys cheesecakes from furloughed federal workers who were baking to make ends meet Trump teases 'major announcement' about shutdown on Saturday 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 knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' MORE and the Republicans.

“If we get back the House, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be the speaker,” said Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelOcasio-Cortez storms Washington, winning headlines but rankling some colleagues Pelosi allies rage over tactics of opponents Pelosi allies push back on proposed Speaker nominee rule change 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 BidenKamala Harris picks Baltimore as headquarters for potential 2020 campaign: report Congress should elevate those trapped in the gap – support ELEVATE Act Sen. Casey says he won't run for president in 2020 MORE, 75; Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersKamala Harris picks Baltimore as headquarters for potential 2020 campaign: report Sen. Casey says he won't run for president in 2020 Women's March plans 'Medicare for All' day of lobbying in DC 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 HoyerDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Laura Ingraham: Dems 'are all going to have to kiss Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's ring' Trump's battle with Pelosi intensifies 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 LeeDemocrats vow to lift ban on federal funds for abortions Live coverage: House elects new Speaker as Dems take charge Ocasio-Cortez eyeing Jeffries as 2020 target: report 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 RyanHow Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others Dem leaders avert censure vote against Steve King McCarthy rejects idea of censuring Steve King 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 BustosProgressives to target Dem reps in 2020 primary fights GOP maps out early 2020 strategy to retake House Dem rep: ‘Partial wall’ is fine MORE (Ill.), 56; David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Hillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news Dems introduce bills to block offshore drilling MORE (R.I.), 56; and Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesTop Judiciary Republican sees potential for bipartisan agreement on cyber issues Black Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority New Dem caucus chairman: Some wall is good, but not new wall 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 demand answers following explosive new Cohen report Democratic dark horses could ride high in 2020 Swalwell: Trump will be impeached by Congress or by ballot box 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 Meng'Remain in Mexico' is another brick in Trump’s invisible wall The Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? Wife of missing ex-Interpol chief hires lawyers to find him MORE (N.Y.), 42, a top Democratic National Committee official; Reps. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedySanders to deliver his own response to Trump speech Marriott says data breach impacted fewer guests, but millions of passport numbers were exposed The 15 Democrats who voted against Pelosi MORE III, 37, and Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonThe Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress How Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others Moulton to visit New Hampshire amid 2020 speculation MORE, 39, both from Massachusetts; and Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Women's March plans 'Medicare for All' day of lobbying in DC MoveOn leaders stepping down before 2020 election 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) KhannaDem rep proposes Trump, Congress hire mediators to resolve shutdown Blue states buck Trump to expand health coverage Ocasio-Cortez sparks debate with talk of 70 percent marginal rate 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.