Pelosi runs tight ship as more stormy waters await

Early cracks in the diverse House Democratic Caucus are creating new challenges for Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting Trump: I don't have a racist bone in my body Ocasio-Cortez responds to fresh criticism from Trump MORE (D-Calif.), who has run a tight ship since taking the gavel but faces policy battles that will test both party unity and her capacity to bridge internal divides.

In recent weeks, Pelosi has heartened rank-and-file Democrats by steering her party through a potentially perilous government shutdown, calming divisions over climate change policy and reproaching a liberal freshman for comments condemned as anti-Semitic.

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Pelosi’s tactics have varied from case to case — alternating between private meetings and public statements, off-hand critiques and direct rebukes — but the combination has kept her troops in line and helped send her approval rating to its highest level in a dozen years.

Yet Republicans have pounced on the Democratic controversies, hoping to exploit the liberals’ plan for a “Green New Deal” — championed by rising superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezGeorge Conway calls Trump a 'racist president' in new op-ed House Democrats introduce resolution condemning Trump for 'racist' comments Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer MORE (D-N.Y.) — and widely-panned remarks from another freshman, Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarScaramucci calls Trump tweets 'racist and unacceptable' House Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting Black Caucus leader calls Trump's attacks on minority lawmakers 'despicable' MORE (D-Minn.), suggesting that financial support from the pro-Israel lobby is the only reason Capitol Hill lawmakers support the country.

Those differences have not been as pronounced as the discord that faced GOP leaders — largely emanating from their party’s conservative flank — when Republicans controlled the lower chamber. But for Democrats, the coming weeks are promising to feature a series of issues that will likely expose deeper splits in their diverse and spirited caucus — and test Pelosi’s faculty for keeping the party together heading into the pivotal 2020 elections.

“It’s going to be difficult as we go along,” said Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldNancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now House Democrats press leaders to start Trump impeachment WHIP LIST: The 83 House Democrats backing an impeachment inquiry MORE (D-N.C.). “The tough votes are in front of us, and we all know that.”

Most urgently, Congress is scrambling this week to pass a spending package to prevent another government shutdown. The legislation is said to include funding for border barriers that’s sure to alienate liberal Democrats staunchly opposed to President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE’s efforts to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“There are some very strong feelings about whether a nickel should go to the wall,” said Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightHouse Dems up funding for science agencies, ignoring proposed Trump cuts Overnight Energy: Dems press Interior chief to embrace climate action | Lawmakers at odds on how to regulate chemicals in water | Warren releases climate plan for military Interior chief dismisses climate concerns in first Natural Resources hearing: 'I haven't lost any sleep over it' MORE (D-Pa.), who supports new barriers in what he considers appropriate spots.

Democrats are also vowing action on a bill designed to rein in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel — controversial legislation opposed by a number of liberals, including Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, that’s sure to divide the caucus.

And Pelosi is charging ahead with a government reform package, known as H.R. 1, with campaign finance provisions that are sure to ignite a debate about whether lawmakers should be allowed to accept donations from corporate PACs — yet another issue that splits Democrats.

Butterfield, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said net neutrality will also put Democrats at odds with each other. Amid the ongoing debate over how aggressively Democrats should fight for liberal ideals, Butterfield urged a pragmatic approach.

“Some things that the progressives have advocated are aspirational, and we’ve explained to them that we don’t disagree with their positions,” he said. “But we’ve got to be realistic when you work in a divided Congress.”

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He also touted Pelosi as the best person to navigate the party through the maze of competing voices and conflicting agendas.

“She’s visionary, and she has a tremendous ability to reconcile different positions,” he said. “When there are fires within our caucus, she has the ability to work through those issues.”

Rep. David PriceDavid Eugene PriceRepublican lawmakers on why they haven't read Mueller report: 'Tedious' and 'what's the point?' Democrats advance more spending bills, defying Trump budget requests Ahead of infrastructure talks, House Democrats release 7B bill MORE (D-N.C.), one of the 17 lawmakers to negotiate a nascent deal to prevent another shutdown, offered similar praise, saying Pelosi struck the right balance between guiding the talks for the sake of the party and leaving negotiators the space to reach a deal.

“She knew when to intervene and when to let the process take its course,” he said. “Of course, she didn’t leave much to chance. But she respected the process, and respected our committee in particular, and had a good sense of what her role should be.”

“And that’s not an easy thing,” he added.

Pelosi has made clear she’s hoping to channel the energy of the young new crop of freshman lawmakers so that it becomes a productive force, not a source of friction. Those dynamics were on display last week when Ocasio-Cortez and other liberal Democrats unveiled the Green New Deal, setting a high bar for the party’s environmental agenda — and alienating more moderate lawmakers in the process.

Pelosi initially dismissed the proposal, referring to it the day before its release as “the green dream or whatever they call it,” in an interview with Politico. But Pelosi has also created a special committee to tackle climate change, and many liberals shrugged off the idea that there will be major internal clashes over how aggressively Democrats should attack the global warming crisis.

“We’re all one big happy family,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the Rules Committee who has endorsed the Green New Deal. “We’ll work it all out.”

Perhaps Pelosi’s biggest political headache arrived this week, when Omar tweeted that lawmaker support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins baby” — a remark that sparked charges of anti-Semitism from Jewish advocates and widespread condemnation on Capitol Hill.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders responded with a damning statement emphasizing that congressional support for Israel is “based on shared values and strategic interests” — not political donations — and urging Omar to apologize. Within hours, the Minnesota freshman had done just that.

Cartwright attributed the quick apology to Pelosi’s powers of persuasion over the caucus she leads.

“We needed somebody who knew how to be a strong leader, somebody who doesn’t put up with a lot of extracurricular activity and can hold the caucus together,” Cartwright said. “Because, above all, if we’re going to achieve results for the American people, we have to keep the Democratic Caucus together.”

“She has proved adept at that,” he said.