Team Pelosi defectors are coming to Washington

Team Pelosi defectors are coming to Washington
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Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE is an absolute train wreck for the Democratic Party and for working-class families.” That’s what Richard Ojeda, rising star and new Democratic nominee in West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District had to say about the current House minority leader. Ojeda joins a growing number of Democratic candidates who have pledged to vote against Pelosi for House speaker should Dems retake the majority.

Of course, this isn’t Pelosi’s first trip to the rodeo. She has seen red state Dems oppose her before and it hasn’t threatened her grip on power. “Just win, baby,” was her message to those candidates who thought it would help them to trash her. In my own congressional race in Virginia in 2010, I ran a TV ad saying that I wouldn’t support Pelosi. That ad had about as much influence as an ordinary working person has in Congress — that is to say, none.


There are a few reasons, however, to believe that this time will be different.


First of all, there appear to be far more Democratic candidates running against Pelosi than has been reported thus far. I run a PAC called The People’s House Project. We currently back 11 candidates, including Ojeda. The overwhelming majority of our candidates are opposed to a return of Speaker Pelosi. She remains an exceptionally unpopular figure in much of the country and is a symbol of Democratic cultural condescension and elitism. As more and more Democrats get through their primaries and train their sites on the general election, expect to see the trickle of Democratic defectors from Team Pelosi turn to a flood.

Second, many in the current wave of Democratic contenders are cut from a different cloth than your typical Democratic pol. These folks aren’t your standard local electeds and lawyers who have been carrying a briefcase around at the Democratic National Committee since they were 15. This class of Democratic candidates is running on idealism more than ambition. Teachers, veterans, doctors, and the world’s most famous ironworker have decided that their country needs them in this era and are stepping up out of a genuine sense of purpose — not because this is the next rung on the ladder.

If you’ll recall, a similar dynamic played out on the right in the first midterm election after President Obama took office. The 2010 elections saw a Tea Party wave that brought in a lot of first-time candidates who owed no allegiance to the party apparatus and proceeded to make life miserable for their leadership.

Let’s take the aforementioned Richard Ojeda as one example of this new class. He is a 24-year Army veteran with four combat tours under his belt and the names of his fallen brothers tattooed on his back. He was nearly killed five times overseas defending our country, and once at a backyard barbecue in Logan County, West Virginia, in what he believes to be a political hit job. Do you think he is going to be intimidated by the threat of a lousy committee assignment or a shunning in the cloak room?

Ojeda is coming to Washington as a Democrat from a district that Trump won by 40 points. He can’t be bought and he can’t be bargained with. He’s like a benevolent, patriotic version of the Terminator in “Terminator 2.”  You can take as many shots at him as you want, but he will still keep coming. Just ask the Republican legislators who buckled under the weight of the teacher’s strike that Ojeda sparked with a viral floor speech. Or, you can ask those same Republicans about how he shamed them into passing medical marijuana through a Republican supermajority when absolutely no one thought such a thing was possible.

Pelosi expects the kind of gentle kid-gloves approach that Ohio Congressman Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanHouse passes spending bill to boost Capitol Police and Hill staffer pay Tim Ryan slams McCarthy for mocking Capitol physician, mask mandate Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections MORE took in his failed attempt to unseat Pelosi. I advised Ryan on his approach but he was never comfortable aggressively prosecuting the case against Pelosi. They were friendly. She had been a mentor. He wasn’t comfortable starting any television interview with anything other than how much he admired Pelosi and what a trailblazer she was. Even with this milquetoast approach from a relative backbencher, Ryan won about a third of the caucus. Ojeda doesn’t know Pelosi and has never seen a pair of kid gloves.

He and the other working-class heroes winning Democratic primaries on May 8 owe nothing to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They owe nothing to the establishment. And they owe nothing to Pelosi. They don’t care that she’s good on the political cocktail circuit, or that she might give them a crappy office. When they say they will vote against her, they actually mean that they will oppose her — loudly, bluntly and aggressively.  

Pelosi thinks these candidates will change their minds once they join the congressional club. She’s wrong. Washington isn’t going to change them. They are going to change Washington.

Krystal Ball is the liberal co-host of a bipartisan morning video show being launched by The Hill this spring. She is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and a former candidate for Congress in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.