What The Obamacare Fight Says About Nancy Pelosi
Progressives say she is too moderate, too quick to cut deals. Those who fought alongside her disagree.
House Democrats will vote on next year’s speaker Wednesday, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appears poised to get majority support from her caucus, as centrists and progressives alike have been dropping their objections to her candidacy in recent days.
She might still be a few votes short of what she will ultimately need in January ― a majority of the entire House ― to become speaker. And at the moment, the biggest pocket of opposition comes from centrist Democrats and those from more conservative districts, which is no surprise. In her more than 30 years in the House and more than 15 years as a member of Democratic leadership, Pelosi has been a bogeyman for conservatives, and centrist Democrats have kept their distance from her for years.
But Pelosi is also confronting more skepticism from the left than at any other time in her career.
The “San Francisco liberal” caricatured by the right now faces protests outside her office from progressive activists demanding stronger action on climate change. She’s catching grief from progressives appalled at her pledge to match new spending with cuts or taxes, making it much more difficult to enact expansive initiatives like free college tuition.
Other progressive gripes with Pelosi include her vow to work with Trump on their limited areas of common interest, starting with infrastructure, and her failure to embrace a single-payer Medicare for all health care program, which has become a litmus test for progressives.
Pelosi defenders frequently cite her role in the Affordable Care Act, the signature domestic accomplishment of Barack Obama’s presidency and her four-year tenure as Speaker. But to many progressives ambivalent about the law because of its shortcomings and compromises, that episode only shows that Pelosi is too close to monied interests and has been too quick to compromise with centrists.
Key players from that drama, including elected officials, staff and lobbyists, see things differently. They say Pelosi battled with Senate Democrats and the White House to make legislation more progressive ― and fought hard. They say she cut deals because it was the only way to get a bill through Congress and onto Obama’s desk.