Pelosi tells Emanuel the Democratic house leadership race is an internal House Democratic Caucus matter, and we’ll handle it.”
In a recent conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel offered some advice on a Democratic House leadership race. Pelosi’s response, according to several Democratic sources: It is “an internal House Democratic Caucus matter, and we’ll handle it.”
Democratic insiders say there’s no animosity between Pelosi and Emanuel, who’s leaving his post as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus to become the next White House chief of staff.
But the speaker is laying down the law nonetheless.
In talks with Emanuel and others, sources say, Pelosi has “set parameters” for what she wants from Barack Obama and his White House staff — no surprises, and no backdoor efforts to go around her and other Democratic leaders by cutting deals with moderate New Democrats or conservative Blue Dogs.
Specifically, Pelosi has told Emanuel that she wants to know when representatives of the incoming administration have any contact with her rank-and-file Democrats — and why, sources say.
During the Bush years, the White House set policy, and Republicans on Capitol Hill were expected to follow it. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) occasionally lashed out at former White House chief of staff Andy Card or other senior administration aides when he felt they had gone too far. But in general, Republican lawmakers followed Bush’s lead on every major legislative battle, from Iraq to tax and spending bills to anti-terror policies. With the exception of immigration reform, the House fight over the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package and last week’s meltdown over a bailout for the Big Three automakers, Bush got what he wanted from Congress, especially within his own party.
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are signaling that they won’t tolerate a repeat with a Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.
Pelosi “is not going to allow Obama to triangulate her,” said a Democratic source close to the leadership. “It’s not going to happen to her.”
Pelosi’s mantra, in a way, is “no surprises.” The speaker wants to be told when Reid is communicating with the Blue Dogs or other factions with her caucus, and she expects the same from Obama when he arrives in the Oval Office, said Democratic sources.
“We certainly are in frequent communication with the [Obama] transition team,” said Brendan Daly, Pelosi’s communications director. Daly noted that Pelosi and Emanuel have long-standing ties — she appointed him to head up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the start of 2005 — and added that Emanuel often speaks directly with John Lawrence, Pelosi’s chief of staff.
Daly said Pelosi will work closely with Obama and Reid to craft an economic stimulus package early next year, as well as other economic recovery legislation.
“She and President-elect Obama have the same goals,” Daly added. “It’s a matter of working together to get things done.”
Pelosi herself said the same about Obama in an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt last week, stating that “our priorities are the same about creating good-paying jobs.”
But it won’t always be that easy. Capitol Hill veterans predict that, no matter how much goodwill there is at the start of a new administration, there are always battles over policy and legislative priorities between the White House and Congress.
“There is tension. There is going to be tension,” said a Democratic veteran of Capitol Hill. “This is not Hastert. She wants to know what they are up to.”
The Emanuel-Pelosi relationship is a complex one that defies easy explanation. Emanuel was a rising star inside the Democratic Caucus — with many members convinced he would be speaker one day — until Obama tapped him for the West Wing job. In large part, Emanuel owed his rise to Pelosi, who put him in charge of the DCCC, where he helped lead the Democrats back to the House majority after 12 years out of power.
From the DCCC, Emanuel moved up to the chairmanship of the caucus. But both he and Pelosi had stocked the DCCC with their own loyalists after the 2006 election, and they both tried to influence campaign strategy as subtly as possible through these surrogates. At the same time, Emanuel was often jockeying with other members on major legislation, including immigration reform and the Wall Street bailout, but rarely without the speaker’s blessing.
Pelosi sometimes resisted Emanuel’s desire to always be on the attack, but she did respect his insight and his willingness to work hard to achieve legislative and political goals. She refused to back Emanuel when he made noises about running for majority whip, the post now held by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). But when Obama approached him about the chief of staff job, Emanuel consulted Pelosi first.
Yet the two will find themselves on different ends of Pennsylvania Avenue next year, and that will change the nature of their current relationship profoundly.
“Look, they have different goals now,” said an aide to one top Democrat. “Her job is to protect her members; his job is protect Obama. Those can’t always be the same thing.”
This source added: “I think they will do what they can to work together, but these are two strong-willed people who are used to getting their way. There’s bound to be some areas of disagreement. We’ll just have to see how they handle it.”