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How Will Speaker Pelosi punish disloyal Democrats?


Democracy and Power 110:  Majority Leader of the Senate and the Speaker of the House

 In order to get power and retain it, it is necessary to love power; but love of power is not connected with goodness but with qualities that are the opposite of goodness, such as pride, cunning, and cruelty. – Leo Tolstoy


How Will Speaker Pelosi punish disloyal Democrats?


Recently, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has lost her nearly dictatorial control of the Democratic Caucus.  Why is the Speaker of the House so powerful?  The Speaker appoints Members of Congress to Committees and sets the legislative agenda.  Pragmatically, a Member of Congress must be a loyal and obedient “team player” of the Speaker to be an effective legislator.  Legislation only advances with the authorization of the Speaker.

Today, many Democratic Members of Congress fear losing their elections, a few have broken ranks, and a couple have gone AWOL saying some nasty things about the Speaker.  Erika Lovley in Politico muses on how Pelosi will react.  Will she remove members from committees or will she withhold campaign contributions?

But will Pelosi be yanking committee seats or chairmanships after the election? It’s unlikely. Pelosi’s form of punishment has been more subtle — usually a cold shoulder and a behind-the-scenes admonishment — but being frozen out by your leader can be costly, especially in campaign fundraising.

“She uses her power deftly in ways a 21st-century speaker does. This is a powerful speaker who can impact how many campaign dollars you can get,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who served in the Clinton White House as communications counsel.

Previously, Republicans Speakers have bludgeoned disobedient Republicans:

New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, a moderate Republican, was stripped of his chairmanship of the House Veterans Affairs Committee after he fought President George W. Bush’s administration and his congressional leadership to boost health care funding for veterans. Many of his Republican colleagues who supported him lost funding for their own districts.

The Democracy and Power Lesson 110:

The first vote in a legislative session is the most important.  The Speaker of the House is elected by all the Members of the House.  At the federal level, the leadership positions are consistently decided by which party has the majority.

Following, the Speaker appoints more of her loyal party members to the committees.  Hence, the majority party controls the process and all legislation.

 Or as Lovley reports:  “Having that positive relationship will go the extra mile for you,” said Lehane. “The speaker can certainly provide ample rewards for being a good soldier.”