Sanders' Rise Fuels Dems' Angst 02/27 06:12
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Bernie Sanders' ascendancy as Democrats' leading
presidential hopeful fueled growing unease as lawmakers openly expressed
anxiety that the self-proclaimed democratic socialist could cost them House
control and questions abounded over what party leaders should do.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., projected calm --- and neutrality ---
on Wednesday as she batted away reporters' queries about whether it was time
for her to try thwarting Sanders to protect her party's majority.
"We're not going to lose the House," she said. "We're going to be united by
whomever is the candidate for president. But we are taking responsibility for
winning the House, and we're not assuming anything. But we feel very confident."
She delivered a similar message to colleagues at a closed-door meeting
Wednesday morning, when she told them, "We cannot show any division. This has
to be about unity, unity, unity." Her remarks were described by a Democratic
aide on the condition of anonymity to relay private comments.
Yet with Sanders, I-Vt., riding high after early nominating contest wins in
New Hampshire and Nevada and a virtual first-place tie in Iowa, other House
Democrats were less sanguine.
Time was growing short to head Sanders off. South Carolina holds its primary
Saturday, followed three days later by Super Tuesday, when contests in 14
states and one territory will decide one-third of the delegates to this
summer's Democratic convention.
Rep. Tom Malinowski, a freshman from a closely divided New Jersey district,
said Democrats have "a simple path" to defeating President Donald Trump by
focusing on health care, the economy and a promise that their presidential
candidate won't lie. "I don't want to squander that opportunity" by nominating
a contender who divides Democrats, he said in an unspoken reference to Sanders.
Freshman Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., who defeated an incumbent Republican in
2018 in a swing district in coastal Virginia, said a Sanders candidacy would be
"incredibly divisive" and endanger more centrist lawmakers like herself. The
former Navy commander said of GOP efforts to paint all Democrats as socialists,
"Bernie Sanders just adds fuel to that fire."
Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., a leader of his party's House moderates, said
there is widespread concern among lawmakers from competitive districts "that a
Sanders candidacy would sink their reelections."
Peters, whose San Diego district is safely Democratic, said Sanders would
complicate moderates' reelection bids because "the face of the Democratic Party
might be spouting things that are absolutely anathema to your voters." Sanders
advocacy for "Medicare for All," the Green New Deal and student loan
forgiveness has alienated many moderates.
Of the 42 House seats Democrats gained in 2018 when they captured the
majority, 29 are from districts that Trump either won in 2016 or lost by a
narrow 5 percentage points or less. Most of them are moderates.
Republicans will need to gain 18 seats in November's elections to win House
control, assuming they retain three vacant seats held previously by the GOP.
Asked what Pelosi was doing about Sanders, Peters said, "I hope that we do
have a conversation as a party" about his impact on endangered Democrats.
Hours after No. 3 House Democratic leader James Clyburn endorsed former Vice
President Joe Biden for the Democratic nod, Clyburn declined to say Wednesday
whether it was time for Pelosi to speak up. "I don't tell people what to do
politically," Clyburn, from South Carolina, told reporters.
Asked if Sanders would cost Democrats the House, Clyburn said, "I don't know
if he will or not. It's not a chance I want to take."
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one Democratic lawmaker from a
competitive district said many party moderates were eager for Pelosi to do
something to hinder Sanders' drive toward the nomination.
No lawmakers interviewed specified what leaders could do to help sidetrack
Sanders. Any action they took would risk backfiring by antagonizing liberal
voters who all Democrats will need this fall.
Sanders' rise has put many Democrats in a delicate situation similar to what
many Republicans faced four years ago. As Trump roared toward the GOP
nomination, his anti-immigrant views and personal foibles soured Republican
congressional candidates, but many chose not to abandon him and risk alienating
their party's base, conservative voters.
Underscoring the tricky political terrain they face, several vulnerable
Democrats said Wednesday that they would back whoever their party's nominee is,
but stopped short of saying they would campaign with Sanders.
"We haven't gotten that far yet," said Rep. Lucy McBath from a closely
divided district outside Atlanta.
"I'll cross that bridge if I come to it," said Michigan Rep. Elissa
Slotkin, from a Lansing-area district that leans toward the GOP.
Some of Congress' most liberal Democrats have endorsed Sanders. One of them
seemed to apply pressure on Pelosi on Wednesday to not undermine him.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said Pelosi "plays a very important role in
staying neutral and calming everybody down." She said Pelosi and other leaders
who have not endorsed a candidate should continue that stance.
"They're going to have to win the votes for their own leadership positions
within the caucus, and I think that weighing in would not be appropriate for
the speaker," Jayapal said. The House majority party elects the speaker for
every new Congress.
Democratic Party officials will brief lawmakers Thursday on the rules that
will govern their nominating convention this summer in Milwaukee. The party has
weakened the clout of superdelegates, who include members of Congress, but they
could play an important role if the convention does not choose a nominee during
the gathering's first ballot.