May 21, 2015


'You'd Have to Be Insane Not to Conduct Some Soul-Searching' (ROBERT DRAPER, MAY 20, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

"We just keep losing," Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut told me. "You'd have to be insane not to conduct some soul-searching. And that soul-searching, when you keep losing, can easily -- unfortunately -- lead to recriminations and backbiting."

Impatience toward the party's House leadership -- headed by the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi -- began bubbling over after the midterms. As Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told me: "After the last election, they refused to even admit that we were just destroyed. They were patting themselves on the back for the losses we took: `Oh, it could've been so much worse.' There's a great deal of frustration." She added: "Most members don't want to come to caucus or whip meetings. I think some of them see the House as a quagmire, and they want to find a way out."

It was in that atmosphere of postelection anxiety that House Democrats began having furtive discussions on the House floor and on the phone with Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Since winning his House seat in 2002, Van Hollen had been a rising star in the Democratic Party. He had solid progressive credentials, and Pelosi accorded him star-pupil status in her caucus. And at 56, he is what Washington considers youthful; Pelosi, Steny Hoyer (the minority whip) and James Clyburn (the assistant Democratic leader) are all in their mid-70s. By January of this year, several of Van Hollen's colleagues, convinced that the party was in desperate need of a new direction, were encouraging him to immediately begin mounting an effort to succeed Pelosi by the end of 2016.

The question was how. Apart from making vague references to the desirability of "generational change," Pelosi had sent no signals as to when she might give up her top post. What she had made tacitly clear was that she had no intentions of ceding it to Hoyer, who like Pelosi was raised in Maryland and about whom Pelosi nurtured some ancient but intractable grudge.

Speaking of her attitude toward Hoyer, one Democratic congressman told me: "That's not been good for us, and it has complicated a lot of our challenges. I consider myself a real fan of Steny. But the cards on the table are the ones we have to play. If the only way there's going to be a change is for Chris to ascend, then that's what we have to do."

Still, for Van Hollen to ascend, he and his supporters would have to furnish proof to Pelosi that he could muster a majority of votes within the caucus to beat Hoyer in a leadership race. So, early in 2015, Van Hollen proceeded to do just that. In this task, he was assisted by seven House Democratic colleagues from across the party spectrum: Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut liberal who happens to be one of Pelosi's closest associates; Steve Israel, a centrist representing Long Island who had until recently been Van Hollen's successor at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; two veteran progressives, Lloyd Doggett from Austin and Paul Tonko from upstate New York; the two-term moderates Beto O'Rourke from El Paso and Dan Kildee from Flint, Mich.; and Donna Edwards, a fellow Maryland representative and a protégée of Pelosi.

But then something entirely unexpected took place: On March 2, Maryland's senior senator, Barbara Mikulski, announced that she would not be seeking another term in 2016. Van Hollen had thought hard about running when the other Maryland Senate seat opened up in 2006. Now, after 27 years holding her seat, Mikulski had offered a rare opportunity for a fellow Maryland Democrat to break free from the minority in the raucous lower chamber and join the elite Senate. For an upwardly mobile politician like Van Hollen, such a temptation was akin to a biological imperative -- unless, perhaps, Nancy Pelosi offered him the one enticement that might keep him in the House. 

...and realize it's hostile to the very idea of the soul?

Posted by at May 21, 2015 8:17 PM

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