Pelosi Threatens Moderate Democrats for Voting With GOP on Procedural Votes

Nancy Pelosi / Getty Images
February 28, 2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) told moderate Democrats during a closed-door meeting on Thursday to stop siding with Republicans on procedural votes, saying they could become a lower priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2020.

Pelosi met with the Democratic Caucus behind closed doors to discuss recent procedural votes that exposed the divisions within the party, according to two individuals who spoke to Politico. Since the Democrats took over the House last month, Republicans have won two motions to recommit, including a Wednesday vote that angered progressives, Politico reported.

The latest defeat came on Wednesday, as the House debated legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales — a position overwhelmingly favored by Democrats. When Republicans moved to amend the bill to require Immigration and Customs Enforcement be told of any undocumented immigrant who tries to buy a gun, 26 Democrats voted with the GOP. The language was added to the gun bill, spoiling an important Democratic legislative achievement.

An earlier GOP motion condemning anti-Semitism was successfully attached to a House resolution barring U.S. involvement in the Yemeni civil war. That maneuver, which was backed by every Democrat, later caused parliamentary problems in the Senate and upended Democratic attempts to challenge President Donald Trump's foreign policy.

During Thursday's meeting, Pelosi warned Democrats who voted with Republicans on the latest motion to recommit, saying, "This is not a day at the beach. This is the Congress of the United States." In retaliation for voting with Republicans, Pelosi said the DCCC could treat their 2020 races as a low priority, although Democratic lawmakers and aides told Politico they don't think this will become a reality. In response to Pelosi's warning, freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), who has become a vocal progressive voice, told Pelosi she could alert activists when Democrats vote with Republicans.

Inside the meeting, Ocasio-Cortez said she has "a text chain with 200 activists in her district" that she's in constant contact with on issues facing Democrats.

Ocasio-Cortez said she even considered voting against the background checks bill because of the Republican language on ICE, perhaps the most-hated federal agency on the left.

Ocasio-Cortez went up to the gallery after the vote to tell activists she "had to choose between immigrants and gun violence. Not because of Republicans, but because of Democrats," said a source in the room.

"I think it is an extension of Trump’s tactics into the House and we cannot legitimatize it and we cannot allow for it and we cannot support it," Ocasio-Cortez told reporters after the meeting.

While Democrats vowed they would improve their preparation for Republican motions, the controversy divided Democratic House leadership. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.) have suggested members can vote with Republicans if it will improve political standing. In contrast to the Democrats, Republicans were unified and didn't lose a single motion when they controlled the House from 2011 to 2019.

Pelosi also told her caucus that members who vote with Republican motions put undue pressure on vulnerable colleagues who prefer to stick with the party to win.

"We are either a team or weren’t not, and we have to make that decision," Pelosi said.

Multiple Democrats expressed frustration or support for Pelosi's call to stay united, including freshman Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D., N.M.) who voted for the GOP motion on Wednesday. He was visibly emotional and pointedly said courage looks different to different people, according to two sources in the room.

Justice Democrats, a progressive PAC that helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, expressed anger over Wednesday's vote. "How did Nancy Pelosi let this happen?" the group tweeted. The vote to amend the Democratic legislation went in Republicans' favor 220-209.