Outgoing Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert may have been a wrestler, but it’s incoming Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who’s the fighter.
Her fellow Democrats had barely anointed her when she angered supporters of the popular Steny Hoyer by publicly and, worse, unsuccessfully, opposing his re-election to the No. 2 spot in the leadership, basically her top deputy.
Pelosi had long said she would not reappoint Jane Harman, a fellow Californian with whom she has often sparred, to the top post on the House Intelligence Committee, thus upsetting Harman’s backers among the "Blue Dog" Democrats, a caucus of conservatives on spending and defense.
Then she ruffled the Black Caucus by passing over the next-ranking Democrat on the committee, Alcee Hastings. She had earlier angered the caucus by removing William Jefferson from a prized seat on the House Ways and Means Committee after Jefferson became the target of a bribery investigation.
Hastings’ problem was that he was impeached and removed from the federal bench. And although that was 17 years ago and he was subsequently elected to Congress, naming him chairman would open the Democrats to the same charges of ethical indifference that cost the Republicans control of Congress.
Perhaps Pelosi is wise to get these internal fights out of the way now. Because the Democrats don’t formally take over until January, this is in a sense an exhibition season and the hurt feelings will have time to heal over the long holiday recess.
But the infighting has the potential to open the Democrats to the accusation that they’ve learned nothing from their 12 years in the minority by immediately reverting to their bad old ways of factionalism and interest-group politics.
Then again, next year if she feels like fighting, the Republicans, smarting from their self-inflicted defeat, will be more than willing to give her one.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at mcfeattersd(at)shns.com.)