What is Nancy Pelosi doing? That's the sentiment among some top Democrats in the House and on K Street after the House Democratic leader announced earlier today that at tonight's State of the Union address she's sitting with Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a top Democratic target for defeat in November.
"It's a huge issue. It's absolutely ridiculous that the leader of the party in the House is helping someone (who's defeat) could help us retake the House," said a House Democratic chief of staff.
The move is not without precedent. Pelosi and Bartlett sat together last year, but, Democrats argue, the dynamics were different. Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords had just been shot in the head and Bartlett's district had not yet been redrawn to give Democrats a chance to win it this November.
"All these different members over the years who have been reprimanded for doing things with safe Republicans in no danger of losing their seat, it's a little hypocritical sitting with a targeted member who's one of our top pickup targets," said a senior House Democratic staffer.
Indeed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hosted a lunch fundraiser today headlined by Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to raise money for Democratic challengers taking on Bartlett and other Republicans it has identified as vulnerable --it's so called Red-to-Blue program. A number of the challengers are in town for meet and greets.
"My only appointments today are not with my clients. They are with all these Red-to-Blue candidates," griped one Democratic lobbyist.
Democrats worry that Bartlett's appearance with Pelosi will give the conservative Republican and Tea Party caucus member the appearance of a centrist, optics that are bad for Democrats on two fronts. First, it could hurt Bartlett in his primary and Democrats would rather run against Bartlett in November than one of the younger Republicans challenging him. Second, it gives him a claim to a working relationship with Pelosi that could be helpful among moderates in the general election.
"Being a human shield for one of our ... targeted incumbents is ridiculous," the chief of staff said. "I don't know what she gets out of it other than hurting our chances of taking back the House."
Pelosi's office hasn't responded to a request for comment.