In a normal political environment, the minority party in the House has the least clout in Congress. With no need for a supermajority to move contentious legislation or the ability to block bills from the majority, as occurs in the Senate, the lower chamber’s minority historically has had a more limited role in legislating.
But we are not in a normal political environment. These days, the minority is acting like the majority.
Obviously House Democrats can’t control the floor or bring up their bills. But during the past few major fiscal fights, a nearly united House Democratic Caucus has carried bills across the finish line, despite being outnumbered by Republicans. The last notable time this occurred was during the fiscal-cliff showdown, in which House Republican leadership was forced to put a bill up for a vote that received support from more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans. Only 16 Democrats voted against it, compared with 151 Republicans.
While the Republican conference has been divided in these big battles, House Democrats have been remarkably unified — with some members gritting their teeth and casting votes for bills they don’t like. Many Democrats attribute that to a leadership that has a proven ability to deliver votes.
“What counts is not how many Democratic votes there are, what counts is how you get it to 218, and we will get it to 218,” Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said hours before the vote on the Senate agreement to reopen the government and temporarily lift the debt ceiling.
The measure passed the House late Wednesday with 198 Democratic votes, despite a number of progressives strongly disapproving of the sequester-driven funding levels included in the deal.
“We hate them, but we hate the shutdown more,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“As much as we believe in what we believe in as progressives, we would never dream of shutting the government down over our priorities. That might disappoint some progressives, but the truth is it’s just wrong for the American people,” Ellison said. “I fervently want to see some real gun control, some real gun safety, but I would never try to wreck the country over it.”
Even Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut — one of just 16 Democrats who voted against the fiscal-cliff deal because the tax rates for wealthier Americans were still too low for her — said hours before the vote on the Senate agreement, “I’m going to wait to see what it has in it, but I want to keep the government open and I want to see the debt ceiling raised.”
“Our caucus has a sense of loyalty to each other and to our common purpose,” said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. “There is a bond of unity. Our individual differences and our geographical differences can be put aside with something this important.”
There was little grumbling among House Democrats leaving their caucus meeting Wednesday. Instead, there was a raucous applause. Not in response to “winning” a negotiation, said Rep. John Larson, D-Conn. “[Rep.] Jim Clyburn told a wonderful story about unity, growing up in South Carolina.”
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Just after President Obama finished his address to the DNC, Hillary Clinton walked out on stage to join him, so the better could share a few embraces, wave to the crowd—and let the cameras capture all the unity for posterity.
In a speech that began a bit like a State of the Union address, President Obama said the "country is stronger and more prosperous than it was" when he took office eight years ago. He then talked of battling Hillary Clinton for the nomination in 2008, and discovering her "unbelievable work ethic," before saying that no one—"not me, not Bill"—has ever been more qualified to be president. When his first mention of Donald Trump drew boos, he quickly admonished the crowd: "Don't boo. Vote." He then added that Trump is "not really a plans guy. Not really a facts guy, either."
Tim Kaine introduced himself to the nation tonight, devoting roughly the first half of his speech to his own story (peppered with a little of his fluent Spanish) before pivoting to Hillary Clinton—and her opponent. "Hillary Clinton has a passion for children and families," he said. "Donald Trump has a passion, too: himself." His most personal line came after noting that his son Nat just deployed with his Marine battalion. "I trust Hillary Clinton with our son's life," he said.
Michael Bloomberg said he wasn't appearing to endorse any party or agenda. He was merely there to support Hillary Clinton. "I don't believe that either party has a monopoly on good ideas or strong leadership," he said, before enumerating how he disagreed with both the GOP and his audience in Philadelphia. "Too many Republicans wrongly blame immigrants for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on climate change and gun violence," he said. "Meanwhile, many Democrats wrongly blame the private sector for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on education reform and deficit reduction." Calling Donald Trump a "dangerous demagogue," he said, "I'm a New Yorker, and a know a con when I see one."
Vice President Biden tonight called President Obama "one of the finest presidents we have ever had" before launching into a passionate defense of Hillary Clinton. "Everybody knows she's smart. Everybody knows she's tough. But I know what she's passionate about," he said. "There's only one person in this race who will help you. ... It's not just who she is; it's her life story." But he paused to train some fire on her opponent "That's not Donald Trump's story," he said. "His cynicism is unbounded. ... No major party nominee in the history of this country has ever known less."