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Himes not taking sides just yet

November 15, 2018

Rep. Jim Himes is on the record as advocating a “new generation” of leadership among House Democrats, but he’s not burning his bridges with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is poised to resume the reins as Speaker of the House come January.

Himes is glad to talk about the future of Democratic control of the House (“This is a two-year audition”) and to warn against overdoing it on investigations of Trump and Friends (“We have to be the adults in the room”).

But when it comes to Pelosi and whether he will support her or not, he’s curiously mum.

“It’s too early to answer that question,” he told me in an interview shortly after Election Day. “We don’t know who (the) candidates are.”

Fast forward to nine days after the election and the preliminary results are in: There are no candidates to challenge Pelosi.

But that doesn’t mean she wins the speakership in a slam-dunk. Eight to 10 Democratic House incumbents and blue-wave newbies oppose Pelosi. And depending how some of the as-yet undecided House races work out, that could be enough to block her path to the gavel.

But rather than twiddle his thumbs, Himes is rallying centrist colleagues in his role as chairman of the 68-member New Democrat Coalition.

The NDC will have a sit-down (or two) with prospective leadership nominees, hoping to put its imprint on the selection prospects.

The coalition is inviting all those interested in leadership “to make their pitch,” said Himes spokesman Patrick Malone. “This is going to be a golden opportunity for members to get their questions answered.”

The guest list is either not finalized or not for public dissemination — or both. And not all Dems are centrist, thanks to a couple of electrifying newcomers like Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York, an unabashed leftist.

Himes himself will want to tread lightly, because he intends to let the presumed speaker know of his interest in chairing the House intelligence committee — a position that appears likely to go to the current ranking Democrat, the ubiquitous (on cable news) Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

But Himes, to his credit, is not into cutting his own throat needlessly. So this silent movie has another reel or two to go before the denouement.

House rules

The numbers might change, and losers now may be later to win. But when the Election Day dust finally settles, Democrats will still be in the minority in the Senate.

But even if he drank alcohol, teetotaler Sen. Richard Blumenthal would not be crying in his beer. The Democrats’ victory in the House changes the political dynamic on Capitol Hill, even if Republicans continue to hold the Senate and White House, he insists.

“The bills that come over from House will set the agenda for Senate, so Democrats will be the critical fulcrum,” he said. “There may be opposition from Senate Republicans, but we are the deal-makers.”

Although there is widespread expectation that House-Democrat legislation will die in the Senate, Blumenthal says it isn’t necessarily so.

Infrastructure, immigration, even guns — the chances of carving out compromise have not been as good in years, he said.

The bipartisan Senate passed an immigration bill in 2013 with a path to citizenship, only to see it die in the GOP House.

The ground also has shifted on guns, Blumenthal added. The Manchin-Toomey background-check bill that narrowly lost in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting could be revived. And this time the House could approve instead of burying it.

Some Democrats, such as Rep. Jim Himes, are worried that the House may overdo it on investigations of Trump & Company — much like Republicans overdid the Benghazi probe in an effort to take down Hillary Clinton.

Blumenthal doesn’t preclude legitimate investigative oversight as long as there are “no fishing expeditions.”

And there is no reason for Democrats to walk softly as part of an effort to reach compromise on legislation, he added.

“It’s like walking and chewing gum at the same time.”

dan@hearstdc.com

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