Capitol Hill Buzz: Pelosi, Diversity, Press Credentials

Georgetowner Facing (Gasp!) Competition for House Speaker

The most important woman in the U.S. Congress lives in Georgetown. Nancy Pelosi (D-California), 78, resides in the Washington Harbour Condos. In 2006, she was elected the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives. Since 2010, she has been the first female House minority leader. Now, she is slated to become House Speaker again.

The press is warning that Pelosi’s election as Speaker is in trouble, however. She has a challenger: Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), an African American, seventh-term member of Congress. The hype in the press may seem contrived. Pelosi will most likely be selected by the majority of the Democratic caucus to be leader again.

But Pelosi’s trouble may occur on the floor. As House Speaker, she has to be elected by a majority of all the members of Congress: 218. As of today, Nov. 19, the new 116th Congress has 198 Republicans and 231 Democratic members; six races are still undecided. But 17 Democrats have said — in fact, campaigned and won on the promise — that they would not vote for Pelosi as leader.

If all the Republicans vote no, plus those 17 Dems, she’d only get 214 votes. The rest will depend on how Independents vote, who wins the yet-undecided elections and one unknown factor: African American members. Fudge’s campaign is splitting the all-important Congressional Black Caucus, which currently has some 37 voting members. Many have indicated they are torn between long years of loyalty to Pelosi and their support for more black leadership in Congress.

President Donald Trump said on Nov. 18 that he thinks Pelosi deserves to be House Speaker; he pledged to help her win.

What Does Diversity Mean in Congress?

Headlines lately scream: “The 116th Congress will be the most diverse Congress ever!” “Of the 89 new faces set to join the House and Senate, almost half are not white men,” according to the Brookings Institution. But what does that mean, really, and based on what?

There are no demographic quotas for any elected office — from D.C.’s advisory neighborhood commissions to officials on the Hill. And what of mixed-race members? For instance, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) is part Jamaican and part South Asian; Elizabeth Warren is part Native American. According to the U.S. Census, people who identify as Latino may be any race. What part of ethnicity determines political positions?

The new, diverse 116th Congress will not change the demographics of the House and Senate much in relation to those of the general population. Women will make up about 25 percent of members in 2019 compared to 21 percent (they account for 51 percent of the U.S. population). The percentage of black members is expected to increase to about 10 percent from about nine percent today, compared to 13 percent of the general population. Latino ethnic representation in Congress may increase slightly from the present 7 percent. (Latinos are about 17 percent of the total U.S. population and, interestingly, many are not Democrats.)

The growing overall diversity of Congress makes big news, even as the members themselves are individually more diverse.

Remember When Helen Thomas Was Expelled?

Many Georgetowners knew and remember White House reporter Helen Thomas, who lived north of Georgetown on Calvert Street for decades. Some may have known her when, as a young journalist, she staked out the various homes of Bobby and John and Jackie Kennedy on N Street. But even millennials probably remember her from daily newscasts, articles, opinion pieces and even popular movies like “Dave. 

Many Georgetowners also may remember the catastrophic end to Thomas’s career, when she crossed the line of journalism protocol one time too many. In June of 2010, the White House Correspondents’ Association decided to pull her credentials and ban her from the White House press room. The incident got a lot of attention that wasn’t good for White House journalists. WHCA leaders later admitted that they should have warned Thomas years earlier about her over-the-line behavior, but had protected her because she was popular.

Thomas’s expulsion seems relevant today. Last week, President Trump ordered the credentials of CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta pulled on account of his obstreperous behavior during briefings, including continually arguing with the president during Q&As and refusing to give up the mic after multiple questions. There is no doubt that I would have lost my credentials if I behaved that way in Congress, as would any other congressional reporter.

But the White House press corps is deeply offended by President Trump’s attacks on them. Many openly support Acosta for crossing the line. This week, a federal judge restored Acosta’s credentials temporarily and the White House announced it will impose stricter regulations during Q&As for all reporters. In the end, the judge affirmed that it was not the president’s call to pull the credentials. But no one in the White House Correspondents’ Association seemed to have remembered the Helen Thomas affair.



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