'The Squad' wields outsized power as Pelosi grapples with slimmest majority since World War II
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The progressive “Squad” is flexing its muscle and revealing just how slim Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic majority stands in the House.
The left-wing Democrats almost torpedoed $1.9 billion in additional Capitol security funding last week over concerns of giving police more money. The progressives threatened to unravel police reform compromise legislation if it doesn’t end qualified immunity. And more Democratic fissures were on display last week over U.S. support for Israel during the deadly 11-day Gaza conflict.
Republicans, feeling optimistic about winning back the House in 2022, have pounced on the latest glimpses of Democratic drama and welcomed the break from coverage of their internal squabbles over GOP leadership and the ramifications of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“Dems in disarray!” newly elected GOP conference chairwoman Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., tweeted Thursday as Democrats struggled to pass the $1.9 billion in security funding.
House Democrats, however, have touted their unity as they’ve been able to pass major legislation this year, including the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that President Biden signed into law, as well as their other legislative priorities that await Senate action, such as election reform overhaul, D.C. statehood, expanded gun background checks and police reform legislation.
They point out they’ve had bipartisanship on several major bills with Republicans breaking ranks and joining them in creating the independent Jan. 6 commission, impeaching former President Trump for the Capitol attack and passing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.
Unlike the last time Republicans had the House majority, Democrats say they haven’t had any major embarrassing defeats, such as failure to pass a repeal of Obamacare in 2017 because of internal GOP divisions. Democrats argue the divisiveness is on the GOP side, with Republicans recently kicking out Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo, from leadership for rejecting Trump’s false claims he won the 2020 election.
“While Democrats have spent the first five months passing urgently needed relief for the American people, Republicans have spent the first five months of the 117th Congress in disarray, ousting a member of their own senior leadership team for telling the truth about the election, while embracing Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz,” one senior Democratic aide told Fox News.
Eleven Republicans joined with all Democrats in February to strip Greene of her committee assignments for espousing violence and conspiracy theories on social media before she was elected to Congress. And Gaetz is under criminal investigation for possible sex trafficking. Gaetz has maintained his innocence.
Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.), speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol Feb. 14, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Pelosi is presiding over the slimmest Democratic House majority since World War II. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Pelosi has the slimmest Democratic majority since World War II in the 1940s. Republicans had an even narrower grip on power at the dawn of the new millennium when the GOP occupied barely 51% of seats in 2001.
Democrats hold 219 seats compared to 211 for Republicans. There are five vacancies, three of which were held by Democrats and two by Republicans. The razor-thin majority means Pelosi can only afford to lose three votes on any piece of legislation without needing GOP support.
The thin majority was on full display Thursday when the progressive Squad nearly sunk a Capitol security bill backed by Pelosi over their objections to funding a “broken” policing system and ignoring the root cause of the Jan. 6 riot, which they say is “White supremacy.”
Members of the progressive "Squad" raised concerns about the $1.9 billion Capitol security funding and police reform legislation.
House leadership had to swarm the floor to whip last-minute support. The final vote was 213-212 and illustrated the perils of the very narrow majority Democrats have in the House where just a few defections can kill a bill.
Three Squad members joined with all Republicans in voting “no” against the bill: Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. They rejected more funding for policing.
And in an apparent compromise to avoid the bill from completely failing, three other Squad members voted “present” rather than no: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Jamaal Bowman of New York.
“Nancy Pelosi’s Democrat majority is narrow and vulnerable – and it shows,” said Lauren Fine, spokesperson for House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.
Scalise’s team is focused on keeping Republicans united in opposition to Democrats’ bills, making it “as difficult as possible for Pelosi to succeed in passing her socialist agenda,” Fine told Fox News.
As result, Democrats are left to focus on bills with “little substance,” Fine argued, as they struggle to find the votes for Biden’s next major infrastructure, tax and social welfare proposals, known as the American Families Plan and the American Jobs Plan. Combined, the two proposals cost more than $4 trillion.
“Speaker Pelosi has been unable to put hardly any meaningful legislation on the House floor,” Fine said.
More trouble could be on the horizon. Ten progressives, including the Squad, are making their objections known to a bipartisan compromise on police reform legislation that leaders want to finalize before the anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is trying to hatch a deal with Democrats and end qualified immunity that shields police officers from civil lawsuits has been a sticking point. A big concession from Democrats came when House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said earlier this month he would be willing to support the bill even if it did not end qualified immunity.
Now, House progressives are threatening to undo all that progress by sending a letter to House and Senate leadership saying ending qualified immunity must be included in the legislation as a way to hold officers accountable.
“As a result of qualified immunity, police killings regularly happen with virtual impunity,” wrote the lawmakers, including Bush, Pressley, Omar, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman. “It’s long past time for that to end.”
Qualified Immunity Letter by Fox News
Meanwhile, Biden has been trying to find a bipartisan compromise with Senate Republicans on infrastructure and even offered to lower the price tag of his American Jobs Plan plans on Friday from $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion. But progressives have said his original proposals weren’t big enough, so any compromise could potentially lose votes from the left.
And pushing legislation too far to the left could hurt moderate Democrats that are up for reelection in 2022.
Republicans made big gains in swing districts in 2020, defying the rosy projections that had Democrats growing their majority by double digits. The party in power in the White House traditionally loses seats during the midterm election, so Republicans say they are well positioned to take back the House in 2022.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., says Democrats will still pass President Biden’s legislative priorities despite their slim majority.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, however, remains optimistic the House will pass Biden’s infrastructure and social safety net programs that will deliver real relief for Americans. He touted the unity that Democrats have displayed already this year and expressed confidence their slim numbers will not be a barrier to legislative success.
“House Democrats have demonstrated that we are a united majority, passing substantive legislation that reflects the needs and priorities of the American people. From the American Rescue Plan, to the For The People Act, to expanding bipartisan background checks, and more, House Democrats have been united in passing our agenda,” Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement to Fox News.
The Maryland Democrat added: “We remain unified in our commitment to expanding economic opportunity for working families across the country – and will advance legislation in line with President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan to help create good-paying jobs so more of our people can Make It In America.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Jacqui Heinrich contributed to this report.
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