Common Ground Is A Battlefield For New Congress
LYNN NEARY, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in for Liane Hansen.
With the midterm elections behind them, Democrats and Republicans are preparing for the transition to a new political reality that will bring much more power and influence to the GOP. Some of that change will come at the state level - at least 29 states will be led by Republican governors. In a few minutes, we'll talk to one of them about how he plans to carry out the party's agenda of cutting taxes and government spending.
But first, we're going to look at the changes coming to Washington when the 112th Congress is seated in January. The GOP picked up 60 seats in the House and Republican leaders are talking about a mandate. But the Democrats who remain are not about to give up their ground without a fight.
Joining us now to discuss what to expect from the next Congress are NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook and senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Good to have you with us.
RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Lynn.
ANDREA SEABROOK: Hi.
NEARY: Let's start in the House, Andrea. That's your territory. Now, we've got some, I think, pretty surprising news to many people on Friday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to be the leader of the Democrats in the minority. What is she thinking?
SEABROOK: What she did was go and consult with some of the top Democrats in the House - the chairmen of committees and her confidantes - and they all told her, look, you have done an amazing job for the last two years, you've been incredibly productive and we want you to continue to be our leader. It was totally - you're right, Lynn - unexpected. The rest of the world outside of the House of Representatives thought that she would either step down and be a regular member of Congress or even leave the Congress all together. That's usually what happens when a speaker loses the majority.
Now, the Republicans couldn't be happier about this because they've really targeted her and made her sort of the head of their opposition, sort of vilified her in a way. But I've heard a lot of Democrats say, look, this is the first time we just haven't cowered. We're not going to let the Republicans write the story about Nancy Pelosi, and she's been a great leader, let's keep her. It's very strange though.
NEARY: And, Ron, Harry Reid is keeping his leadership post in the Senate apparently. So, this is a repeat of the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid show. Is that a good idea for the Democrats?
ELVING: You know, Congress is often hamstrung in situations like this. What they need to have here is a confidence vote in the leaders. In each caucus, in each chamber, up or down, secret ballot, do you want Nancy Pelosi in the House; do you want Harry Reid in the Senate? And, hey, if Nancy Pelosi has the votes to prevail in that kind of a vote, she should remain as leader. That's what the Democrats want. But if not, they should be about finding someone who does.
And as for the Senate, you know, I'd have to doubt that Reid would survive a secret ballot vote of his Democratic colleagues at this point, all those guys facing the voters now in 2012 and 2014. And if Reid didn't survive that vote, they could clear the decks for a contest between other people who would provide a change and a more dynamic face for the party in that chamber. But that's just not how we do things in our Congress. They don't have votes like that.
And as a practical matter, running against the current leader is very rarely done because of the risks involved in losing.
NEARY: You know, Ron, in writing about this, particularly with regard to Nancy Pelosi, you've used the word hubris, which often implies that ultimately things are not going to end well for the person who shows that characteristic. What do you mean when you talk about this as being a case of possible hubris that could backfire?
ELVING: The Democrats, and particularly Nancy Pelosi, feels strongly that what they have done is the right thing. They have done what they should have done, they have pursued the right policies and that history will be on their side. That matters more to them than how it may look, at least for the moment, at least for the people who voted on Tuesday.
NEARY: Let's go back to the Republicans for a moment, because there's going to be a new speaker of the House, presumably John Boehner. Andrea, what kind of leader can we expect him to be?
SEABROOK: Well, John Boehner is a fascinating guy. He himself would tell you he's not a real big policy guy, although he did chair the Education and Labor Committee for some time. He considers himself more of a bartender. He grew up tending bar in his father's tavern, of course, when he was of age. Before that, he was mopping floors. And what he says is, I can deal with every character that walks through the door.
And that is really one of the keys to being an effective leader of any party in the House. It's being able to listen to every single kind of Republican there is - and we have a lot of different kinds of Republicans in the House, or will in January - and being able to bring them together to get them to all vote on the same things.
NEARY: Are there any other Republican leadership positions up for grabs?
ELVING: There are no positions up for grabs. The leadership in both the Senate and the House, they've already worked out where everybody's going to land and they've already told people where they'd like them to put their votes. But one person is challenging that on the House side: Michele Bachmann, who is from Minnesota.
She started the Tea Party caucus in the Republican House membership, and she would like very much to get into the leadership to bring the perspective of the Tea Party directly into the leadership. So, she's running for the number four position of conference chairman - that would be the person who convenes the meeting of all the Republicans in the House.
NEARY: Well, you know, those newly elected House members who are backed by the Tea Party tend to see things in very ideologically pure terms. So, will they cooperate with Boehner and the Republican leadership or will they block GOP initiatives that they don't think are ideologically pure?
SEABROOK: I would be very surprised if they didn't block something soon. They have a point to make, and that is that the Republican Party, if it's going to count on its base, should be pure and conservative regardless of who's writing the legislation. They will make that point.
That said, the Republicans will probably hang together. They all want to cut spending and have more tax cuts, so they will find that common ground at some point.
NEARY: Ron, how does this new congressional equation position everyone for 2012?
ELVING: Everyone is going to be thinking about 2012 from the very beginning of this particular Congress. In the first week of January, that will be very much on people's minds, not only because these House members will all be on the ballot in 2012, and a third of a Senate as well, but also because they're all thinking about Barack Obama. And this has been made very clear by Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and he has said our number one priority in the 112th Congress is to make sure Barack Obama is a one-term president.
So, their main priority for 2012 is to elect a Republican Senate that will pass the same legislation that this coming House will be inclined to pass and a Republican president who would sign it into law.
NEARY: NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook and senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Thanks to both of you.
SEABROOK: Thanks, Lynn.
ELVING: Thank you, Lynn.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.