MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. Democrats have good reason to strut around Washington these days. The party has almost complete control of the government with Barack Obama moving into the White House and with Democrats holding majorities in the House and the Senate. Sounds like a dream scenario, right?
Well, there's one hitch, and it's a big one. After years of a focused fight against Republicans, Democrats have started doing battle with each other in a competition for power and priorities. Case in point - the showdown between John Dingell and Henry Waxman over chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Martin Kady is the deputy congressional editor for Politico. He's been looking in to these different factions, and he joins me now. Welcome to the studio.
MARTIN KADY: Thank you.
NORRIS: In writing about this, you say that Democrats are entering a treacherous power zone. Why is this a perilous scenario? It seems like this would be a dream come true.
KADY: Well, there's certainly going to be a sort of honeymoon for the Democrats. But remember what Will Rogers said, I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat. The Democrats have always had their factions, whether it's southern Democrats versus northern Democrats.
We have some newer factions. We have sort of a California more-green environmental types, represented by Waxman, and we have sort of rust belt Democrats, represented by John Dingell, who was ousted from this committee.
And they have competing priorities on some of the biggest issues, whether it's labor, environmental law, healthcare, you name it. So, the Democrats are going to have to control the factions that often fray at the edges of their party.
NORRIS: And who does that? Who actually tries to bring all these people together so they sing Kumbaya?
KADY: It's really going to be the job of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House. Now, she is a more traditional liberal from San Francisco, but she realizes that many of her new members of Congress, the folks who gave her the majority, came from Republican districts. They're going to be more conservative than, say, the traditional liberals. So she's got to hold the caucus together on that side, and Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate, is going to have to work his members over to hold them together.
NORRIS: Martin, let's take a very quick look at some of these standoffs, and I want to mention this regional standoff. You mentioned Pelosi, Waxman, Reid. A lot of western politicians have taken positions of power within the Democratic Party, and it seems like there is a bit of tension there with politicians who are from the East Coast, but more particularly the middle of the country, who feel like their issues are overlooked.
KADY: Yeah. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Toledo, sort of a traditional union stronghold, she made a leadership run for one of the lower rungs and didn't make it. But she was passing out little cards that had little dots for all the leaders in Congress to show that - she believes there are too many leaders from the West Coast or from the East Coast, and she said, don't forget the heartland.
So, this is sort of a geographic difference here. And the Democratic leaders are going to have to do the sort of outreach to make sure they do have folks from Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, even Indiana onboard if they're going to take on some of the big environmental pieces of their agenda.
NORRIS: From healthcare to climate policy, there's also a division. On one side, there's a strong argument for bold, aggressive action, almost a sort of take-no-prisoners agenda. On the other side, there's a push for a more centrist, measured approach. Who's likely to win that battle?
KADY: Well, if we're taking the lead from the top, what we saw from President-elect Obama in this campaign is that he's a cautious, calculating campaigner. There's a strong contingent of about 90 more liberal House Democrats who would like a single payer healthcare system, but that's not exactly what Obama promised in the campaign.
And in the Senate, there's a couple of more go-slow approaches. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, is someone who wants to do it step-by-step. He's released a bill. It's not one massive healthcare bill that some people who are strong healthcare reform advocates would like.
NORRIS: Now, Republicans on the sidelines, can they make a bit of mischief here - to instigate trouble by perhaps poking at raw nerves between these warring factions?
KADY: Oh yeah. I mean, the Republicans are a dedicated minority now. They're barely going to have the filibuster, regardless of the outcomes in the Senate. If they're smart, they will go to some of the more moderate members of the House Democratic caucus, folks that come from conservative districts, and try to sort of pick them off one by one. They can make it really difficult for folks in tight, you know, conservative districts who are new to Congress to make sure they aren't necessarily in lock step with the majority.
NORRIS: Martin Kady is the deputy congressional editor for Politico. Thanks so much for coming in.
KADY: Thank you.