What the End of the Pelosi Era Could Cost California

California could be on the verge of losing one of the most effective national political allies it has ever had.

During two terms as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi quietly and tirelessly promoted progressive California-backed policies such as climate change, drought and health care.

He is credited with getting the state to pocket a greater share of federal funding and bolstering California’s 42-member congressional delegation.

The 82-year-old said in November 2020 that would be her last term as a speaker, a schedule she has since walked away from. She is up for reelection in her San Francisco district, but some expect she could retire after midterm.

Now, the prospect of life after Pelosi has some Californians wondering what kind of power vacuum his departure will leave and what it will mean for the state’s influence in Washington.

More surprising to those who have grown accustomed to the outsized influence of California Democrats, is that Pelosi could hand the speaker’s gavel to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, a fellow Californian.

His Republican Party’s policies — both in California and across the country — are often diametrically opposed to the state’s liberal leadership and most of its residents.

The Biden administration could prevent McCarthy from advancing some of his top priorities for the state. But it will mark a dramatic turning point for California’s place in Washington.

Pelosi’s retirement will be “a blow to the country and a blow to California,” said former California senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat who was elected to Congress five years before Pelosi. “This will put additional pressure on every member of Congress [from California] and our senators to step up far more than they have.

For most of the past 15 years, any federal legislation that has helped or hurt California has generally had to pass through Pelosi’s office, according to lawmakers and aides.

She made sure that home state projects like high-speed rail got federal dollar opportunities, advanced interests like water, drought, and wildfire policy, and blocked Republican efforts to roll back environmental laws.

Pelosi has boosted his fellow California Democrats, giving them the opportunity to work on prized committees and high-level legislation. She created openings in larger bills for policies that benefited the state, such as a Tijuana River Improvement Policy in the USMCA’s 2020 Business Law. And she used progressive state policies to model national legislation like the Affordable Care Act.

Thanks to Pelosi, California “always has a seat at the table on any relevant issue before Congress,” said Matt Weiner, the former executive director of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation and now CEO of Megafire Action. “I don’t know if some members appreciate how much President Pelosi takes care of the state.”

She understands “how California’s needs are different and must be met,” said Ann O’Leary, who was chief of staff to Governor Gavin Newsom at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Congress was enacting federal aid. to the states. .

“She does it in a way that really gets real results for California because she’s in the pieces where it counts, and she makes the final decisions and shapes the final packages,” O’Leary said.

During negotiations over the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year, the state’s high-speed rail authority wanted to make sure it would be eligible for federal dollars. While group leader Brian Kelly met with several California lawmakers, he wasn’t confident about the rail’s prospects until he met with Pelosi’s office.

“I don’t really know the shape of the world until we speak with his office,” Kelly said, adding that he’ll miss that connection when she’s gone. “I’m not looking forward to that day.”

Longtime lawmakers Boxer and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) credits Pelosi with helping reverse the dreaded “ABC” attitude in Washington among lawmakers across the rest of the country: Anywhere But California.

Whether out of jealousy or a belief that the state was so wealthy it didn’t need federal aid, many California priorities were undermined.

“California wasn’t getting its fair share,” Speier said. She says Pelosi “transformed that philosophy of ABC” into one in which California was seen as a national priority because of its ability to support the entire US economy.

A particularly coveted perk for California Democratic members was a weekly lunch with Pelosi, which created a deep sense of loyalty and camaraderie.

The lunch is closed to staffers except for one or two, lending itself to a more frank and intimate conversation between legislators. Californians enjoy a weekly closed session with the speaker, where they hear directly about the agenda from her.

“There is a feeling among the members that you don’t miss it. There are no staff, they talk straight, can get co-sponsors on bills, talk about issues before they speak up. And the speaker stays on all the time,” said a senior House aide who worked for several California members. “It’s kind of a sacrosanct moment for the members of the delegation.”

Some wonder if the delegation will remain united – and just as powerful politically – without Pelosi at the helm.

“Over the past 20 years, everyone has followed Nancy so much that it’s interesting to think about what’s going on in that void. There’s going to be a competing leadership dynamic,” another senior executive said.

Even so, Pelosi’s retirement is not yet certain.

In 2018, during her quest to return to the presidency, she agreed that she would not stay in her post beyond 2022. She reiterated in 2020 that she would abide by that agreement, but has since avoided questions about his future.

There is speculation that if Democrats defy predictions of a GOP takeover and maintain control of the House after November, she may want to keep her job.

She and her office are now dismissing questions about exactly when she will hand over the powerful post, saying she is still focused on getting the job done.

“The speaker is not in office,” said his spokesman. “She’s on a mission.

California Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping one of their own will replace Pelosi, the first time a California Republican has held such a senior position in either house of Congress in more than 60 years. . They say that would ensure California keeps a seat at the table.

“Certainly a President McCarthy would make up for California’s perceived weight loss in Congress,” Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) said.

LaMalfa acknowledged the differences in the GOP’s agenda, but said their policies would benefit the state.

If the House swung to “a Republican majority, that would advance a different set of policies,” he said. “And from where I see it, it would be helpful for people in California.”

LaMalfa also argued that a Republican president from California would bring balance to the Democratic White House — and potentially a Democratic Senate.

A spokesperson for McCarthy declined to comment for this article.

The Bakersfield Republican has spoken out strongly against high-speed rail and pushed for climate policies that involve relaxing environmental protections that Democrats favor. As president, he would have the opportunity to advance these causes in spending bills.

He hopes to bring the Save Our Sequoias Act to the House, a bill designed to preserve trees but opposed by environmental groups who feared it would circumvent environmental laws, according to a person familiar with McCarthy’s political agenda.

McCarthy should advance new California water legislation with a focus on storing and repurposing water from northern to central and southern California, according to the person. He is also expected to push for the growth of Shasta Dam, a long-standing point of contention between the two sides. Pelosi has frequently steered Shasta away from federal spending bills.

California’s influence in Washington has tended to rise and fall in recent history. When Pelosi became president in 2007, the state also bolstered powerful committee chair positions, such as then-representatives. George Miller and Henry A. Waxman. The boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had seniority in their bedroom.

In 2011, the Democrats lost the House and with it Pelosi became the Minority Leader. Boxer, Miller and Waxman have retired.

As Pelosi returned to the presidency in 2019, the state’s influence rebounded. In the most publicized show of state strength, the two seats behind President Biden at the State of the Union were held by California women: Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris.

But a decline looms on the horizon. In the Senate, Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) is considered a rising star, but with little seniority. Feinstein gave up the gavel for the Judiciary Committee amid questions about whether she was ready for the high-intensity labor. Assuming Feinstein doesn’t run again in 2024, his successor would also start from the bottom of the seniority list.

Some California Democrats are already looking to fill the leadership void if Pelosi leaves. Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) is expected to continue in the No. 3 House leadership role.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) is considering a run to replace Pelosi, though the spot is more likely to go to a non-Californian, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.).

Leveraging one of the greatest perks of being a speaker, Pelosi led key committee positions and high-level assignments with his fellow Californians to help build a cadre of leaders who could benefit the state during years.

But after Pelosi, that road will be steeper for California lawmakers.

Says Boxer, “If you’re new and you’re trying to get a plum committee and the speaker is from somewhere else, it’s going to be harder.”


Los Angeles Times

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