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When Is a Whip a Whip? House Democrats Might Not Be Best Ones to Ask Right Now

Mixed messages come from party critical of Trump for being inconsistent

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she and her leadership team would not whip the vote on the budget deal. Then they started whipping the vote. Sort of. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she and her leadership team would not whip the vote on the budget deal. Then they started whipping the vote. Sort of. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democratic leaders have spent the past 48 hours opposing the bipartisan budget deal but saying they’re not whipping it, and then kind of, sort of whipping it.

The inconsistent messaging is all the more notable given Democrats’ frequent criticism of President Donald Trump for wavering in his own policy positions.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi came out against the budget deal she helped broker Wednesday because she wanted Speaker Paul D. Ryan to hold an immigration vote under a winner-takes-all process known as “queen of the hill.”

The 77-year-old California Democrat stood on the House floor in heels for eight hours Wednesday, breaking a record for the longest continuous floor speech, to push her point that GOP leaders should commit to a bipartisan process in exchange for her support for the budget deal. 

Watch: Pelosi Holds House Floor Seeking DACA Commitment From Ryan

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Still, many Democrats had interpreted her support for the spending aspect of the deal as a sign she was going to allow the caucus to vote their will, despite the large number of Democrats who had wanted her to take a harder stand for the so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who could face deportation absent a legislative replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

On Wednesday Pelosi seemed to confirm just that at an unrelated infrastructure press conference when asked whether she was whipping against the spending deal.

“No, I’m just telling people why I’m voting the way I’m voting,” she said.

A short time later, an aide to House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer told Roll Call in an email that Democratic leaders were whipping against the bill. And a Pelosi aide confirmed “there’s a whip.”

Then Pelosi put out a “Dear Colleague” letter that added to the confusion. 

“Democrats successfully secured hundreds of billions of dollars in new investments,” Pelosi wrote on the budget deal. “However, we cannot allow our success in one part of the discussion to diminish our leverage in another. We have always said nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

Ryan has said he does not want to risk a veto and wants to put a bill on the floor only if it has Trump’s support.

Pelosi wrote in her letter that Ryan’s positioning on the immigration vote, “demeans the dignity of the House of Representatives” and is “an insult to the American people” and said Republicans don’t have the votes to pass the budget deal on their own.

“House Democrats have a voice here and we must be heard,” she said. “These are the reasons I am voting against this bill.”

Most of the members who are willing to vote against the budget deal over inaction on immigration didn’t need a whip to convince them. Rather, it was likely that their push led leadership to take a stand. 

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham told Roll Call on Tuesday morning she hoped her leaders would leverage the budget caps to get Ryan to commit to an immigration vote. On Thursday she confirmed that she still stands by that strategy. 

“I’m a no,” the New Mexico Democrat said, noting that her caucus took that position as well. 

Many members who want to vote for the budget deal because of the Democratic priorities it funds will do that despite leadership’s opposition. 

“I would not be surprised if half our caucus votes for it,” House Budget ranking member John Yarmuth said, noting he will.

The Kentucky Republican argued that Democrats were never going to get a commitment from Ryan.

“We weren’t going to get DACA through the budget process, no matter,” Yarmuth said. “So yeah, we can scream and yell and Nancy can go to the floor for eight hours. … It still wasn’t going to get us a resolution.”

Some Democrats, bolstered by outside progressive groups, will walk away feeling Pelosi didn’t push hard enough.

“If I said something on the House floor for eight hours and didn’t ask, didn’t use my power and influence to convince those to make my position prevail, then the speech is nice,” Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez said.

A real whip effort is more than just stating opposition, the Illinois Democrat argued.

“If I’m the leader of the Democrats and I say, ‘You know, that committee assignment is very important,’ and the DCCC money,” Gutiérrez said. “There’s all kinds of ways, I assure you, that leadership exercises its influence — the least of which are floor speeches.”

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