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Behind the Scenes of the Democrats’ Cromnibus Civil War

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It was obvious yesterday that a split had emerged within the Democratic Party between a more practical wing that wanted to keep the lights on and a more extreme progressives wing that appeared willing to risk a shutdown if it meant killing a couple of provisions they disagreed with in the so-called Cromnibus bill.

Follow up reports from Politico and the NY Times lay out exactly how those two factions were working at cross purposes yesterday. The more practical group was led by the White House according to Politico:

The most surprisingly effective whip effort came from the White House. Democrats who hadn’t heard from the Obama administration in years found their cell phones buzzing.

Cabinet secretaries – including Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan – were urging lawmakers to help keep their agencies open. Jeffery Zients, Obama’s National Economic Council director, whipped Democrats, too.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough came to Capitol Hill to lobby the largely hostile House Democratic Caucus, and he called several Democratic lawmakers, asking for their support. It didn’t end there. The White House legislative affairs staff followed up the flurry of phone calls with personalized emails, laying out why Democrats should support the bill: Obamacare would continue to be implemented; the legislation provided “funding to support the Administration’s signature ‘Now is the Time’ gun safety initiative;” and the bill would allow the Obama administration to “care for unaccompanied children.”

But the progressive wing refused to get in line with the President long after he had signaled where he stood on the bill. The NY Times reports:

In a more than three-hour, closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Thursday night, many of the party’s more liberal members tried to rally support against the bill. The moment, they said, was one of conscience, and a chance for Democrats to demonstrate their allegiance with the middle class.

In an emergency gathering, Democrats also expressed anger at Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, at what they saw as the president’s undercutting of Ms. Pelosi and other progressives by coming out in support of the deal so early in the day.

Politico describes the mood among Democrats as a “Civil War”:

The mood among Democrats was not nearly as loose: they were in the midst of a civil war…

Pelosi’s team said she wasn’t whipping, but in the gathering, most spoke out against the funding bill. McDonough made an plea for support, but it looked as if it may be falling on deaf ears. Pelosi was confident she had the votes to kill the measure.

Ultimately, Rep. Pelosi, Rep. Warren and the progressives were undercut by President Obama, Rep. Hoyer and Rep. Clyburn (who voted for the bill) and also by Senator Reid (whose staff reportedly co-authored one of the riders progressives to which progressives objected).

Politico notes that Pelosi claimed this morning she had wanted to sink the bill just change it. Nevertheless, using the threat of an imminent shutdown to force a deal is something Democrats have compared to hostage-taking and even terrorism for several years.


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