One of the most stalwart Democrat voices for change in the party’s leadership appeared to cave under questioning earlier this week. Danny O’Connor, a Democrat candidate for Congress in Ohio, seemed to suggest he’d be open to supporting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for speaker of the House if the circumstances were just right. This suggests that Americans cannot trust Democrat candidates who swear they won’t support Pelosi.
O’Connor has repeated, over and over again, that the Democrats need new leadership, and that he would not vote for Pelosi. When MSBNC’s Chris Matthews pressed him on the issue, however, he appeared to concede that he would select the Democratic candidate if push came to shove.
“I would support whoever the Democratic Party puts forward,” O’Connor belatedly said.
This Democrat is on record pledging to oppose Pelosi for House speaker, but Matthews’ aggressive questioning revealed that, if push came to shove, O’Connor might cave.
“What about Nancy Pelosi? The first vote you have to cast when you become a member of Congress is to vote for the leader of your party that’s nominated for speaker,” Matthews told O’Connor. He directly asked, “Who you going to vote for for speaker?”
“I don’t know who’s going to run but I know…” O’Connor began. Matthews cut him off, “Pelosi’s running for reelection, she said so.”
“We need change,” O’Connor said. Matthews asked, “So you’re not voting for Pelosi?” The candidate flatly declared, “No.”
That’s when it got interesting. “Well, how are you going to help the Democrats get the 218 they need to win the House? You have to be one of the votes,” Matthews insisted. Even if the Democrats win the House in November, their candidate for House speaker will have to win a majority of votes. If Democrats don’t unite, Republicans might be able to get a House speaker, even if they fall into the minority.
“So if you’re one of the 218 they need to take control of the House, and the vote on the floor is Pelosi, what are you going to do?” Matthews pressed.
O’Connor continued to insist on new leadership, and the MSBNC host interpreted that for him. “So you’d vote against her even if it meant you didn’t get control over the House.”
Then the candidate conceded, “Well, we need to have control of the House.”
Matthews pressed again, “If it’s a decisive vote, would you vote against Pelosi? If it’s decisive?”
O’Connor kept repeating the “new leadership” line, and Matthews said, “You’re dodging it. You know you have to decide this.”
Finally, he conceded, “I would support whoever the Democratic Party puts forward.”
Naturally, Republicans seized on these remarks, painting O’Connor’s promises as unreliable. Pelosi’s deep unpopularity has become a wedge issue in the Democratic Party, and Republicans are using it to their advantage.
To be fair, these remarks suggested O’Connor might cave if push came to shove. No matter how aggressive Matthews was, the candidate did suggest there is a circumstance in which this “Never Nancy” would become a Pelosi voter.
“After last night’s pathetic interview by Danny O’Connor, Democrats’ talking points disavowing Nancy Pelosi are as flimsy as the paper they’re written on,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Matt Gorman declared. “Once you get them beyond a noun, a verb and ‘new leadership,’ they fold like a cheap suit.”
Then came the killing blow: “Every single one will vote for Pelosi if given the choice.”
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a House Republican Super PAC, released an ad about the O’Connor comments, saying it’s part of a $2 million ad buy on broadcast and cable, Fox News reported.
O’Connor insisted that he would not change his tune, however. “No D.C.-style gotcha politics will change my resolve” against Pelosi, the candidate told Fox News. “I said on TV that we needed new leadership in Congress and I wouldn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker. I said it seven times, and I’ll say it again — I’m not going to vote for her.”
To be fair, the Matthews questioning and the Republican ad do seem like “gotcha politics,” but they did indeed get him. O’Connor said that if his vote was the crucial one, he would choose Nancy Pelosi over a Republican speaker of the House. That seems to be his position, and it makes sense. But voters might not trust his insistence that he’d never support Pelosi.
More than that, O’Connor’s telling concession does indeed suggest that Democrats will oppose Pelosi — up to a point. If their vote were the deciding one, Democrats would pull the level for the deeply unpopular leader. That’s a fair attack against O’Connor, and a fair attack against Democrats, even if it seems sleazy.