LOS ANGELES--Nancy Pelosi and Ellen Tauscher are colleagues in the California congressional delegation, fellow-Democrats from districts that almost border each other on opposite sides of San Francisco Bay. Both are ardent feminists who made successful careers in the business world before coming to the House--Pelosi in 1987 and Tauscher a decade later.
With Pelosi now campaigning to become the first woman in the top Democratic leadership of the House--she is seeking the No. 3 job as party Whip if Democrats win the majority in November--Tauscher would seem a certain ally. But she is not.
Instead, she is backing a Pelosi rival, Steny Hoyer, a man from Maryland, who lives a continent away and has been in public office for more than half his 61 years.
Tauscher's choice speaks volumes about the unresolved ideological battle inside the Democratic Party--a fight that has been slightly camouflaged during this week's Democratic National Convention but will burst into public view if the Democrats are successful in the coming election.
It is the conflict between the middle-road Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which dominates the presidential wing of the party, and the more traditional liberals, who still call the signals for congressional Democrats. Tauscher is a rising star in DLC circles. Pelosi is what people think of when they say "a San Francisco Democrat." She is an unabashed liberal. And in their case, at least, policy disagreements swamp sisterhood.
The success of the DLC in national party affairs is remarkable. As Al From, its president, said this week, "The nominees of the Democratic Party in the last three elections have been two of our former chairmen (Bill Clinton and Joe Lieberman) and a man who helped write the press release announcing our formation (Al Gore)."
But the moderates have been making slower headway in Congress, where most Democrats still represent urban areas like Pelosi's with minority populations, and look to organized labor, not business, for financial and political support.
At the DLC luncheon here where From was bragging on the "all-DLC ticket' for which he had lobbied, Tauscher made the claim that "when Dick Gephardt becomes speaker of the House, our party will be led from the center."
That seemed a remarkable assertion, given that two close allies of labor--Gephardt and Michigan Rep. David Bonior--are almost certain to move up into the speakership and the majority leader's job if the Democrats take control, and Pelosi has a good chance to complete the trio.
All three have been outspoken opponents of granting permanent normal trade relations to China and have voted against other administration free-trade measures--a touchstone issue for the DLC. But Tauscher and From argued that whatever their personal wishes, the House Democratic leaders would have to bend their policies to more centrist, pro-business views.
Why? Because, they said, their majority would depend on wins in November by centrist Democrats in middle-income New Economy suburban districts like Tauscher's--and after the 2002 redistricting, those constituencies will make up an even larger part of the Democratic caucus.
That proposition will be tested over the next few years. What is certain now is that the argument about the direction of Democratic policy continues unabated, just out of sight of the television cameras in the Staples Center.
While the DLC was showcasing dozens of state and local officials who constitute the "farm team" for centrist Democrats, a few hundred other delegates who gathered in a basement auditorium of a nearby hotel were cheering speakers at the Campaign for America's Future, an organization of unreconstructed liberals.
That group lacks the money and muscle of the DLC, but its spokesmen have a different kind of clout. Many of them represent activist constituencies the Democrats can ignore only at their peril: John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO, Bob Chase of the National Education Association and Jesse L. Jackson of Rainbow-PUSH, among them.
If there is a Democratic majority in the House, these groups and others like them will have more leverage on Capitol Hill than the members of Tauscher's and From's New Democratic coalition. And, under seniority rules, the chairmen of such powerful House committees as Appropriations, Banking, Commerce, Education, Government Reform, Judiciary, Resources, Rules and Ways and Means would all be staunch liberals, committed to traditional Democratic agendas.
The Democrats face one battle to win the House. And they face another if they do win it.
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