One of the most beloved and perpetual media narratives in Washington is “Democrats in Disarray.” But if relatively minor intraparty divisions are often blown up into “fights” and “civil wars,” sometimes serious differences of opinion do emerge. That may well be what happened yesterday when the White House whipped House Democrats to support the “cromnibus” appropriations bill against the wishes of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Democratic Caucus’ big star, Elizabeth Warren.
While technically, the administration (and for that matter the Senate Democrats who negotiated the key concession to Republicans on derivatives swaps) opposed a controversial change to the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, the White House made it plain when push came to shove that it did not want to risk losing negotiated year-long appropriations levels for non-DHS federal agencies over it. And so a not-so-secret division among Democrats over the broad question of the party’s relationship with Wall Street–with a sizable number of “populists” calling for open hostility as a party-defining attitude–was pushed into the limelight just hours after the big question was whether Republicans had sufficiently undermined conservative sentiment for brinkmanship over the president’s immigration policies. Liberal unhappiness about the White House’s handling of the “cromnibus” could spill over into Senate deliberations on the nomination of former Lazard official Antonio Weiss to a high-level Undersecretary gig at Treasury, which is already in trouble after several Democrats–following Warren’s lead–came out against him, including Jeanne Shaheen and Joe Manchin, hardly fire-eating lefties.
As Danny Vinik notes at The New Republic, we could look back a year from now and decide this was the week that led Warren to take on a primary challenge to Hillary Clinton. Perhaps she will make a Sherman Statement directly and allay such talk. But it’s a lot more substantive than it was a few days ago.