For the next two years, Democrats are doomed to play opposition to President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress. At such times, Senators and Representatives from safely partisan strongholds often emerge as vocal leaders of that opposition. That’s why the nation will likely see Massachusetts liberals – including Elizabeth Warren, Katherine Clark, and Jim McGovern – taking high-profile roles criticizing Trump and the GOP.
But who among Democrats is willing to stand up against their own party?
Someone else from Massachusetts: Seth Moulton.
Moulton, still in his first term representing northeastern Massachusetts, is playing a major supporting role in the recently mounted challenge to House Democratic leadership. Although considered unlikely to succeed in ousting former House Speaker and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her team, the uprising succeeded in forcing a postponement of the vote on those leadership positions.
The Democratic leadership votes were supposed to take place this past week; it will now happen at the end of the month. That provides time for an opposition slate of candidates to come forward—a process that began with Tim Ryan of Ohio challenging Pelosi for Minority Leader.
According to people close to him, Moulton himself is not expected to seek a leadership slot. But, those people tell me, he worked the phones all weekend seeking support for that delay in leadership votes.
He also circulated a letter, along with fellow first-termers Kathleen Rice of New York and Ruben Gallego of Arizona, calling for more time to “formulate a comprehensive path forward, which could include the composition of our caucus leadership and the roles and responsibilities of each leadership position.”
Moulton has also been making the media rounds, speaking out about the need to consider changes after Democrats’ failure to make significant gains in this year’s elections.
Those results have some Democrats worried that their current leadership don’t have the right strategy or message to get the party back into the House majority.
Part of that concern stems from the age and time inside the Beltway of House Democratic leaders. Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, and Senior Chief Deputy Minority Whip John Lewis are all in their mid-70s, and average 30 years in Congress. The average age of ranking Democrats on House committees, according to the Washington Post, is a ripe 68.
A certain disregard for conventional norms also seems to be at play—especially as Democrats consider how best to counter the Trump-Mitch McConnell-Paul Ryan Republican agenda. This summer’s sit-in by Democratic House members, protesting the lack of gun-control legislation, revealed a growing desire to bust apart longstanding limits on acceptable behavior.
It’s worth noting that the sit-in was prompted in part by Moulton and others walking out on a moment of silence for victims of the latest headline-making gun tragedy.
Pelosi, though she ultimately joined and praised the sit-in, was initially reluctant to commit. As a former—and potentially future—Speaker of the House, she understandably appreciates the norms that maintain control over the chamber.
That doesn’t mean that all the newer, or more disruption-minded Representatives are looking to overthrow the current order. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who helped organize the walk-out, has a strong relationship with Pelosi and Hoyer. McGovern, who has demonstrated his willingness to stir up trouble as well, is standing by Pelosi.
And it was veteran Richard Neal of western Massachusetts, who sided with the delay of the leadership vote.
Regardless, there’s a very good chance that the end result of this leadership battle will put Moulton on the losing side of an internal party struggle. I’m told he would not be surprised to lose his prized assignment on the House Armed Services Committee in retribution.
What’s less clear is whether that will really bother him. Moulton, a decorated combat veteran, often gives the impression that the less mortal threats of Washington’s politics don’t much concern him. He has repeatedly criticized President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that our soldiers are fighting without a political strategy for success. He also blasted his fellow Democrats over a September vote allowing 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia, saying that by doing so they had endangered Americans fighting or serving abroad.
Politically, Moulton appears to have a safety net back home: he ended up unopposed this year, in his first re-election after shocking incumbent Democrat John Tierney and routing top Republican recruit Richard Tisei in 2014.
Meanwhile, Moulton was active helping to raise money and campaign for newer members of Congress this year. By standing against the current leadership, Moulton might be trading short-term ostracization for a longer-term shot at leadership among those who will matter more in the long run—when, someday, Democrats eventually return to majority power in the House.