“Seniority is a leadership issue,” said Mary Kay Henry, head of the Service Employees International Union. “There are clearly things that seniority has stopped being effective on.”
But not everything that gives rise to seniority problems these days could have been foreseen back in 1986. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy proposed a bill that repealed “ad hoc” boards to rate teachers based on classroom ratings, and Senators Joe Biden and Bob Kerrey had a similar bill passed. Ultimately, the Clinton administration signed the measure into law in 1997, overruling the largely Democratic state of Massachusetts, where all of the party’s key offices were up for grabs.
In 2009, Democratic senators rallied around a similar effort to bar standardized tests for federal judges. But by the time they left town, a nearly unanimously GOP Congress had killed the bill.
On many other issues, even during Barack Obama’s tenure, Democratic senators found themselves having to play defense and even losing Republican votes to pass measures that Democrats themselves had sponsored or supported.
These are the sorts of pieces of legislation that are often used as vehicles for bills to impose new rules, appoint people to commissions, or otherwise confront systemic challenges—but rarely aimed at sending immediate policy changes to millions of people.
“You’ve got a situation in this country now where the governance of the country is being committed by the Democratic Party,” said Sarah Flax, an aide to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “They have complete power to make law but they have almost no voice to make policy. They’re paralyzed.”
In other words, these are the type of legislative strategies that will almost always be stymied and blocked. Pelosi just clinched what she had been talking about all year, and now Schumer is trying to pass policies that won’t stand up in the Courts or the People.
This may explain why Schumer so quickly pushed to save Dreamers from the knee-jerk xenophobia of the party and to block Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from playing partisan divide-and-conquer.
This may also explain why Schumer insists that it will be up to Pelosi to get behind the party’s immigration push, even though she’s the one whose strategy was so bad that it led to this mess in the first place.
But it’s equally clear why the actual membership, as defined by the members’ seats on committees, is comparatively low for Democrats when compared to the Republicans.
“They’re already way behind on senators,” said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “They’re fighting a messaging battle on immigration, hoping that they can attach it to some other must-pass piece of legislation— that’s a real hard sell.”