On Monday afternoon, while the Senate was putting its first rubber-stamp on President Obama’s tax cut compromise, Congressman Jerrold Nadler was on the phone, explaining some of his concerns to The Observer.
“It may portend bad things for liberals, because the administration seems to be shunting aside liberal concerns,” said Mr. Nadler. “I’m sure that they think they’re making a fair compromise, but the liberals obviously think it’s not a fair compromise.”
As President Obama embarks on the second half of his term–with a quick compromise negotiated with Republican leaders–he has opened a deep rift with Democrats in the House, and has left his liberal allies in New York wondering about their influence in an administration that appears to be moving toward the center.
‘I don’t think any of us has any stake in destroying this presidency—quite the opposite,’ said Congressman Eliot Engel. ‘We want to see this presidency succeed. But I think we have to be careful. You don’t want to go out of the frying pan and into the fire.’
“Let me read you something,” Mr. Nadler said. It was a letter from the Three Parks Independent Democrats, a liberal institution on the Upper West Side.
“As part of the organized base of the Democratic Party, we cannot overemphasize the level of dismay being voiced by our members and the level of wholesale de-politicization we see on the street when out campaigning,” it read. “At first we were overjoyed to have a hand in electing President Obama. We foolishly thought he would do right by the millions who made his election possible. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to support the policies of this administration. … [R]ecent events show that either President Obama represents only a small group of Americans or he doesn’t know how to negotiate–or both.”
“We call on you, our last hope,” it read, imploring Mr. Nadler and other local representatives to “resist Republican blackmailing,” refuse to renew the high-end tax cuts and “flood Congress and the airwaves with speech after speech.”
On Sunday morning, three New York representatives did just that. Mr. Nadler was on Face the Nation, calling Republicans “gangsters” for holding the middle-class tax cuts hostage. Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel was on ABC7’s Up Close With Diana Williams, complaining that Democratic leaders were not consulted and pledging to oppose the deal as a “matter of an integrity of the House of Representatives.” And Congressman Anthony Weiner was on Meet the Press, wondering, “When did the fight happen? Did the full-throated fight happen?”
That was hardly the extent of it. Mr. Weiner had already appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show, Hardball, Good Morning America, The Early Show, Meet The Press and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show, Keepin’ It Real.
And earlier in the week, Long Island Congressman Gary Ackerman had given one of the more colorful quotes on MSNBC when he said that Democrats got something out of the deal–“we got screwed”–and called the compromise the “Republican wet-dream act.”
With their bargaining position clipped by 60-seat losses last month and their majority soon drawing to a close, New York Democrats seemed determined to send a message.
“I think this is a cry for relevancy: ‘Don’t forget us!'” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers. “Nobody wants to be in that corner for the next two years, sitting at the kiddie table.”
To avoid that, House Democrats are determined to finish the battle over the Bush tax cuts with a precedent for future negotiations.
“I think it’s very important both politically and substantively,” Mr. Nadler said.