One of the great ironies of the 2018 midterm elections is that the Democratic Party’s emergent stars—Representatives Kyrsten Sinema and Beto O’Rourke—likely would have remained nameless had they tabled their Senate bids in favor of another term in the House.
This isn’t only because Senate candidates can attract a brighter spotlight than they would as one of hundreds in the lower chamber. It’s because the House Democratic caucus is increasingly viewed as an unfriendly environment for rising talent. Against a nearly two-decade-old leadership structure and term-limitless committee assignments, more and more members have begun to eye the Senate or state office as the antidote to their long-shot prospects of scaling ranks in the House.
That reality has been brought into relief in recent days, as House Democrats scramble to prepare for internal leadership elections later this month. A handful of members are attempting to deny Nancy Pelosi the votes she needs to be speaker, arguing that yet another term of septuagenarian reign—presumably with Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn at the top, as well—would ignore the desire for change voiced by voters earlier this month.
The problem, of course, is that Pelosi’s detractors have failed to put forth a viable alternative. But they argue that this, too, is an indictment of current leadership: It’s not so much that the caucus lacks a solid bench, their thinking goes, but more that its most talented members have been given little opportunity to flex their muscles. “The notion that there’s no one more experienced than Nancy Pelosi is a self-fulfilling prophecy because you can’t have experience if you can’t gain experience,” one senior Democratic aide, who requested anonymity for fear of backlash, told me. “Our best members will keep leaving when they continue to see there’s no movement at the top.”