Pelosi’s response was not a profile in courage.
“I haven’t spent any time on that,” she said, raising her arms in frustration. “I don’t know the people you’re referencing, I don’t know the person making the accusation. I haven’t paid that much attention to it.”
Not only was the top Democrat in Congress oddly unfamiliar with one of the biggest political stories of the past month, she did not believe her caucus had a responsibility to do anything about it.
“I don’t know what Congress’ role would be in any of this. But in any of these things, this isn’t about what Congress would do, this is about what the president’s own party would do. You’d really have to ask them. I’m busy worrying about children not being in their mothers’ arms,” she added.
That last bit was a reference to the other major political story of the past month ― the horrific conditions at overcrowded immigrant detention centers, where at least six child migrants have died in government custody since September.
But a few hours after Pelosi declared her devotion to the children suffering at the border, she deferred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on their fate.
As horror stories detailing conditions at the border began piling up this week, McConnell passed a bipartisan bill expanding funding for Trump’s immigration authorities by $4.6 billion. Progressive Democrats in the House, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), wanted to include some basic humanitarian safeguards on that money, but Pelosi, citing resistance from self-described moderate Democrats, decided instead to just pass the Senate bill, no strings attached.
“We didn’t even bother to negotiate,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN, calling the bill “completely irresponsible to the American people and to those kids on the border.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was even more critical: “A vote for Mitch McConnell’s border bill is a vote to keep kids in cages and terrorize immigrant communities.”
The Trump administration’s immigration atrocities cannot, of course, be chalked up solely to financial constraints. Its flagship immigration-deterrence policy ― separating children from their parents ― was not adopted out of budgetary desperation. But under Pelosi’s guidance, the official Democratic Party response to the Trump administration abusing immigrant children is to give more money to the agencies the Trump administration relies on to abuse immigrant children.
This is not how Democrats told voters they would wield power. During the 2018 midterm elections, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders repeatedly made two campaign promises: Democrats would conduct rigorous oversight of a corrupt, lawless administration and fight to reduce sky-high prescription drug costs burdening American families.
Over the past six months, that oversight has been a farce.
We know about the conditions at border detention facilities not because of any investigations from House Democrats, but thanks to an outcry from nonprofit immigration attorneys and a draft report by the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security.
Pelosi, famously, has refused to countenance impeachment as a response to the criminal activities described in the report compiled by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. It’s not surprising that she would resist opening an impeachment inquiry over a sexual assault that allegedly occurred more than two decades ago.
Yes, it is not obvious precisely what Congress should do about it. But there are plenty of oversight options available to Democrats, ranging from private interviews with Carroll to public hearings to launching an investigation and publishing an official report. Pelosi can’t be faulted for treading carefully. The outrage is her complete disavowal of responsibility.
This inaction might be excusable if the party were busy pursuing important legislative priorities. But Pelosi has yet to produce a prescription drug bill. And much of the agenda House Democrats displayed this past week was simply grotesque.
Shortly before Pelosi rubber-stamped McConnell’s immigration bill, 17 House Democrats wrote to a slate of Trump appointees and asked them to relax rules governing trading in financial derivatives, a business dominated by the nation’s six largest banks.
On Tuesday, Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee devoted an entire hearing to the property tax complaints of wealthy suburbanites. Under Trump’s 2017 tax bill, the government began collecting roughly $60 billion a year in new revenue from well-to-do households in higher-taxed blue states. The Trump provision, according to its architects, was a political attack on Democratic voters. But the Democratic Party’s effort to reverse the tax hike is bizarre: About 52 percent of the money is extracted from families bringing in at least $1 million a year. Democrats are quite literally working to cut taxes for millionaires.
Pelosi can’t do all of this on her own. As the Democratic Party’s most powerful leader, she sets the tone for her caucus, but she doesn’t dictate what every member can and cannot do. About 18 House Democrats refused to vote for new migrant protections in the McConnell bill. But even progressive firebrand Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), who represents a wealthy conservative district, ended up voting for the McConnell bill on the floor.
To sum up the week for House Democrats: no oversight of the rape allegation against the president, no protections for abused immigrant children, a hearing on tax cuts for millionaires and a request that Trump officials deregulate big banks.
Democrats did pass a bill trying to guard voting systems from foreign intrusion. But at the moment, it appears the most serious threat to the party’s electoral future is coming from inside the House.