The Abercrombie Fiasco

Brian Beutler reports on the Democrats’ disastrous decision to let Rep Neil Abercrombie retire from the House in order to start his gubernatorial bid without sticking around to finish health care:

“I think Neil was determined to get moving on his gubernatorial race,” DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen told me yesterday.

House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson placed some blame on the Senate for dragging the health care fight on as long as it has, but he also says the decision was Abercrombie’s to make.

“The Senate could have acted a lot earlier,” Larson told me after a Dem caucus meeting today. “If there’s any quarterbacking done, it’s generally about the Senate.”

I pressed, asking whether leadership could’ve taken any steps to keep Abercrombie around until after the health care vote. “Once a person makes up their mind to do something, this is America, they’re free to do it.”

This seems really wrong to me. The Democratic Party leadership, though not necessarily John Larson personally, had a lot of leverage over Rep Abercrombie as he looked to start up his gubernatorial campaign. Specifically folks in the White House and the Senators from Hawaii could have spoken to leaders of national and state-based interest groups and communicated that they wanted to see Abercrombie’s campaign receive strong financial support if and only if he chose to do the right thing and stick around for a few more weeks. Threats like that should be perfectly credible, since it’s extremely credible that federal elected officials care more about getting the health care bill done than about who becomes the next governor of Hawaii.


The most disturbing thing about this is that Van Hollen and Larson and other House leaders don’t seem to have seriously tried or explored any options. Instead, House-Senate bitterness has gotten so intense that everything — even this — is seen through the lens of “it’s really the Senate’s fault.” And in a big-picture sense, the whole rottenness of American politics is largely the Senate’s fault. But the House is far from perfect! You’ve got committee chairs voting against a key leadership priority, you’ve got members going AWOL at key moments, it’s a problem.