Democratic Party 2.0: Wary of Hot-Button Topics

WASHINGTON - April 18, 2007 — -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took no position on two of the hottest social issues in America today -- guns and abortion -- in a week when those subjects were brought before the public in quite compelling ways.

Asked about this morning's historic and unprecedented decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a state ban on an abortion procedure, Pelosi -- longtime backer of abortion rights -- said, "This is an issue I need to review." Reid immediately changed the subject to the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. "That's what it brings to my mind," Reid said.

Two days after the slaughter of 32 innocents on the campus of Virginia Tech by a shooter with two handguns, Pelosi demurred on whether Congress was in any mood to examine gun control laws.

"The mood in Congress is one of mourning, sadness and the inadequacy of our words" to help the bereaved, Pelosi said.

Welcome to the Democratic Party 2.0. After years in the political wilderness -- President Bush in the White House, Republican majorities in the House and Senate -- Democrats are wary of engaging in hot-button social issues such as the "3 G's" -- guns, God and gays.

Many political observers, including Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, believe former Vice President Al Gore's support of gun control cost him the 2000 election, essentially handing over to Bush states such as Montana, Tennessee and West Virginia.

At a Harvard seminar following the 2000 election, Steve Rosenthal, then the AFL-CIO's political director, was asked what the Democratic party should do on gun control.

"Shut the hell up," he said.

Democrats have largely heeded that advice.

Moreover, many in their ranks who are responsible for Democrats having recaptured the House and Senate -- what Speaker Pelosi calls "the majority makers" -- hold conservative positions on many of these issues, such as Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Jim Webb, D-Virginia, and Bob Casey Jr., D-Penn. Reid himself is a foe of abortion who has in the past voted in favor of a ban on the procedure abortion opponents call "partial birth abortion."

'Rush to Judgment'

Reid today offered no comment on the nation's gun laws. The day after the worst campus shooting in U.S. history, Reid warned of a "rush to judgment" on whether new gun laws were needed. "I think we ought to be thinking about the families and the victims and not speculate about future legislative battles that might lie ahead."

While Pelosi stated she needed time to review today's abortion ban ruling, Pelosi's Republican counterpart in the House, Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, needed no such time.

Boehner issued a statement an hour before Pelosi's press conference saying that the "decision reaffirms not only the sanctity of life, but the integrity of a legislative process that allows the American people to make laws and decisions through their elected representatives. I applaud the Court for its ruling today, and my hope is that it sets the stage for further progress in the fight to ensure our nation's laws respect the sanctity of unborn human life."

'He Should Sign the Bill'

Reid and Pelosi today were focused instead on Iraq, and their meeting later today with President Bush on the bill to fund troops in Iraq, which includes timetables for benchmarks and begins the process of withdrawing troops. Having met with family members of troops in Iraq, Reid and Pelosi argued that most of the nation, and a majority in the House and Senate, wants to end the war.

"He should sign the bill," Reid said. "We should not be in Iraq. The war was initiated under false pretenses."

"We must work together. We must negotiate an approach that will wind down this war," Pelosi said, describing the bill Congress passed as a compromise since it contains the Pentagon's own benchmarks for success, including training and length of stay in the theater of war.

She recited comments Defense Secretary Robert Gates made in Amman, Jordan, Tuesday. Gates had said, "I think the debate itself, and I think the strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable ... probably has had a positive impact -- at least I hope it has in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment."

"I hope the president heard that," Pelosi said. "I hope the president is listening."

Teddy Davis contributed to this report.