Congress New Members

Rep.-elect Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., holds his son Boone, arrives for orientation for new members of Congress, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Washington.  AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Sorry, Nancy.

Earlier this week, 1st District congressman-elect Joe Cunningham was in the news for signing a letter with 15 other Democrats who said they wouldn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi to become U.S. House speaker.


“We are thankful to Leader Pelosi for her years of service,” the letter read. “However, we also recognize that, in this recent election, Democrats ran and won on a message of change. ... We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise.”

The only surprise here is that some people were surprised. You know, seeing as how this is exactly what Cunningham said he would do throughout the campaign.

Cunningham is one of five newly elected House members who said they would not only vote against Pelosi in caucus but on the floor come January. Which casts some doubt on Pelosi’s chances of reclaiming the gavel. It’s become a big deal.

“I told people where I stood and why I stand there,” Cunningham told The Post and Courier’s Caitlin Byrd. “So that’s my position and I’ll continue to have it.”

During the campaign, some Republicans called Cunningham juvenile names like “Pelosi Joe” and claimed he would either cave under pressure from the national party — or was simply lying.

Guess he showed them.

No-win scenario?

The reaction to all this illustrates just how low the bar has been set in politics these days: A politician honoring a promise is notable.

But there was no way Cunningham wouldn’t keep his word.

You could argue that his pledge to oppose Pelosi put him over the top — it undercut the most cartoonish (and only) argument his opponent had to vote against him.

It wouldn’t bode well for the district’s first Democrat in 40 years to break a campaign pledge before he even took the oath of office. So he had no choice but to sign that letter if he wanted to keep the job beyond a single two-year term.

But Republicans thought there might be a chance to box him in. Several political types have said Cunningham is in a no-win position. A vote for Pelosi would doom any chance he had for re-election, but opposing the Democratic leader could sentence him to congressional purgatory.

Which is a fair assessment, but not necessarily the only possible outcomes.

Any freshman member of Congress, regardless of party, is going to have limited influence. Sanford was a veteran, and he wasn’t exactly steering the ship.

Cunningham need not worry much. Pelosi may hold a grudge, but she’s been around a long time and didn’t get there by being dumb. She’s not going out of her way to hurt a Democrat in a Republican-leaning district.

And it’s not like she was going to appoint him to House Appropriations anyway.

If the Democrats do elect a new leader, however, Cunningham will certainly get credit for being on the front end of the revolution.

New leader?

The people of the 1st District — many of them Republicans — voted for Cunningham in part because of his promised independence.

So this was an easy call for him.

Of course, some Democrats aren’t particularly happy about it. Pelosi has been a pretty effective leader — grading on the curve, of course, that dictates Dems often find new and creative ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Dems should chill. It was either this drama or the Lowcountry would have cast its speaker vote for Ohio congressman Jim Jordan.

And that would have worked out so well.

Cunningham and the other Democrats say this is about new leadership, which is completely understandable and perhaps even the right call.

But honestly, most of this is about how toxic Pelosi has become after more than a decade of Republican demonization. Whoever the next speaker is, he or she will suddenly become the new devil incarnate. Just watch.

It’s pretty telling that the president and some GOP congressmen have only half-jokingly promised to help Pelosi regain the speaker’s post. Because if she doesn’t get it, they’re going to have to think up some new material.

And, frankly, given Pelosi’s deal-making abilities, she may win over enough of her detractors to become speaker again. She’s already co-opting members of the insurgency.

However all this shakes out come January, Cunningham has done the right thing. He made a promise, and kept his word.

That’s more than you can say for many politicians these days.

Reach Brian Hicks at

Reach Brian Hicks at