Rep. Steve Israel’s mission could not be more clear. But it’s one he says he may not achieve.
As the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Brooklyn-born New York Congressman must pick up 25 seats in the next election. Anything less means House Democrats will spend another two years fighting political irrelevance.
“I have one of the least complicated jobs in the House leadership. Winning districts. 25 seats,” Israel told Roll Call in an exclusive interview Friday. “I can guarantee you that the House will be in play this cycle. I can guarantee you that the Republicans are already nervous and will be more nervous as we get deeper into the cycle.”
Israel admitted he may fall short of that 25-seat goal: “But I will not, in the second month of the cycle, make an assessment of whether it will be 20, 25, 30 or 35.”
He continued: “And unlike my friend [National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman] Pete Sessions, who proclaimed that the Republicans will add seats in 2012, I don’t believe that bravado wins elections.”
There’s little doubt that Israel is a fighter who will push an aggressive agenda over the coming 21 months. But the six-term Representative and lifelong Mets fan is also a realist.
He filled the roles of attack dog, cheerleader and seasoned politician in the same Friday morning conversation, one moment lashing out at outside conservative groups as “American cowards” and the next vowing to defend Democrats who voted against his leadership team. The 52-year-old graying Congressman insisted that Nancy Pelosi won’t be a factor in 2012.
Of a list of 11 targeted Blue Dog Democrats the NRCC shared with Roll Call last week, seven voted against the California Democrat for Minority Leader. Israel promised to work as hard for those seven as he would anyone else “who will elect a Democrat as Speaker.”
“If in 2012 the central thematic is who leads the Democratic Caucus, then I will surrender my DCCC paycheck because I will have failed miserably,” Israel said he told the Blue Dogs during their New York City retreat last week. “2012 is going to be about the president of the United States and House Republicans. ... The issue of who leads the Democratic Caucus is going to be absolutely irrelevant.”
Israel, who staunchly defended Pelosi last year when she came under fire from members of her own Caucus who blamed her for Democrats losing control of the House, described his relationship with the California Democrat as “excellent.”
He served as Northeast recruitment chairman during the 2008 cycle and said his efforts in special elections in the Empire State that cycle helped solidify his relationship with Pelosi.
“The DCCC and the Speaker asked me to just go into these districts, roll up my sleeves and help through the mechanics, and I’d like to think that that’s what developed the relationship and the confidence that she says she has in me,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.