Talking Points

Nancy Pelosi's stock ban blunder is Josh Hawley's gain

Sen. Josh Hawley is right about something, and that could be a problem for Democrats.

Hawley, the Missouri Republican best known for his pre-insurrection Jan. 6 fist pump, on Wednesday introduced a bill that would ban members of Congress — and their spouses — from buying or trading stocks while in office. (My colleague Samuel Goldman should be happy.) The idea is to keep elected members of the legislative branch from gaming the system to their own advantage, either by taking advantage of insider information or by using their power to leverage their holdings. Current laws aimed at making Congressional stock holdings transparent to the public have turned out to be nearly useless. "It's time to stop turning a blind eye to Washington profiteering," Hawley said in a statement.

This seems like the kind of good government initiative that should draw bipartisan support. Indeed, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) introduced similar legislation this week. The idea has a lot of public support. But Democrats are vulnerable on the issue, thanks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Last month, Pelosi told reporters she is opposed to banning stock ownership by members of Congress. "We're a free-market economy," she said. "They should be able to participate in that." It was a tone-deaf statement, to say the least. "She might as well have said 'let them eat cake,'" grumbled Walter Shaub, a former director of the U.S. Office on Government Ethics. Even some of her Democratic allies were critical. 

So even though Ossoff and Kelly are trying to lead the way, Democrats are left with a problem. As House speaker, Pelosi can make it very difficult to enact reform. But the bigger problem is that she's one of her party's most prominent faces. GOP candidates have used her as a villain in campaign advertising for years. There's more than a little misogyny involved in that routine, but it's not great for her party if she makes it easy for Republicans. A blithe defense of the Congressional prerogative to get rich while in public service is a serious political misstep.

Folks on the left like to chalk up support for former President Donald Trump to racism and fascism among GOP voters. That's not always wrong, but there's another element involved: cynicism. A smart friend of mine once told me he wasn't particularly worried about Trump's corruption because everybody in Washington is on the take.

It's easy to mock insincere MAGA proclamations about "draining the swamp," but they can have real resonance. Nancy Pelosi has made Democrats vulnerable, and Josh Hawley is — on this one, rare issue — right for a change.