Show Pony? Jayapal Backpedals while Workhorses Quietly Get Things Done


She sought to walk back her weekend remark saying that “Israel is a racist state,” but Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., found the Biden Administration, Democratic House leaders, and colleagues of both parties running away from her remarks and loudly reaffirming their embrace of the Jewish state.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a 412-9 vote, a resolution declaring that Israel “is not a racist or apartheid state” and that the United States “will always be a staunch supporter.” Forty-three fellow Democrats, including three Washington colleagues, signed a letter saying they were “deeply concerned” about “unacceptable comments” by Jayapal.

President Biden announced that he had invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the country’s right-dominated coalition, to the White House. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, after meeting Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, tweeted: “We reiterated our special relationship, emphasizing a continued commitment to shared, fundamental values, such as respect for human rights.”

It was a second public stumble by Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, quite recently heralded by CNN and MSNBC commentators as a rising power in the House. The first flub was last fall’s letter to President Biden, signed by 30 members of the CPC, urging negotiations with Russia over its war with Ukraine, and that the U.S. “redouble efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”

The letter came out just as Ukraine was mounting a successful counterattack. Jayapal was forced to publicly walk it back with an effort to duck blame, saying: “The letter was drafted several months ago but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.”

The Ukraine letter was occasion for another Jayapal walk-back. She gave up plans to seek a position in the Democrats’ House leadership. As is, the entire Democratic leadership issued a statement Sunday that began with the words: “Israel is not a racist state” and reaffirmed the “special relationship between the United States and Israel.”

Jayapal has become a familiar face on MSNBC and CNN shows. The advent of Cable TV news, shaped to ideological preferences of viewers, has put Congress’ loudest mouths on the air. On the right, Fox News has featured nasty, posturing right-wingers like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and QAnon-aligned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. They raise millions of dollars, speak to adoring audiences, and bring down the wrath of followers on those seeking to work out society’s compromises.

Jayapal has been the star player on the left, celebrated by MSNBC hosts Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid. Far more engaging than her presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, she has starred in such gatherings as the weekend Netroots Nation conference of progressive bloggers, at which the “racist state” gaffe was made. She has written New York Times columns on her non-binary offspring and decision to get an abortion.

Both left and right claim they get dismissed for who they are. Jayapal played the race card in a Seattle Times interview, saying a “double standard” is applied to progressives: “it’s not right to call out progressives, but then not recognize that most of us who get called out are women, Black, brown, immigrant. You cannot, you just cannot skip over that.”

Similar words, in defense of Jayapal, were spoken on the House floor by Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri.  C-SPAN cameras, covering the House vote, spoked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, leader of “The Squad” of outspoken identity politicians of the left, hugging her Washington colleague.

The brouhahas over Jayapal obscure upbeat news. Our state’s delegation has, in words of the late Sen. Warren Magnuson, been home to “work horses” rather than “show horses.” The stable still contains the breed Maggie was talking about. Examples:

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., has steadily risen as a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and entered the leadership as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. DelBene and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., have both chaired the more business friendly New Democrat Coalition.  Kilmer has chaired a bipartisan committee assigned to find ways  the House can work more effectively.

As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, when Democrats were in the majority, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., produced and passed a defense authorization bill free of the ideological riders that Republicans attached to this year’s legislation.  Smith worked with U.S. military leaders as they pushed back on efforts to politicize the Pentagon during the last, disastrous year of the Trump Administration.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., crafted and won bipartisan support for the CHIPS Act, a $280 billion, five-year package designed to restore domestic microchip production and make the United States more competitive against China. The legislation even garnered a vote from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Newly elected Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez, D-Wash., is co-chair of the “Blue Dog Coalition” a centrist group committed, in her words, to “fiscal stability, national security, rural America and blue-collar work.” A fellow rookie Democrat, Rep. Mary Peltola of Alaska, is the other co-chair.

Jayapal occupies one of Congress’ safest seats, and the House has a large block of progressives. Problem is, they’ve not yet fathomed that a seat at the table doesn’t entitle you to eat the entire meal.  Effective liberals have learned on the job, however. Initially hazed and treated as a pest by Congress’ elders, Sen. Hubert Humphrey became, in Lyndon Johnson’s words, “my link with the bomb throwers” and a major player on civil rights. Seattle Rep. Mike Lowry did deals with Southerners as a member of the House Budget Committee, trading support for veterans benefits in exchange for aid to the homeless.

This week, however, is for backpedaling. Jayapal ended up voting for the Israel resolution.  She could grit her teeth at providing cover for House Republicans’ clumsy leadership. The GOP leadership was itself under fire for inviting longshot Democratic presidential candidate (and conspiracy theorist) Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to testify at a Thursday hearing on censorship.

Kennedy was outed in the New York Post last week for alleging, at a Manhattan fundraiser, that the COVID-19 virus was engineered to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese. Of course, he offered no supporting evidence and ducked behind the claim of media persecution.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has refused calls to disinvite Kennedy, thereby offering him a national platform. At the same time, however, McCarthy has said he is outraged – outraged – at Jayapal’s “racist state” remark and called on the Congressional Progressive Caucus to remove her as its chair.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Joel Connelly’s eminently fair presentation of Rep. Jayapal’s latest mis-speak sadly resurrects her shoot-from-the-lip proclivity. Worshipped by too many 7th Congressional Voters, she pays no penalty at home for the disconnect between her tongue and her otherwise intelligent brain.

    But, she pays a high price among her colleagues in the U.S. House, where her credibility and, therefore, her standing ebbs lower rendering her an ineffective member.

    Thank God we have, as Connelly points out, Reps. DelBene, Shrier, Smith, Perez, Kilmer, Larsen and our two highly respected Senators, to effectively carry the water for our state. Jayapal shouts but from the sideline while her delegation colleagues get things done.

  2. As America’s leading social philosopher/musician Taylor Swift probably said somewhere (I have only heard about 1% of her songs): “You said it, own it.” While it may assuage members of Seattle’s loony left and the political desk of the Seattle Times, repeatedly trying to squirm out of serious misstatements to the rest of us is a bad look. Instead it demonstrates a serious brain to mouth disfunction.

  3. This is some pretty weak (stuff) Joel. One phone call to Jayapal’s office would have provided plenty of detail as to what she’s doing in committees and working groups, in the Progressive Caucus, for other Democrats on the campaign trail, and in the House Democratic caucus at large. This is exactly the kind of digging you have been doing for decades, which all your fans appreciate. I bet you would have found enough to meet your criterion for a “work horse,” because that is her entire history.

    Instead, with no hard facts to back it up, you label her a “show pony” because you don’t like what she said about Israel. Well guess what? That’s not even the most momentous news of the week from our House delegation. That would be Marie Perez voting (one of only four Democrats) for the Republican version of the National Defense Authorization Act, limiting abortion access for service members, prohibiting the military from issuing directives relating to climate change, and gutting the military’s diversity and inclusion programs.

    This was right after Marie was one of only two Democrats to vote for the Republican resolution seeking to block the forgiveness program and end the pandemic-related pause on federal student loan payments. I don’t see any hardball questions going her way for supporting the Trump positions. The first question might have been: “Whatever on earth were you thinking?”

    But why report on actual votes on actual legislation, when lefty- bashing, owning the libs, whatever you want to call it, is so much more fun? Not impressed. Do better.

  4. Ivan’s comment displays his inability to distinguish a sheep from a goat.

    Hard evidence: Pramila Jayapal, Exhibit !

    Sam Sperry

  5. Ivan:
    Three points behind what I wrote.
    1) Israel bashing and name-calling is counterproductive. It only gets Israelis’ backs up, encourages bunker mentality, boosts support for Likud. I’ve watched “Palestinian concerns” forums at St. Mark’s Cathedral for years. Heads nod, but nothing to show for it.
    2) Jayapal has talent as a work horse, but lately head has been turned by adoring heads nodding agreement with her at meetings, and celebrations of her on MSNBC;
    3) our local faith community has long history of punching above its weight on social issues (e.g., open housing, redlining). Ecumenical cooperation has made it possible. Fighting over Israel/Palestine has ruptured ties.
    I am not a Likud-nil. On American politics, Maggie taught me to appreciate work horses, spurn show ponies.

    • I think we can stipulate that Jayapal’s statement was dumb. I also think we should recognize that in the context of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict going back to 1948 and before, it was utterly inconsequential, and entirely undeserving of the coverage it got. The issue isn’t going away, no matter what or “whose “ties” are “ruptured.”

      If you’re going to call Jayapal a “show pony” without even a nod to the scut work of legislation that she does behind the scenes, all of which is verifiable with a single phone call — in other words, verify your premise empirically — then it appears that concering this story, you are content to be a journalistic “show pony. We all know you can do better work than this.

  6. One of the most under-appreciated member of the Washington delegation is the headline-averse Rep. Rick Larsen, who is now the ranking member of the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, one of the most important in Congress. He will Chair that committee when Democrats take control. He, Kilmer, Delbene , and others put their shoulders to the task of getting things done , while others simply make noise.

  7. On the money Joel. She is walking backwards faster than straight ahead. That is what happens when you are blinded by the limelight. Maybe just maybe she will learn that you don’t have to explain what you don’t say.

  8. Since I’m in her district, I’ve tried to learn more of her, and I believe she is a genuinely committed and caring hardworking woman, who picks and chooses, as all Congress members do. She could be calling out her native India’s racism and sexism more than she does. The violence regularly pummeled on women there is horrific. But a lot of Congresspersons are quiet about India. And China. To be fair, she has taken a lot of flak from some members of the Indian-American community for calling for an end to India’s restrictions on free speech. She has spoken up for India’s Muslim population, too.

    I hate that this sounds so patronizing, but to Joel’s point, she’s working hard, she’s just not as successful as other Washington representatives…yet. She’s doing what a lot of leftist progressives do — they play up to the crowd, caught up in the moment, uttering dumbed-down slogans that stick. Sorry, a U.S. Congressperson with her visibility should know not to do that. Especially after the debacle of the letter urging negotiations with the killer Putin. But I have hopes for her. And do please keep these articles coming, Joel. Great stuff.

  9. Whether or not there was a germ of truth in what she said, there seems to be no real dispute that it was a clumsy gaffe, and not the first one. She’s practically useless as an advocate for anything, beyond waving the flag for the faction she’s basically captive to. She mistreats her employees. But she’ll be back for more terms if she wants them, because she represents the party district organizations. That’s where the change really has to start, for both parties, if we want to sent really top notch legislators to DC.

    • I deeply hope she will be voted out. I think she’d be most effective if she didn’t have to run for office.

      • @Trish Saunders: Maybe one of these days you’ll learn to “read the room.” Jayapal will hold that seat for as long as she wants to, just like Jim McDermott did. Not only do the vast majority of 7th District constituents appreciate her platform, her accomplishments, and her voice, but also because the “culture wars” work both ways, and Pramila’s supporters love few things more than sticking their fingers in the eyes of “moderates” and “centrists” and self-imagined “pragmatics” who hold back the progressive agenda. You don’t have to like that to recognize that the dynamic exists.

        • Maybe one day you’ll learn to communicate in something other than a snide, unrelentingly rude voice. Most people learn that on reaching adulthood.

          • He’s representing a typical Jayapal supporter, there. Look in the district Democratic headquarters clubhouse, and you’ll find more like him, along with their “progressive agenda” and their disdain for most of the electorate.

            She’ll be back, sure, but not because the voters really like this.

          • “Maybe one day you’ll learn to read the room.”

            Don’t get me wrong, I treasure the comment as a classic case of mansplaining. There’s been more than a few.

        • Not to mention the tens of millions of dollars she delivered to Seattle from (W. Seattle Bridge funding, elevator for the U-Heights Center, and many other projects).

          She does the work, Joel.

  10. Soon after reading Joel’s well-reported column, I received Marie Gluesenkamp Perez’s detailed constituent newsletter. In the e-mail MGP ticks off the number of constituent meetings, town halls and beer nights she has hosted around Southwest Washington along with her accomplishments working on bipartisan legislation. In a recent story in the Washington State Standard about the groundbreaking for a railroad crossing, Sen. Marie Cantwell described Marie as a pest for her constituents, but in a good way. At the end of her newsletter Marie notes she dove into a swimming pool in street clothes celebrating the Wahkiakum High School robotics team and highlighting her support for technical education.
    MGP might not be the kind of Dem that makes hearts of the Seattle party establishment go pitty-pat, but she is a good match for her district allowing her to hopefully fend off right-wing challenges.

  11. In two major public gaffes, Jayapal appears both impulsive and dishonest. Let’s take the first one, which involves a staff member sending out a Progressive Caucus letter urging negotiations with Russia, supposedly without her authorization. That explanation seems dishonest. I have lobbied and worked with Washington legislators and their staff on major legislation in the past, and it is very difficult to imagine a letter of that magnitude going out without authorization, especially since it purported to represent the sentiment of multiple members of Congress. On the other hand, if the statement was accurate, it would appear that Jayapal is incompetent, deferring critical issues to her staff without getting involved.

    Now to the current gaffe. Jayapal apparently spoke off the cuff after she was interrupted by protesters while making a speech to a leftie group. She should have the discipline not to respond to protestors with off the cuff remarks on critical issuews. Furthermore, in response to criticism, it is entirely inappropriate to play the race card in order to divert attention from her own mistake.

    Leaders earn and keep their positions by respecting and supporting their staff and by having the humility to make sincere apologies for their mistakes. That would seem to hold true even more when one represents a very safe district, where the risks of making an apology should be fairly minimal.

    • Thank you, Judith. Irrespective of political affiliation, a mouth engaged before a brain always leads to … is what the …. meant to say. So much of it from so many.

  12. Maggie was all about the art of the possible as opposed to the posture. In 1981 I got an appointment with him to seek his support in stopping an open pit moly mine planned for major salmon spawning area outside Ketchikan. As president of our gillnet fishermen’s cooperative I took a beautiful steelhead in for him. He was happy as hell to get it but told me that while he was with us, “Uncle Ted” (Sen. Stevens) would have something to say about that. The Rio Tinto mine project collapsed anyways due to economic fluctuation. But i appreciated his candor about the environmental realpolitik. And, of course, the fishing industry remembers the huge boost Maggie brought home with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and his work on mandating double-hulled oil tankers in the Sound.


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