The remark drifted quietly past nearly all political watchers, but inside Congress, it reverberated like a patch of rolling thunder. “I’m not worried what Wendell thinks,” said Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in February. “When he gets elected to Congress, it’ll matter.”
Wendell was a reference to Wendell Primus, a top policy aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, inside the halls of Congress, needs no surname clarification. Pocan gave voice to simmering frustrations about Primus’s meddling in internal House policy debates. On the Hill, there’s a name given to people like Primus, unelected lifers who use their years of service and clout to influence the party’s direction: He’s a member/staffer. And members don’t like it when a staffer — even a member/staffer — starts setting the boundaries of their ambitions.