Nancy Pelosi insists everything is fine with her, nothing to see here, just pay attention to what Donald Trump and the Republicans are about to do.
Even after 63 House Democrats — almost a third of the Democratic Caucus — voted Wednesday against keeping her on as minority leader, Pelosi declared she her political position was better than ever.
“I, quite frankly, feel more liberated than I ever have after a vote — after such a hard-charging campaign,” Pelosi asserted.
Yet after 14 years in power, Pelosi’s magic — that ability to keep her members in line no matter what — is beginning to wane. Yes, she won another two-year stint as leader. But the campaign to keep her job, followed by Wednesday’s tally, was a sign that even the Pelosi era can’t last forever.
At times, Pelosi has appeared tone deaf when grudgingly acceding to changes to Democratic Caucus rules that limit her power. And a sizable faction of her members have lost faith that Pelosi has the strategic vision needed to lead them back into power. For them, having Pelosi in charge is a reminder that not much has changed: Republicans are still in control, and there’s little hope of Democrats returning to the majority any time soon.
“It’s a huge deal. She got less than 70 percent of her caucus,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who backed fellow Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan’s challenge to Pelosi. “Our efforts were strong enough to make them start to try to figure out how do we put more people in leadership, how do we change this caucus? That’s the win.”
Fudge added: “I think anytime you’ve been in office as long as Nancy and you lose a full third of your caucus, it’s significant.”
The problem for Pelosi, in a sense, is one of perception. She’s had unparalleled success as a leader, especially the part about staying in control. Even when Democrats lost 63 seats in the disastrous 2010 election cycle and saw their four-year majority brought to an end, Pelosi remained in charge. There are few politicians of her generation, or any other, who could survive such a defeat. Even after that, Pelosi would very rarely lose an internal policy fight or have one of her favorites defeated in a leadership or committee fight.
Pelosi’s situation now is akin to a ballplayer who has been so dominant for so long that when they show signs of slowing down, the difference seems particularly glaring. Her supporters are trying hard to overlook the chinks in her armor.
“I don’t think she’s wounded. She got the votes she said she was going to get,” Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested. “I don’t think it’s bad at all.”
Yet it was Pelosi’s suggestion that there be changes to the assistant minority leader post held by Clyburn which upset a sizable block of the Congressional Black Caucus. Pelosi later backed away from the proposal, yet some damage had been done.
Pelosi being Pelosi, she will go back to doing what she does best — working hard, raising money, and organizing. The California Democrat has repeatedly told Democratic doubters she has a blueprint in mind for fighting Trump and the Republicans: 2005-06, when she took on then-President George W. Bush and a GOP-controlled House. She will look to make deals when possible, and fight when she feels it’s politically beneficial.
“My heart is broken that we did not win the White House this time,” Pelosi told reporters after she clinched another term. “Where we can engage, we will. Where we need to oppose, we will.” –
She will look to rally her colleagues by highlighting potential GOP efforts to change the hugely popular Medicare and Social Security programs. She will batter them for moving to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan, potentially jeopardizing health coverage for millions of Americans. She will look for openings on any Republican tax cut or infrastructure proposals, and is certain to attack the Trump White House if it tries to roll back environmental and safety regulations.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who clashed with Pelosi several times over leadership positions in the past, said he believes Pelsoi will be able to move past the current infighting. Like other Democrats, Hoyer said the party failed to reach out to middle-class voters enough and paid heavily for that sin.
“You remember that I had a pretty tough race [for majority leader] in ’07, but we came together,” Hoyer said, referencing the challenge he faced from the late-Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) for majority leader. “Nancy and I were on opposite sides, which you recall. But we came together and we were very effective. This caucus is going to do the same.”
Internally, Pelosi will need to make some compromises, but it is has been a sometimes-uneven march forward for her. More will need to happen on this front, many Democrats say.
“[Pelosi] certainly has to recognize the reality — which she does, I’m sure — that a very large fraction of the caucus was elected in the last few years,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a Pelosi backer. “There’s frustration with two things: One, we have not done as well. And (second), there’s frustration that a number of the more senior people keep staying in their position, and there’s sort of a bottleneck with younger members.”
“She’s adaptable,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chairman of the CBC. “Pelosi is a very experienced leader and I think she understands when there is a critical mass within your caucus wanting to go in a different direction, she’s willing to adapt.”
House Democrats meet again Thursday to debate rules changes that would significantly cut into Pelosi’s power to control who sits atop their messaging and campaign arms.
Some junior lawmakers first presented Pelosi with the idea weeks ago to make the leaders of the two panels — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee — nominated and elected by the caucus.
Even though the idea has strong support inside the caucus, Pelosi has resisted those attempts to chip away at her power. She did consent to member suggestions that DPCC be run by three chairmen, not one, in the next Congress.
Some Democrats, irked that they only picked up six seats in the election, say they’d especially like to decide who leads the DCCC in the next Congress. Pelosi has renominated Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) to the position.
“I think some of the proposals that have been submitted by members of the caucus are going to get an airing and a hearing tomorrow and I think that’s a great first step,” Fudge said. “I do not think if Tim Ryan had not run a strong campaign, I don’t know that any of this would’ve happened.”
Members will also debate an amendment that would allow the caucus to pick who leads the powerful Steering and Policy panel, which decides committee assignments for members.
“We’ll see if we’re going to at least have a voice on that,” Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Ryan backer, said. “This fight’s not done.”
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